First of all, I loved my old room in the co-op. The kitchen was chaotic and had moths and rodents and finally kittens, but the people were lovely. Having 18 housemates meant that it never got lonely, even if it occasionally was loud at times I wanted to be asleep. However, Sonia and I wanted to do the heteronormative couple-y thing and got a flat together.
It’s the newly-renovated top floor of a Victorian house, just around the corner form my previous room. The landlord just converted a single family home into three smaller flats. As far as I can tell we’re the first (not related to him) tenants in the house. Clues include the smell of paint and that I cannot seem to locate a phone jack anywhere in the flat.
We moved in and the management agent gave us two sets of keys to the house a a key to a meter. Well, sort of. When the removal van finally showed up and got all of my worldly possessions to to my new flat at 6pm on Friday, it emerged that the keys they gave me do not actually open the door. I tried calling the letting agency and the property manager, but they’d all gone home for the weekend. So I told the mover to leave all my stuff on the pavement outside the flat and then I waited for Sonia to get home. Thank goodness it wasn’t raining.
My American readers may be wondering why one would need a key to a meter. Remember reading Pygmalion in high school? Eliza Doolittle went home to her room and put an extra penny in the heater because the professor had overpaid her for her flowers. It all seemed so terribly Victorian that you would have a meter that you needed to put pennies into before you could run your heat. Well, they never quite got rid of this system in England, just updated it. Now it’s a fob system. Somebody gives you a ‘key.’ You take the key to a corner shop – the kind of store that mostly sells cheap alcohol to adults and magazines and candy to kids. You hand them the key and some cash (really, cash only) and they add money to the key. Them, when you get home, you stick the key in your meter and it will allow you to spend exactly that much money. Imagine if you were running it a bit tight on the electric bill. Under this system, your power might be cut a few days before every pay day. The bonus is that you don’t need to pay extra to turn it back on. The downside is that all your food spoils. Plus you get to pay loads more than middle class people get with their normal power bills. The Victorians were masters of screwing poor people. When conservatives in this country speak of ‘Victorian values’ they do so with nostalgic pride, not the deep shame the phrase deserves.
So I went down to the Londis and put all of my cash on the key and went back to the flat and looked everywhere for the meter. It was Saturday and the property manager was having his day off. I was slightly concerned that the power might turn off at any moment, but I had gig-related activities and anyway, there was no hot water and needed to find the boiler. Finally, I found a mysterious electrical switch in the bathroom and turned it on. There was a gurgling behind the wall. Aha! This must be the boiler. Of course, it would need time to heat up. So we gave it time. And Then more time. It was sealed behind a wall. So I took a cold shower and was grateful it’s August.
Maybe I could just do a load of laundry in the mean time. Augh! Water everywhere!
Meanwhile, Sonia asked the guy downstairs if he had any insight and it turned out he was the landlord’s brother. He came up and used a pen knife to get open the bit of the wall with the boiler behind it and thus we discovered that whoever had redone the bathroom had thought it was a good idea to seal the boiler behind a wall, having first left it in the ‘off’ position. So we waited again for it to heat up. Also, the power meter was located. In the basement flat, which is rented by yet another guy. So, we need to put money on the card, then knock on the door of the guy living in the basement, hope he’s home and charge up our power. Obviously, this will not do, so today Sonia rung up the power company and had a series of confusing conversations with them. And a series of conversations with the property manager. It gradually and painfully emerged that the card we had been given was actually for the gas meter, which is also in the basement apartment, locked behind a door that even the man who lives in the basement does not have a key for. So the reason we’ve got no hot water is because the gas meter was completely out of money. Meanwhile, the electric meter also has a key, which we don’t have. There was all of £3 left on the meter by the management company, so I’m just waiting for everything to turn off at any moment. Meanwhile, the guy in the basement has gotten extremely pissed off, as it took a few trips to his flat to figure out which meter was which and what’s going on.
Apparently, not having access to a gas valve is also something of a safety issue, but nevermind.
On the positive, I was able to arrange an appointment with the phone company to come and install internet and a phone line. In three weeks.
But at least there are no mice. And, this is not a phrase I’m ever likely to repeat, thank goodness the cooker is electric. And at least partly works