The AJ Writing Prize 2014: Entry
At this time of year, the light begins to stream through the tissue thin curtains as early as 5AM. The two large east facing windows bathe the room in a soft light. Accustomed to this, the sun will now only wake me if combined with the clatter of dustbin men or the roar of an engine. Therefore when I wake to my alarm the room is already fully lit. It takes two more alarms to coax me through the doors of perception and convince me to swing my legs out of bed and onto the threadbare carpet.
The thin blue pile is reminiscent of primary schools or libraries. It is worn and stretched in the middle of the room, becoming loose away from the floor. While this is partially mitigated by a small rug, walking across the room still lets you feel the outline of every creaking floorboard beneath.
The bed is pushed into the corner of the room but doesn’t really fit beside the chimney breast that interrupts an otherwise rectangular space. The bedroom walls are papered with two different patterns. One has received a coat of paint in its entirety but the print is still visible through the magnolia wash. The other wallpaper has metallic gold flecks in it, but on one wall has been painted over with the same thin coat of paint, resulting in three different wall finishes in the room. None of the furniture matches. Neither the light bulb or the oversensitive smoke detector are central on the ceiling.
The air is stale and the room is stuffy. Both windows have been open all night but the weather is humid and the night was warm. One of the windows has had the safety catch unscrewed so that it opens wide enough for a child to fall through or for a breeze to blow in. The screws removed from the PVC window frame are taped to the inside of the jamb so that they can be replaced before the landlady takes back possession of the house. Even this early, the open window carries in the burble of chatter from the school playground over the road.
Moving from this room to the bathroom involves walking a short stretch of landing which has no natural light. Opening the bedroom door onto this corridor floods it with brightness and generates enough of a breeze to rustle the posters and scribbled notes that cover the wall. The corridor has three steps down and then one step back up again. The bathroom door opens outwards, blocking the hallway. It is equipped with a defunct thumb-lock and a small bolt.
The bathroom floor is covered with wood print linoleum. The underlay to this is slightly soft, providing some give to the whole floor. The walls are tiled full height, but a metre off the ground the colour of the tiles changes from jade green to off-white. I used to think that the pattern of these tiles was completely abstract, each one tinted by a random application of pigments. I was disappointed therefore, when I noticed that every tile is identical. Mass produced with printed patination only skin deep.
Above these tiles, the pitch of the roof cuts through the room, reducing the head height above the toilet and bath. On this oblique surface, patches of mould blossom out of the artexed plaster; speckled with burnt umber, flecked with cadmium yellow, scattered with cerise and all overwhelmingly brown. This damp is inevitably due to the lack of an extractor fan. In an attempt to control the humidity, the small frosted window is left permanently open. After nine months of this, it has dropped in its frame, and now cannot be closed again.
Down the stairs, bedecked in the same blue carpet as the bedroom, which is peeling away from the risers in a dangerous manner, is a narrow hallway which leads to the back of the house. The kitchen-living room receives little natural light. A large bay window on the north wall points directly at the house next door. Two and a half metres away their own bay window stares straight back. The kitchen has a second, smaller window above the sink. This grimy piece of glazing looks out onto a respectable garden, half-heartedly tended and outfitted with a variety of scavenged furniture. This plot of land is overlooked by at least 9 other houses.
Like the bathroom, the kitchen favours artexed ceilings, coupled with woodchip textured wallpaper. Typically, none of the furniture in here matches. Two different brands of fridge stand at the end of a dining table with an oak veneered chipboard top. A black Billy bookcase, carried the two miles home from where it was found, stands in one corner. It holds more DVDs than it does books. It also displays a framed photograph of Richard Rogers torn out of the Evening Standard, his benevolent presence counterpointing the disorder of dirty plates and dishes. A previous tenant kindly supplied two upholstered chairs. A steel tube frame and hammock-like cushion, the flocked brown fabric worn down and going into holes. “Princess Diana had a pair.”
These aren’t brilliant things to wake up to every morning. But every morning I do and every evening I come home to the same. This house has been continuously occupied for somewhere in the region of 150 years and hasn’t received anything like the upkeep that it has required in that time. Every time that I look at the outhouse, which now contains a washing machine, I am convinced that it is ready to collapse and bring down one end of the building with it. But the house is still here and so am I. That these small wonders constantly present themselves is nothing to do with my powers of perception but rather with the power of architecture to communicate with us. Imagine then if it was done right, if every experience was considered. Oh how we would spend our days in blissful awareness of our surroundings, stroking every wall and walking barefoot across diverse and richly textured floors. It’s no wonder that my office is painted white.