My friend, Stuart and I used to live in a remarkably average flat in Glasgow’s remarkably average Waverley Gate complex. I think we were initially attracted to it because it had a greater number of modern conveniences than many of the other flats we had seen around that time and because of the large number of friendly Indian families living in the same block, filling the halls daily with culinary smells both homeley and exotic.
After a while, however, we began to find this white-walled, electrically enhanced and overly functional modernist enclave a little too sterile and impersonal for our tastes. Plus, our upstairs neighbour turned out to be annoying twat, earning himself the Nabokovian pseudonym of ‘Mr. Honourable Upstairs’ due to his being a besuited office boy by day and noisy party fiend by night who would keep us awake by playing his 90s nightclub ‘classics’ and playing on his XBox with a hundred yobbish friends in the microscopic hours. When we discovered on top of all this that every single flat in the complex had the exact same interior, we decided to look for somewhere else. This was battery living.
We began to look for a place to live with a little more character, somewhere a little eccentric and more interesting. When we found that an attic had become available in an old Hyndland townhouse and that it was actually a slightly lower rent than we’d been paying in Waverley Gate, we snapped it up. Our neighbours now would be bearded academics and the sterile walls would be replaced by creaking pine panels and friendly single-pane skylights.
I had half-fancied living in a loft ever since reading Jerome K. Jerome’s On furnished apartments in which he writes:
“A good many great men have lived in attics and some have died there. Attics, says the dictionary, are “places where lumber is stored,” and the world has used them to store a good deal of its lumber in at one time or another. Its preachers and painters and poets, its deep-browed men who will find out things, its fire-eyed men who will tell truths that no one wants to hear–these are the lumber that the world hides away in its attics. Haydn grew up in an attic and Chatterton starved in one. Addison and Goldsmith wrote in garrets. Faraday and De Quincey knew them well. Dr. Johnson camped cheerfully in them, sleeping soundly–too soundly sometimes–upon their trundle-beds, like the sturdy old soldier of fortune that he was, inured to hardship and all careless of himself. Dickens spent his youth among them, Morland his old age–alas! a drunken, premature old age. Hans Andersen, the fairy king, dreamed his sweet fancies beneath their sloping roofs. Poor, wayward-hearted Collins leaned his head upon their crazy tables; priggish Benjamin Franklin; Savage, the wrong-headed, much troubled when he could afford any softer bed than a doorstep; young Bloomfield, “Bobby” Burns, Hogarth, Watts the engineer–the roll is endless. Ever since the habitations of men were reared two stories high has the garret been the nursery of genius. […] Huddle them up in your lumber-rooms, oh, world! Shut them fast in and turn the key of poverty upon them. Weld close the bars, and let them fret their hero lives away within the narrow cage. Leave them there to starve, and rot, and die. Laugh at the frenzied beatings of their hands against the door. Roll onward in your dust and noise and pass them by, forgotten.”
At last we could live the Bohemian dream! Living in an attic, we would clunk away on old typewriters while listening to my old jazz records on a crackly gramaphone and taking sweet tokes from a hookah. The Glasgow tour bus could stop here to demonstrate what a cliched West End ne’er dowell looks like.
But now I have discovered the problems with living in such a place. Jerome admits that he would not like to live in a loft due to there being too many steps and “too many facilities for bumping your head”. Both of these things I have found to be true and more.
Most every time I turn on a tap (a cold tap, mind you, for the hot water does not rise this high and must be manufactured using an expensive water heater) the flow explodes out in a combination of water and air, previously trapped in the pipes. The force of this escaping air is so stong that it turns much of the water into a fine and floating spray. It’s one way of getting washed first thing in the morning, I suppose. I’m assured that there’s nothing to be done about this problem: rather than being a fault in the pipework, it is a result of living at such a high altitude and with a system of plumbing not designed to bring water all the way up to the house’s lumber room.
And then there’s the wasps. There must be a nest in one of the rafters our beneath one of the roof tiles outside of the bathroom window. There have been three intrusions so far of gigantic, navally turgid wasps: big enough to have been written into reality by Jonathan Swift. I don’t like killing things (this being the driving force of my vegetarianism) but the thought of getting close enough to these monstrous things in order to trap and release them leaves me far too squeemish for words.
Because our wacky new home occupies what is possibly the highest point in Hyndland it does not have the same protection from the wind as the lower flats do from their neighbours on the same plane. So by night we listen to the wind howling around us and turning the walls into polar twins of the hotplate. It doesn’t matter how stoked the fire is (yes, we have a coal fire rather than any such thing as central heating), the place – through its sticking out into the windy sky and its woeful lack of insulation – will remain in one helluva chill.
But contentment is the enemy of invention, as Lucifer Davies says, so it is my hope that living in this cold, wasp-infested deathtrap will give rise to that first novel.
I should probably mention that I’m grumbling for the sake of it. There are many wonderful things to be said about our lofty dwelling, but those will have to wait for another Occasional Paper.