Last year I bought my first house. I’m quite old for someone buying their first house, but it took me ages to grow up enough, and I still failed entirely to take the process seriously. But then, that’s not surprising when house viewings like this occur.
This is entirely un-embellished and word-for-word true and I’ve decided to repost it because it’s one of my favourite things that has ever happened to me.
I had made an appointment to view a house near my place of work and I asked my friend H to go with me. I’m very glad I did. Here’s why (not sure why I wrote it as a list, but I did):
1) H and I arrive at 8, Whatever-it-is Terrace in time for our viewing appointment, and find somewhere to park.
2) We approach the house to find a crenellated privet, impenetrable fence all around, and a gate which, unlike the one on the picture the estate agent sent, has been reinforced by wood panelling with only the tiniest wafer-slice of letter box set in it, and is bolted, chained and padlocked from the inside.
3) There is no way to alert the attention of the house-seller so I phone the estate agent who then phones his client (who is inside the house) to ask him/her to come out and open the gate.
4) H and I are beginning to think this house-seller has not taken on board the rudiments of making a house appear welcoming to prospective purchasers. This impression remains throughout the experience.
5) We hear the scraping sounds of bolts being drawn back, chains being detached and padlocks being removed. I try to avoid H’s eye as the fortified gate squeaks open and a wrinkled, unsmiling gnome of a man appears before us. “Oh… I thought you were going to be a man,” he says. And just stands there. I make the obvious comment, “nope, definitely not a man. I’m T, this is H…” and the man shakes our hands without offering a name for himself. Rumplestiltskin, I expect.
6) Rumplestiltskin continues to stand in the gateway just slightly too long for comfort and then lets us in to the front garden which is tiny, but really sweet, with pots of traditional cottage garden flowers everywhere and the occasional gnome (garden variety – not relatives). And other non-specific ornamental eccentricities.
7) Rumplestiltskin clangs his fortified gate shut saying, “security is paramount”, turns to us and discusses petunias for a bit longer than is usually appropriate when it’s a house you’re selling and not a 2m squared plot of kitsch patio alone. Finally he says, “did they warn you I’m a photographer… a… er… glamour photographer?” No they didn’t, but why is this of significance, we wonder (and why ‘warn’?). It crosses both our minds that he is a murderer. “So… I hope you won’t be… ” he adds, to clarify.
8) We are finally invited to cram into a tiny hallway which is entirely coated in photographs of women in varying states of undress. Any gaps between soft focus 1970s porn style shots of not notably beautiful flesh are filled with artefacts distributed all over the walls. Hunting horns, ukeleles, hats, Spanish donkey regalia… there is no end to the curiosities. And the smell.
9) Rumplestiltskin leads us into what appears to be a gran’s living room with brown stiff furnishings protected primly with doily-style antimacassars, swirly carpets and a gas fire, only it has been liberally decorated with more wall-to-wall representations of female secondary sexual characteristics. On gran’s gas fire mantlepiece gran’s silver plated portrait frames have been stripped of family photos and filled with breasts. “Do you want furniture?” enquires Rumplestiltskin. Really not. No. Thanks.
10) Even the kitchen contains nude women. Ugly, in the main. Plus a collection of flies circling around a pile of boxes of something imported from abroad. Probably human organs.
11) We go outside. Rumplestiltskin is particularly proud of his outside toilet. We both admire it. I ask what is in one of the outbuildings and then feel fear while he unlocks it in case it is a torture room.
12) The entire garden is surrounded by high fences and screened off areas because, as Rumplestiltskin reiterates, “security is paramount”. There is a pond. It is not visible from the house or anywhere else. We wonder if there are sexual practices specific to gnomes and ponds. There are. They involve rods.
13) There is a cage full of budgies at the far end. H says to me, “you can keep your seagulls in here” to break the mood. Rumplestiltskin doesn’t laugh. He has a fake number plate saying PLAYA 1. And a punchbag in a tree.
14) We go upstairs.
15) We look in the smallest room. It is done out like tiny, bad quality Moroccan-themed purchased-from-Argos harem quarters. Behind the door is a shop dummy in a shiny nylon wig. She has some sort of sex garments on which I have since blanked from my memory. And a whip. I say “Oh! A scary dummy!” H laughs. Rumplestiltskin offers silence from his entirely expressionless face by way of explanation. We are slightly creeped out.
16) The pièce de résistance is the master bedroom. It contains a large bed clad in cheap red polyester satin finery. The corner of the quilt has been turned down as if a hotel chambermaid has been there. Upon the pillow is displayed a bunny ears headband at a jaunty angle. Next to the bed is an attractive vintage screen, hanging from which there are a number of basques and other items of women’s underwear. There is a bra displayed carefully on a stool. The room is filled with more pink rolling flesh imagery. There are racks and racks of clothes: women’s dressing gowns, slippers, soldier jackets, hats, coats, trousers, dresses. There are ornaments of every kind hanging everywere, filling every space. The whole place is entirely claustrophobic. If anyone has sex in there they must do it without actually moving. Either that or smashing everything up is part of the point. We admire the room, pretending it is not entirely filled with sex aids. H remembers her dad’s advice about house viewing; “what sort of heating is there?” she asks.
17) Rumplestiltskin explains the heating and its efficiency and makes no move of any kind to explain any of the mysteries we have beheld. He tells us he doesn’t live here and that he only visits thrice a week. We wonder who feeds the budgies.
18) Rumplestiltskin offers us tea and tries to tell us about council tax bands, but we make our excuses and leave. We hear the bolts, chains and padlocks being reshuffled, clanged and clunked on the gate as we walk away slowly and silently, not looking at each other, up the road.
19) As we are about to reach the car we hear an almighty, extended grunting sound from the sealed away front garden of 8, Whatever-it-is Terrace. Then the sound of a front door slamming.
20) We drive back to work. Trying not to swerve.