Monthly Archives: June 2014

Acceptance

Plus one has done this guardianship thing before when he first arrived in the city and needed a cheap and temporary place to rest his head until he could figure out if he would be staying and where he wanted to be. He slept on a camping bed and ate out – or in with camping cutlery. He went to the Laundromat on Saturdays and never had visitors over. He took baths in a bathroom no one knew he had fixed the light to so no one used.

He was convinced, despite my many years in res, that I would not be able to cut this hippy communal living lifestyle and made me trawl up to the site to see for myself. Temporary metal fencing fixed into concrete blocks and a combination bike lock sealed off the site. A pitiful three people, including myself waiting to get inside. Everyone (to be fair, including myself) looking exceptionally casual, people who didn’t appear to have day jobs or at least office jobs.

A disorganised shuffle in and shuffle out like a beggars changing of the guard past the bike lock and a piece of fencing when the company’s staff appeared with the last lot of prospective tenants in tow, some of them following everyone BACK in to re-examine their room choices. This was the thing plus one warned me. If you see a room you like, it’s not like an estate agent. You don’t think about it and call back later. You immediately pay your deposit and put your name almost literally on the door. The rooms are sold as seen and until you collect your key, stay unlocked so anything that MIGHT have been in them is up for grabs.

A shambling tour across a series of building, crumbling from without and within. Promises of new temporary showers but no internet or washing machine. It becomes quite clear why the buildings were originally designated no longer fit for purpose. Sad remains of previous tenants like ghosts in various rooms. Paper towels and soap still in the WCs. Pinboards with the last notices before the place was evicted still declaring meeting timetables and events. A café area still advertising the latest meal deals of the day before closure.

Chaos among the prospective tenants. Some have clearly done this before and have very specific requirements. Some are just curious. Some have been returning daily as new rooms open up, playing swap as better places emerge. It appears there are two types of people. Those who want the cheapest possible space they can get, irrespective of size or condition. Others, like me, the largest possible room. We are told the very large rooms were given out in a near stampede at 10am that morning and the next set of big rooms are to be handed out later at an unknown date. That they are ‘very big’. The guide whispers there is one ‘largish’ room on a top floor that may suffice but it is NOT one of the big rooms.

Before we get there he gets a phone call from someone who has no aspirations to pay his deposit that day after reserving a space. In a fit of irritation the guide declares this other ‘largish room’ is now also up for grabs at the same price as the one I may wish to see. It is dark and chilly, a ground floor room with all windows but one barricaded shut. A girl and her boyfriend pounce immediately. This shocks me. There is indeed no wait period, it is a free for all sale.

I begin to look agitated and our guide says ‘the other room is bigger than this’. We carry on. The ‘other room’ sits at the top of a staircase and is light and airy and indeed larger for the same volume. I wait. The girl, my competition, is silent. Obviously having been so on the offence previously she can’t work out how to undo her hasty decision. I tentatively say I will take the room because it appears everyone else here wants the small cheap ones. This one even at the higher price is a bargain.

We have a new home.

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Guardians

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So I moved house. But not actually ‘house’ as such. We moved into an old ‘seminar/conference/boardroom’. With blue carpet tiles, fluorescent lights and blue pinboards across the walls. Yet, you have heard me correctly. This will be ‘home’ for the next few months. A room that is probably similar in size to our current one bed flat but not technically a ‘flat’ in itself.

In England, as in South Africa and indeed many parts of the world, squatting is a problem. If not squatters, vandals who either break bits of a deserted building up for fun or who ravish it for what they can sell as scrap.

In the UK a few companies have come up with a creative solution to prevent this. Effectively, legal squatting. They are put in place by the landowner to protect the property from being vandalised or worse occupied by undesirables you can’t later evict.

The companies take over offices, schools, care homes, usually sizable buildings to make the effort worthwhile. They then rent out the spaces to random people who want to pay less on accommodation and don’t mind roughing it a bit. This means communal toilets, kitchens and bathrooms. This means travelling light because you may have to move within 2 weeks or a month’s notice. This means your bedroom/living room may once have been a chemistry lab and so be it on your head if you come up against a swab of chemicals when you brush up against the wall.

Technically it is not ‘rent’ as there is no change of use application put in. It’s a ‘licensing agreement’ whereby you sign away a lot of your traditional rights as tenants for this free and easy lifestyle which involves never having candles on the premise in case of setting fire to the building you are ‘guardian’ to. I can see a program like this going very wrong or very right in Africa.
It does mean you stay for a lot cheaper (and scruffier because you get what you pay for). It makes moving from the place fairly easy as there are no complicated estate agent fees and rules beyond a basic credit check and deposit. It means you don’t have bills to pay but you probably also can’t get the internet wired in (a trauma for someone used to unlimited broadband) and your post will probably permanently go missing. It means post it notes from random people to other random people saying ‘you are not eight, don’t pee on the toilet seat’. It means not leaving your shower gel in the bathroom for too long if you expect the amount of soap in it to be approximately where you left it last.

It will be an adventure…

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