Rent Boy

[Rent Boy]

[Garrett County Press]

Excerpt from Rent Boy

from the Preface:

Man rents flat. Man gets evicted. Man fails to climb on property ladder. Again. It's not necessarily the stuff of Hollywood movies, but it's been the story of my life and plenty of other people's too.

Britain is a nation obsessed by property. A glance through the TV schedules reveals numerous programmes detailing our love of buying, selling and making over properties. The likes of Location, Location, Location, I Want That House, Trading Up, Hot Property, Up Your Street, Escape To The Country, Des Res, Building the Dream, House Invaders, Safe As Houses, House Doctor, Ground Force and Changing Rooms all highlight our love of bricks and mortar.

Yet I have spent more than 20 years floundering beneath the bottom rung of the property ladder. I was the prospective first-time buyer who was always on the verge of being priced out of the capital. Talk to anyone who has moved to London and hopefully they will identify with my tales of endless queues for rooms advertised in the Standard followed by nightmare flatmates.

Since arriving in London in 1981, most of my efforts have been devoted to securing an affordable, permanent place to live. Back then Mrs Thatcher was creating a 'property-owning democracy' -- council houses were being sold off and property prices were starting to increase, along with the number of homeless people. People and money were being attracted to the south-east of England and London had the most inflated property market in the UK. The word 'home' had previously referred to a place to live. Now a home was an investment opportunity.

Throughout the 1980s, everyone I met told me to get on the property ladder before it was too late. They shut up for a time during the property slump of the early 1990s, but then it started all over again. Sometimes I'd think that if only it were possible to find permanent, affordable rented housing in London, I wouldn't care about buying. But it wasn't. After years of battling notices to quit, asbestos in my walls, withheld deposits and numerous arguments over house rotas, buying a property came to seem like my only avenue of escape.

My career as a freelance journalist and writer was always beset by the underlying fear that I was committing property suicide and would never be able to buy a home. At times, I felt like a modern-day heretic.

Today, our society is more unequal than ever: there are two nations in the country, the property owners and the renting classes. If you're a potential first-time buyer in London, you can't afford even the most meagre of properties without the aid of inherited wealth or rich parents. Figures from Shelter reveal that while the price of a loaf of bread has risen sixfold since 1960, the cost of the average house is 60 times more expensive. Should it really be so hard to find a roof above your head?

But this book is more than an extended tale of years of property market madness. It's also a tour throughout numerous regions of London, the city I have come to love. The vagaries of the rental market have seen me pacing the paving stones of Turnpike Lane, West Kensington, Hammersmith, Parsons Green, Fulham Broadway, Camberwell, Neasden, Westbourne Park, Victoria, Elephant and Castle, Highbury and Finsbury Park. My best friend for the last 23 years has been the London A-Z.

While writing this book, what's been striking is how accommodation has affected nearly every aspect of my life: the friends I've made, the people I've fought, every woman I've dated, every job I've applied for or been sacked from.

In some chapters, the names of both the innocent and guilty have been changed, but everything else is true.

Above all, I hope you'll find some of my stories amusing. Maybe you'll come and join me: 'Author has large spacious book to let, close to all amenities, no references required, viewing on request.' Welcome to my life as a rent boy.

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