Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It's a London Thing

Every love story has that moment when one lover gazes into the other’s eyes and says, “You’re getting fat.”

In my love affair with London, this moment came when the ceiling collapsed in the house we were renting in Clapham. The house in the picture to the left is not the house we rented, but it's remarkably similar.

We lived in a four-bedroom terraced house and let the three other bedrooms out to three wonderful women and a raving, mentally troubled [insert word that sort of rhymes with “beach”]. The beach, however, brought a wonderful silver lining into my life. Every beach has one, right? But that will have to wait for another time.

It had been raining for a week. When we noticed the ceiling sagging, we called our landlady.

“It can’t be,” she said.

“On the contrary, it can be,” I said.

“But it can’t be,” she insisted.

How does one argue with a person who speaks like a broken record?

The rain persisted. A couple of days went by. We monitored the deepening brown circles on the ceiling. We took pictures and made bets. We called again and got the same mountain-out-of-a-molehill response.

Luckily on the fateful night a week later, the wonderful woman whose bed was destroyed by falling debris—let’s call her Victoria, a complete and utter fabrication—was spending the night elsewhere. We didn’t hear the roof cave in because we were in Thailand. But we did get a call from one of the other wonderful women in the house—let’s call her Tracy, also an improbable name for a woman from Southeast England.

“Yeah,” she said in her cute Sussex accent. “The roof fell in.”

So we called the landlady.

“It can’t be,” she said. This was a skeptical woman if there ever was one.

“The ceiling, and about a hundred gallons of rainwater, has destroyed our sublettor’s bed. It’s a miracle she wasn’t sleeping in it when it happened.”

“Oh come on. It can’t be . . . that bad.”

“There is a hole in the ceiling the size of a refrigerator right over the bed.”


I waited: the telephone equivalent of a staring contest.


I could wait.

“I can’t come to London until next week.”

“I have a sublettor with no place to sleep. Her room is a disaster area.”

“Then just close the door.”

“You do realise that 'just closing the door’ is about ten times worse than ‘just put a band-aid on it,’ don’t you?” I didn’t say this. I think I said, “Huh?”

“Close the door.”

“But where is Victoria—a poorly chosen alias—going to sleep?”

“Take her rent off the your rent.”

“Sounds good.” Thus, our conversation was declared over. Money talks.

Until the day we moved out of the house (eight months later), the ceiling remained a hole. Victoria—not her real name, of course—slept in the dining room rent-free.

Sadly, every love affair has a sobering moment when the roof falls in and you realise Victoria has to sleep somewhere else. The moral of the story: when love hits the rocks, close the door and deduct 300 pounds from your rent.