Sunday, 22 May 2016

Tenants are People (well my tenants are) - part 1

I’m a landlord. Unpopular pastime, presumed to be for the filthy rich who abuse their poor, hard-pressed tenants and cheat the tax system. But I don't have vast estates and massive blocks of flats to let via cruel, grasping agents. I let out six rooms in my own house. I do it partly because I’m not that young and don’t have an index linked pension, partly because the house is in a wonderful location, the best in the town, overlooking the park. I rent out rooms so I can actually afford to live here. I manage my bedsits myself, I don’t use letting agents and as I have a flat in the same house I do like to meet and vet prospective tenants. Then I have some idea who they are, because they aren’t just my tenants, they are all individual people and over the years I’ve been letting rooms, some have become my friends.

The house itself is slightly peculiar; a tall Victorian semi, it has four floors including the large, and largely uninhabitable, basement. When I first arrived there were ten numbered rooms which had been let previously. Four of them, 1, 1A, 2 and 3 were all on the ground floor. Number 3 was actually the kitchen, the poor tenant who’d lived in it before had her bed in the cupboard under the stairs. I took all these four rooms, plus the old fashioned bathroom with its 1930’s eau-de-nil suite and tiles and turned them into my single ground floor flat. The remaining six rooms were all upstairs.

I began by trying to rent out three rooms on the first floor. There was number 4, which had its own very old fashioned little kitchen with a miniature gas cooker, plywood shelving and a ramshackle glass screen between it and the rest of the room. Its only redeeming feature was the lovely bay window with nearly new curtains. Flat 5 deserved the title ‘Flat’ as had its own 1950's melamine faced kitchen in a separate room, though this was accessed only from the communal landing. Flat 5 also had a huge bay window with a spectacular view across the park, it had period features including high skirting boards, moulded cornices and a ceiling rose. The downside was the grotty carpet and cracked ceiling. Room 7 at the back of the house had a small galley kitchen and was north facing. I thought it the least desirable, but theoretically lettable. Room 6 was carpet-less and had a hole in the chimney breast where a gas fire had been ripped out, so was deemed un-lettable for the time being. And so I put an advert in the local paper, and I waited.

Fred turned up and became the first to move into the house, even before me. I was still sorting my possessions before my move. Of all the rooms, he took a fancy to the least obvious – room 9, a top floor attic room with an ancient Baby Belling cooker, a tiny window and no heating. This was before I had begun to modernise the house. The room had low beams and a sloping ceiling over the living area, only the kitchen space was full height. Fred had floppy brown hair and was six foot two, at least. But he wanted the room with 3 beams to hit his head on, he liked the character!  I agreed to him having that room, even though it wasn’t intended to be ready to rent, as he had his own furniture while I didn’t have much at the time, just a few family left-overs. He also had references and a deposit.

Fred was a chef in his early thirties. Not your two Michelin starred type chef, he was the hard-working, run-of-the-mill chef who works in popular run-of-the-mill restaurants where the menu choice is slightly too large for it all to be fresh, but not so large that everything’s out of the freezer. When he was working he was probably efficient. When he wasn’t working, the whole of the top floor was a haze of aromatic smoke. Mostly he was working, his rent was seldom late and then only by a few days. He lived happily in the attic with a tank full of tropical fish and a mattress bed on the floor. He moved out after 12 months to go to a live-in job; for a chef, the kitchen he left behind was pretty dirty. He was a friendly, affable guy; I gave him a decent reference and I hope he did well.

to be continued...

BBC's Hollow Crown; Wars of the Roses; Richard III

Just watched BBC's Richard III with Benedict Cumberbatch. Not impressed with the overall production, it lacked any subtlety. I know it's not Old Will's most subtle play, but the character of Richard is capable of huge interpretation which Cumberbatch didn't bother with. He played the character as just a crazed grotesque. I've seen several far better portrayals on stage, including by Anton Lesser and Robert Lindsay in 1998; also Ian McKellan's film of Richard III set as if in World War One. I don't include Laurence Olivier's 1955 film which I also dislike. 

The play was part of the 'Wars of the Roses,' the culmination of 'The Hollow Crown' series with 4 plays, effectively crammed into 3 so something was bound to be lost in transition. I saw the first and last, it began with Richard II, one of Shakespeare's least known plays so that was interesting, even if I got a bit lost in the convolutions and samey characters - the latter problem is one which the later Richard III play also suffers from. 

At least with this latest BBC production the importance of three of the four women's roles in the play were spectacularly upheld with powerful performances from Sophie Okonedo as the long-lived and much wronged Queen Margaret and dignified fury from Judi Dench as the Duchess of York and Richard's despairing mother. Keeley Hawes as Elizabeth Woodville (the mother of the little princes in the tower) held the threads of the plot together. Phoebe Fox played Anne, Richard's traumatised wife and wasn't really given enough to do, but then Shakespeare often failed to give his female characters much to work with. 

Of course the plays have little to do with the real events and characters in history, which is always written by the victors. Richard III, with only a 3 year reign, was less successful a monarch than his predecessor Richard II who was monarch for 33 years, and both were destroyed by their enemies. There has been no King Richard in Britain since. Shame, Richard is a better name than many. King Benedict? Probably not!