So … its the end of my first week working in Cambridge. At the risk of sounding like a rather tired and cynical primary school teacher, lecturing the boy with learning difficulties who fell out of the tree in the playground again … “what have we learnt?”
Part of the reason I agreed to this working-away-from-home lark was my hope that it would be a good way of meeting some new people. Lodging with some crazy, hedonistic Young Professionals. Hopefully having a social life that approaches that of “Big Bang Theory” or “Friends” – implausibly funny and attractive people saying impossibly witty and well-timed things, backed by the laugh-track of a live studio audience. Lots of gossip, drinking and hijinx. Something like that, anyway.
I was hoping that my experiences might make good inspiration for any creative writing I might want to do in future … or at least, be vaguely blogworthy now.
Oh, boy, I’ve managed to land that last one. In spades.
Usually, I find the biggest nutters I meet are the ones I work with. I’ve said it before: programmers are often “special”. Well, in a disappointing twist of fate, the ones I’m working with at the moment seem to be quite normal – and I’m not just saying that because one of them reads this blog. No, my nine-to-five existence this week has been very normal and sensible.
But this has been more than outweighed than my existence in the evenings.
It goes something like this: I am booked in some cheap B&Bs for the next fortnight, so that I can spend my evenings looking around rooms to rent and meeting potential housemates. I have a set rent budget that I can afford per month, and it seems this budget will either get me a nice place about thirty miles out of Cambridge (so I’ll have to spend another portion of money on train fare, commuting each day) or will get me an utter fetid craphole in the centre of Cambridge, within spitting distance of the office. The trick is for me to balance the acceptable commuting distance against the mould, infestations and insane landlords.
On one occasion, I was shown a room that I thought had a huge mural of Che Guevara on the wall (you know, the black-on-red one that appears on posters and T-shirts). It turned out to be mould. It had mushrooms growing out of it. It was almost a water feature. I reckon with a bit more nurturing, it’ll look like Jesus. People will flock to see it.
On another occasion, I met a potential landlady whose ideal era was clearly the 1960s. She told me (in no uncertain terms) that she was very glad I was a non-drinker because she didn’t want people in the house with no sense of self-control. She told me this whilst chainsmoking. When I enquired as to what she did for a living, she told me (proudly): “I’m a police informer!”
Here’s a tip: if you’re in the habit of going out into the street and facing-down a group of drugdealers on your street corner with the words “You can either shoot me, or move on” (her exact words) then you probably don’t want to tell any potential lodger! I don’t want to park my car outside a house where it would invite a drive-by shooting.
I also met an asian landlord who tried to offer me a room above his indian takeaway, with the sweetener “the rent includes 50 pounds worth of food from the menu, if you don’t want to cook for yourself”. As the rent he was asking was at least 30 pounds more than other properties around, I didn’t fancy the idea of being a “captive” customer. Besides, I’d be sweating pure Ghee and Kulfi after a week.
He also tried to show me one of his other properties on the following day. As I arrived at that address before he did, I introduced myself to an elderly and inebriated gentleman sat outside the front door, drinking something from a bottle covered in brown paper (the bottle, not him). Though the gentleman was Russian and his English wasn’t up to much, it was interesting to note that he managed to convey the phrase “utter shithole” with remarkable clarity. I didn’t bother hanging around.
I think I’ve got the gist of the areas to avoid by now, and I’ve found myself a place. However, I’m going to need to learn Mandarin in order to engage in sophisticated banter with my new housemates. Should be fine; I’ve been watching “Big Trouble In Little China” on my laptop.
However … if you happen to know of a property reasonably close to the centre of Cambridge, preferably frequented by female, exhibitionist, pert, performing-arts students (preferably in their early-to-mid twenties) then I’d be very interested to have a look around. Failing that – a property containing housemates or landlords who aren’t complete nutjobs, flakes or lying bastards will do just fine. You know where to reach me.