Monday, 14 May 2007

First Impressions

In a post-prandial slump on the sofa last night with my housemates, I felt very much at home. I live in a bizarre house with two great and quirky housemates: Badger and Stray. I often find myself wondering just how I ended up living in a place like this, not to mention with people like them, and I remembered in a fleeting moment the sense of alarm I'd felt the first time I had sat down with these people. I thought I'd share...

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I'd been living in a very nice, very civilised house in Farnham for 18 months or so. A two-bedroom modern terrace house, very Wimpey Home. Two parking spaces. Neat back garden. Flower pots outside the front door. Carpet. Central heating. All those good things one finds in houses. Nice housemate. Unfortunately for me, my housemate bought a flat in Leatherhead and moved out in December, and with only one tenant left to shift, the landlord (actually, a very nice chap) decided to sell up. I found out about my month's notice on the 28th December, when I was Oop Norf with my family for Christmas/New Year. I was going on holiday for a fortnight ten days later. It was not a great time to get a month's notice and start house hunting, essentially leaving me with two blocks of five days to find somewhere suitable to live.

I did some remote house hunting. Thanks to the magic of the internet, this is not too difficult. I fixed up a few viewings for the week before going away. I hoped I'd be in a position to go on holiday and not wonder about being temporarily homeless shortly after my return.

I viewed a few places (and potential housemates) in Guildford. They were not good. My objections were such as:

  • too pokey;
  • a bit grim;
  • nowhere to park;
  • no garden;
  • would be living with dullards;
  • too many people/too few showers; and
  • I can feel my skin crawling and I've been here for less than ten minutes.

This ruled out all the places viewed.

I'd exchanged a few emails with a couple of lasses who were looking for a third person to join them in their big house with lots of glass by the river, with compost bins, chickens, cats, a dog, etc. The house sounded like a cross between a hippy commune and a city farm to me. One of them doesn't drink, maybe a recovering alcoholic. They watch the footie, one drinks pints, and is a whiz on a playstation. Probably lesbians. No central heating. NO CENTRAL HEATING? These people were evidently not like my nice, civilised housemate with her new off-plan flat in Leatherhead. Having said that, it sounded like a really weird place and viewing it might give me a good story... On balance, I thought it was probably worth a visit.

Arrangements to view the house and its inhabitants were duly made, and touchy-feely emails sent with feeble jokes about lentils and vacuum cleaners. I pitched up in the middle of nowhere at 8pm on a cold hard night, having traversed a muddy section of woodland I never knew existed, only to be met by a massive, loudly-barking, mad boxer dog who appeared to be trying to eat my car, jumping up at the windows and leaving muddy paw prints on the glass. Its mildly terrifying-looking owner appeared from nowhere and was attempting to restrain it. I locked the car door until the beast (Ruby), now foaming at the mouth, was brought under control by owner, Stray. Instead of doing the only sensible thing of slamming my car into reverse and heading away before they had the time to identify me, my self-preservation skills deserted me and I stared in bewilderment and with a sinking heart at the house before me with overgrown vegetation encroaching upon the windows and obscuring the path to the front door. I had never seen an abode quite like it. I got out of the car and somewhat gingerly made my way over the tortured exposed roots and muddy ground to make the acquaintance of The Stray One. The mad dog, still foaming at the mouth, jumped up at me and branded my suit with her muddy paws and doggy slobber. Stray, the mad dog, and the prospect of shortly becoming homeless ushered me inside...


Stray took me on the obligatory guided tour of the chilly house. The room (my room?) looked pretty grim. Dusty, grubby and cramped were my first impressions, closely followed up by the thought that a tub of emulsion, a bit of bleach and a new inhabitant would probably see the room right. I was shown the bathroom with crazy, overly jolly sunburst yellow tiles from the seventies, the excessive number of other toilets and shower rooms (sufficient for all to have diarrhoea simultaneously...), the open plan lounge/diner with massive single glazed windows, marble floor and solitary wood stove to provide heat, the kitchen designed for short people with the oven big enough for an entire cow, the crazy hallway with shower room, dark room and bit of nothing room stuck on the side. It was a big house. Big enough to absorb three people and them all to have their own space even if they hate each other, I thought. And as an added bonus, there're three acres of woodland to enjoy in summer and productive vines. Joy.

Stray had just led me through the shower room/dark room/bit of nothing ensemble and was showing me the Octagon/spare lounge/home office room. It didn't matter. I had stopped absorbing information when I noticed the axe. It struck me that the current incumbent of the room I might occupy wasn't around. The wipe clean floors swarmed back into my head. The lack of heating to prevent tell-tale odours of decomposition. The oven big enough for a... Oh my. What sort of mortal danger had I got myself into here?

I sized Stray up. She had immediately struck me as the evil genius type. The factors in this assignment were:

  • Stray is about 5 ft nothing. Short people terrify me. I think it's because when I was that size, I was ten, and incapable of functioning as an adult. When people that small are capable beings, I immediately assume they have super intellects which they put to malign purposes.
  • Stray owns a dog the same size/weight as herself and evidently had some form of magical power to be able to control that thing.
  • Stray appeared to like the fact that there was no central heating. This woman was most certainly unhinged.

Having never met a Stray before, I had no mental model on which to construct a functioning human being containing these ingredients. I therefore reconciled these character traits by resorting to the warped and twisted world of the evil genius. One who knows how to wield an axe. Almost certainly a gifted killer.

Did I want to stay for some tea? "I'd love a cup." I was actually parched (I find that terror does tend to dry me out somewhat) and I thought it best not to arouse their suspicions that I might have guessed that housemate number three was lying in a shallow grave somewhere in the woods by bolting, screaming, out of the front door. The second deciding factor in staying for tea was that I had become so disoriented by the bizarre spiraling of the house and its unusual angles that I would in fact need an escort to find the door and my route to safety.

Perched precariously on the edge of the sofa and hugging my mug of tea in an effort to keep warm, I studied the housemates more closely.

Stray was beginning to confirm my suspicions. Bright. Interesting to talk to. Definitely with a streak of unhingedness. Scary. Though, on the off-chance that she wasn't actually evil and hadn't killed her housemate, we might get on alright.

The Badger worried me less. True, she twitched a bit on that first meeting, but that looked harmless enough, and I consoled myself with the thought that if she did turn dangerous, I was in a good position with my superior motor control to be victorious in any fight. Her head sat uneasily on her shoulders, somewhat too big for the slender frame below, and studiously directed towards the telly. The prospects for erudite conversations didn't seem great with that distant gazing and lots of silence, but then again, many are the nights when all I want to do is stare at a wall in silence and hope the customers and deadlines will leave me alone, so maybe that would be OK.

The bit that did worry me was the prospect of them working in tandem. Their combined body weight might pose a problem to me. Stray was the ringleader, there was no question of that. Badger was obviously the understudy. They evidently knew each other well. The house lay in a secluded location just perfect for murdering unsuspecting housemates. They had the weapon lying casually in the hallway, and the absence of housemate #3 did very little to reassure me.

Still, I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. After being shown around the cavernous place, drinking tea on my best behaviour and making polite conversations, I found myself saying "Great - when can I move in?" D'oh. I cursed myself for yet again having opened my mouth to make sounds of agreement when really what I meant was, "What! You must be joking - there's no central heating, the shower is designed for dwarfs, you're some freaking sort of evil genius, she's some sort of fruitcake living in another dimension, there's an axe in the hallway, and even if I leave this place under my own steam without being killed and used to heat the house and decided to live here, my expenditure on suits is going to rocket if this damned dog keeps attacking me like this!" But I had a holiday to go on and I didn't fancy the prospect of being homeless.

I was routed back to the front door. Safety. Freedom. I felt elated at having survived. I drove home over the Hog's Back with a million thoughts dancing through my head. Maybe they weren't homicidal weirdoes. Maybe they were just a bit odd. Maybe I'd be OK there....

I got home. Parked in my parking space. Made my way over the neat tarmac to the front door. Enjoyed the warm air rushing out to meet me. Ah, central heating - what a civilising influence it was. I hugged the radiator. Hmm, maybe I was just a bit odd, too. Maybe I would be OK there...

15 comments:

Stray said...

I'm kind of enjoying the image of myself as a criminal mastermind ...

Evil Genius

p'raps I shall have some business cards knocked up?

Sx

But Why? said...

Yes, I think Evil Genius sounds so much more impressive than my personal synonym of "short person". At least as far as putting things on business cards goes...

brumcunian said...

Love it! That's exactly how I would imagine a house viewing with Badger and stray would be. I've known then both for a while on t'internet and the blogging world at large. I imagine them to be like Dangermouse and Penfold but in a more sinister dark and mysterious way.

But Why? said...

Brumcunian,

Hi, good to make your acquaintance. Dangermouse and Penfold, yes, I can see the similarity. I think of them more as Pinky and The Brain myself - but sometimes wonder which is which...

brumcunian said...

Oh stray is definately the brain.

'The same thing we do every night Badger. Try to take over the world'

Peach said...

hello from a fellow (now-ex) surrey girl (bentley/farnham) - I know of stray through POTW(hello) and read Badger's brilliant piece on Tourettes - I found you through Confessions - love the post, really funny ....Px

But Why? said...

Peach,

How lovely to meet you. I would love to take the credit for writng a comic post, but I think I have to salute my material - life is so much funnier as a result of moving in with Stray and Badger...

Ms Melancholy said...

Hey But, I read the post, loved it, linked it but forgot to leave a comment. How rude is that? Your house sounds like a haven of intelligent thoughts and words - which must be truly lovely - but how on earth do you live without heating? It's the only thing that stops me from moving in myself.

But Why? said...

Ms Melancholy,

Even in the absence of central heating, life here isn't as bad as it may first appear. I produce a lot of hot air, usually in the first ten minutes after getting home from work, and Ruby kicks out uber-heat. Stray can be made to steam by gentle application of the words "How was your day?", and Badger smoulders her way through life. How could we feel cold?

PurpleSparkleBright said...

Weeping with laughter. The house is exactly like that. I never noticed the axe!!!! How? Dangermouse and Penfold, hmmmm. Aw, Chief!!!I've got lost in that house at least twice, too. I don't know how you manage to find your way in and out each day :)

Rob said...

And what of the Lesbianism?

Are there photos?

But Why? said...

Rob! Trust you to lower the tone!

Not to the best of my knowledge, though I've never posed the question. Now take your voyeuristic mind back to work.

trousers said...

I've just read this post having finally met lovely badger, stray and ms melancholy - the latter having directed me here.

Wonderful.

But Why? said...

Ah yes, Ms M. I haven't blogged my introduction to Ms M. Perhaps I ought to...?

trousers said...

If it contains just one tenth of the weirdness and intrigue of this tale, then I don't see why not :)