Tag: flatsharing

The dog’s world is a flat

The family living in the flat next to ours have a large white fluffy dog. While I washed my breakfast dishes, I watched the boy play with the dog in the concrete square at the centre of our block of flats.

The dog looked frustrated. It was darting here and there but no more than two metres at a time because the boy was holding tightly onto its leash. I guess the boy had no option, as there is no gate to our concrete square. An unleashed dog could have run away to the wild open streets of London.

I remember seeing the boy play with the dog a few month ago. He threw a stick. The dog stood beside him, apparently confused. Only when the boy faked a sprint towards the stick, did the dog start running towards it. The dog skidded and made three attempts at picking up the stick before success.

This incident made me realise that the dog, though large, is actually quite young. A big puppy.

I also didn’t know that dogs aren’t born with the instinct to fetch.

In the first three months of the dog coming to live amongst our flats, he barked and barked. The family would frantically shush him. Soon, they too were barking. I couldn’t walk past their front door without setting off a canine and human symphony.

I think the dog has learned. I can now walk by and two-thirds of the time, the dog would watch without a peep.

Some mornings on the way to work, I see the family out for a walk with the dog. I hope they go out every day, even twice a day. It must be hard for a big dog living in a two-storey London flat.

DIY Joan

Yesterday, our electric shower unit did something strange and inconvenient. Instead of water coming out of the showerhead, suddenly almost all the water was pouring out of a hole in the lower left corner of the wall unit.

After a thoroughly unsatisfactory shower, I padded back into the bathroom to investigate. The hole seems to have been designed. I poked my finger up into it and tried to find a flap or something that I could close. Nothing.

I then decided to seal the hole with electrical duct, thus forcing the water to go up to the shower head. I couldn’t find any tape in the house.

Then I tried shoving a ball of blu tack into the hole. This was unsuccessful. The blu tack seal was not watertight and the water continued to spurt out around the blue blob.

In my search for duct tape, I had come across tubes of sealant under the kitchen sink. I wondered if I was brave enough to use them to make a watertight seal.

By this time, I was getting late for work. However, I was on the scent of a trail now and I wanted to get to the end.

I hopped on the internet and found the website of Triton, the manufacturer of the shower unit. Here, I started to get answers.

Frequently asked question: When I turn on my electric shower water starts leaking out from the bottom of the unit, why?

If water is leaking from a clear plastic tube or small plastic elbow in the unit, then the Pressure Relief Device (PRD) has been activated. The most common reasons for the PRD to activate are that the showerhead has become blocked or there is a restriction in the shower hose.

That’s it! London’s water is stupidly hard. My cups of tea always carry a film of calcium. The showerhead must be blocked with lime scale.

I longed to solve the problem now but I had a teleconference with South Africa at 9am…

So I rushed to work, had my teleconference, another meeting, a teleconference with Dubai, found out that three team members (good friends) had just been made redundant, then another meeting.

After a depressed lunch commiserating with laid off colleagues, I went on the internet and paid for a new PRD to be posted to me First Class.

I worked late, got home to cook and eat dinner, then went on the internet again (what did we do before the WWW?) to find out how one goes about cleaning a showerhead.

I originally imagined that I had to do something like unscrew the showerplate and scrub it with a toothbrush. Then a colleague suggested soaking the showerhead in a lemon juice solution. My parents said vinegar would work too. I don’t have lemons at home. I do have vinegar, so I went downstairs to get a bucket and my bottle of vinegar.

Under the kitchen sink, right next to the bucket, were two packets of lime descaler! How fabulous.

I mixed the lime descaler with water and sunk the showerhead in the solution for half an hour. Then I wiggled the showerhead in a bowl of clean water, scrubbed it with a toothbrush for good measure, and was gratified to see lots of little brown bits sinking to the bottom of the bowl.

I had resigned myself to having baths for the next day or two while waiting for the new PRD to arrive so that I could replaced the tripped one. PRDs are ‘use once’ and need to be installed back into place.

Imagine my excitement, then, when my freshly cleaned showerhead started squirting out a respectable stream of water!

There is still some water (around a third of the total flow) coming out of the hole at the bottom. I think the only way to stop that is to replace the PRD. But while I wait for the spare one and while I take a couple of days to figure out how to install it, I will at least be able to have hot showers.

Hooray for DIY Joan!


By the time I had finished my dinner this evening, I still had 1.5 hours before bed time. I thought that maybe I would watch a DVD or even start some homework (I am trying to write an article abut sustainable film productions).

Instead I spent my evening helping my temporary flatmate, Cara, learn her lines for a play she’s performing next Tuesday. The play was written for Henry VIII so the language is ye-olde-and-hard-to-understand English.

I would say the line immediately before Cara’s character’s lines, and Cara would start reciting. We went through each verse around 15 times.

I found it interesting. It seemed very difficult. Even though I had the lines right in front of me, I still stumbled over sentences.

Cara is my temporary flatmate while my actual flattie, Aoife, is in New York, also performing in a play.

At my old house, my flattie Richard was an actor, and flattie Damian was a former actor before he became a catering manager.

The creative industries is the third largest employer in London. That explains why I keep meeting people working in film, broadcasting, publishing, music, advertising, the arts, design, fashion, and the performing arts, despite me being a boring engineer.


I got some exciting news in the snail mail today. The Institute of Civil Engineers has awarded me and my MPhil supervisor the James Watt medal for the best paper on the topic of energy published in their journals last year.

I am very happy. There’s nothing like a pat on the back (and a medal!) to motivate me to write more.

Our paper
was based on three months of research I did at the tail end of my masters year at Cambridge. I interviewed eight organisations about what stopped them from building energy efficient houses in the UK. The technology exists and you’ll save money — doesn’t energy efficiency just make sense? After all, the Scandinavians got on with it all years ago.

I ended up writing about the social, organisational and structural barriers and drivers for energy efficiency. My friend, Anna, wrote about the economic barriers. This probably won’t surprise you — the problem is complicated. In fact, everything I have ever looked at with any kind of thoughtfulness is always more complicated (in fact, more complex) than it might appear.

We did not write anything ground breaking or previously unknown so I don’t know why the judging panel chose our paper. The merit was probably in the synthesis (putting it all together), rather than the thesis. Maybe I can ask one of the judges if any are at the awards ceremony in October.


Locating barriers and drivers in the house building system
Figure 2 Locating barriers and drivers in the house building system


My flatmate Aoife is so nice! She came back from her weekend shop with celebratory champagne, chocolate and a card.

Champagne, chocolate and card
Champagne, chocolate and card

Wailing man

There is a man who wails in the evening. He wails for hours at a time. It’s not every night but it’s often enough that I started thinking that he must be doing a kind of ritual.

At first, I was curious. Then it got a bit annoying. Even though he lives in another building, I could clearly hear him from the kitchen and the bathroom. I wondered what would happen if I shouted, ‘Shut up! Some of us are trying to relax here!’

It wasn’t the way to go, though. In London, people have been verbally abused and physically attacked for telling others off. And at least this wailing man has a decent voice. It would have been really grating otherwise.

I eventually asked my flat mate Aoife about it. She smiled knowingly.

‘The wailing man? Yes, I hear him. I think he has a mental problem and his mother looks after him. Last year, they had the window open and I could hear him all the time.’

‘Oh, your room is on that side of the building!’ I exclaimed. ‘It would have driven you nuts.’

Aoife said, ‘I went over twice to ask them to close the window. I’m sorry about the kid but all I wanted was for them to close the window. Eventually, I called the Council and someone came to speak to the family. Since then, the window has been closed.’

House proud

‘House proud’. It’s a new term for me, and an unexpected source of stress when I was being kicked out of my first London home.

During the second week after we had been given notice to leave, I got a call on my mobile at lunch time. It was Damian.

‘Joan, the real estate agent is going to show some people through the house. Is that okay with you?’

I panicked. I thought of the pyjamas thrown over my computer chair, the unmade bed, books and bills on my desk, towel drying over the radiator, shoes placed around my bedroom to trip unsuspecting guests.

‘Erm…’ I hemmed.

‘I’ll say no if you want,’ Damian said. ‘I told the landlord that we’d have the last stay for showing people through.’

‘Ah, no, it’s okay.’ I was embarrassed. ‘Will you be there?’

‘Yes, as a matter of fact, I’ve got a half day off.’

‘Um, would you mind going up to my room and shoving the clothes on my bed under the blanket?’

‘House proud, Joan? I never knew.’

I never knew either. All of a sudden, the idea of strangers seeing my slobbishness filled me with deep shame.

Ten minutes after Damian hung up the phone, I messaged him to ask him to open up the curtains as well. I don’t know why I wanted my room to look its best. It wasn’t like I wanted the landlord to sell the house!

After that day, the estate agent showed two more groups of people through and let a builder in as well. Each time, my bedroom was immaculate. I couldn’t leave the house without making the bed and putting away bits, bobs and clothes.

You know, keeping your room tidy takes up a lot of time. I got to work five or ten minutes later every day.

The good news is that I’ve carried my new tidy habit over to my new bedroom. You never know when someone is going to come in…

This fridge magnet features in the kitchen of my new flat. Is it true?

Dodging homelessness

Last week, our landlord gave us a month’s notice to vacate the house. It was a bit of a shock. Although he had been talking about selling the place, considering how sickly the housing market was doing, I figured we had a while yet before eviction.

I’ve spent a week obsessing over house ads on Gumtree and Moveflat. In a week, I visited five potential houseshares and flatshares. I’ve been trying to move within walking distance of work. For a place near work, I am willing to pay:

  • £80/month, due to travel cost savings
  • £40/month, to save 10 hours commuting time
  • £15/month, to avoid the vagaries and germ-spreading of the Tube (although, really, I love the Tube and its glorious convenience)

At the end of Saturday, I found a place in north London. It’s a new neighbourhood for me, having lived in south London since last November.

It’s 20 minutes walk from work and 10 minutes walk from Regent’s Park. I’ll be living in a maisonette with a couple (I think they own the place).

I was first a bit worried that it was too expensive for me. After some pondering, I now think it’s probably worth pay the £10 a week premium for the niceness of the flat, the size of the room, the fact I won’t be sharing it with a zoo of people, the lack of long-term contract (I will pay month by month), the interesting neighbourhood, and, of course, the location.

How do you make yoghurt

‘Damian,’ I said, ‘Is this your milk in the fridge?’

‘Yes,’ he said.

‘It’ll be overdue tomorrow… If you don’t want it, I can make yoghurt out of it.’

Richard, who was also in the kitchen, perked up in interest. He asked, ‘How do you make yoghurt?’

I began to explain. ‘Well, you put yoghurt in it…’ Before I could finish, Richard and Damian were laughing hysterically.

‘What?’ I hadn’t even said anything funny.

‘You put yoghurt into it!’ they chortled. ‘How do you make yoghurt? You put yoghurt into it!’

‘Well, you have to, because…’ But they were laughing too loudly for me to justify my apparently inane statement.

‘It grows!’ I cried, trying to shout over them. ‘It’s alive! You need to grow the yoghurt!’

I don’t think they heard me.

Bathroom geography

I’m terrible at geography and do my best to hide it. If someone said, ‘I know it’s crazy, but Mogadishu is next on my destination list,’ I’d nod and say, ‘Totally!’, with only the vaguest idea of where Mogadishu is.

But no more! There is change in my life and that change is a new shower curtain.

‘Do you like the new shower curtain?’ asked Damian the next morning.

‘It’s wonderful!’ I enthused. ‘I finally know where Malawi is! And who knew Madagascar was so big!’

‘The only thing I’m not sure about is that I never see America. It’s all the way bunched up in the corner,’ Damian mused. ‘Maybe every once in a while, we can flip the curtain around so that we can see the other side…’

‘An, never mind America,’ I dismissed. ‘Look how boring it is! Just a couple of big countries, that’s all. Now, AFRICA, that’s the interesting bit! I never knew there were so many countries in Africa!’

Damian agreed, ‘Yes, I suppose you’re right.’

America, whose geography is quite dull (without the various States marked in, anyway).

Africa, a far more interesting (and politically troubled) part of the curtain.

My housemates, Damian and Richard, behind curtain number 1.

Why I am an iron woman

Reason 1
This evening I put on the soundtrack for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon then ironed three weeks of shirts!

Reason 2
Again, I tried going to the gym but it was closed (I have a gym flyer that clearly states that it is open 8am-8pm on public holidays). As there was a Sainsbury’s superstore next door, I went shopping instead. Usually, my clothes are already daggy by London standards. I was slightly more embarrassed, shopping in a duvet jacket, 3/4 length tracky-daks and scruffy sneakers.

Despite my desperate lack of fashion, on the way home two people smiled at me and said, ‘Happy new year!’ It felt really nice.

I deposited my groceries at home, which brought me great joy, as signposted in my blog profile. Then I prepared to go for a walk around the local park. On an impulse, I asked Neo:

‘Hey, I’m going to the park. Do you want to come with me?’

Neo’s eyes widened and he smiled a hopeful smile. ‘Let me check with dad. I want to come.’ He rushed off to the bedroom.

Ten seconds later, Damian came out and said to me, ‘Did you ask Neo if he wanted to go to the park or did he invite himself?’

‘No, I asked him. I’m going to do a circuit before it gets dark. Neo’s welcome.’

‘Well, that’s great! Neo will get his coat on, then.’

At the park, Neo turned into my personal trainer — I sprinted after him, whenever he declared a race to the next rubbish bin. He also made me struggle up a rope jungle gym identical to this one I photographed in Cambridge. He then insisted we jog laps around the block before going home.

For the first time, I realised what it must be like to own a large dog and having to exercise its energy away every day.