An Escapologist’s Diary: Part 62. Hole.

Escape Towers is on the top floor of a very old building, and water drips into our spare room whenever there’s serious rain. We reported the problem to the landlord some time ago, but no repairs were forthcoming. Since it was only our spare room and wasn’t a constant problem, we didn’t put any pressure on him to get it fixed. Bohemia!

Alas, our ignoring of indoor rain evidently went on for too long because, a few midnights ago, a fairly significant noise came from somewhere in the apartment. It wasn’t a crash exactly but it was obviously the sound of “things falling.”

Those “things” turned out to be chunks of spare room ceiling. There is now a hole in the ceiling, about two foot wide with damp-looking Victorian “rib cage” joists peeking through, not seen by human eyes in a century. Worst of all, there was grey plaster dust and jet-black soot everywhere: on the floor, down the walls, in the air. Fallout!

Coughing, we did what any responsible tenants would do in the face of such a problem. We closed the door on it.

If we owned Escape Towers, we’d have to pay hundreds (thousands?) of pounds for someone to repair the roof and replaster the ceiling and redecorate the spare room. Or perhaps we’d spend time on YouTube and money in B&Q, looking into how to do it ourselves. As it stands, we’ll just make a few phone calls and, you know, not go in there for a bit.

Our phone calls could be rather smug ones too: “remember that drip you weren’t particularly concerned about?”

Our devotion to minimalism has paid off too. There was next to nothing in our spare room to be damaged by the rainwater or the soot. We have no soft furnishings in there and no superfluous stuff “in storage” and no precious books or other items. It’s just a shell of a room in which we sometimes work at a table and where guests can sometimes sleep on a pull-out bed. Despite the drama of “the ceiling falling in,” there has been no material cost to us at all. We’ll let the landlord worry about the thousands of pounds and insurance claims and the hiring of contractors to repair it all.

Unless the landlord died in the pandemic. Maybe that’s why the leak never got fixed. Hmm. Someone would tell us, right? We’re still paying rent!

One of the good things about minimalism is how it lets you accommodate crisis when it happens. If your schedule is clear, you can handle an urgent appointment when it comes up. If your inbox is empty, you will be less overwhelmed by a sudden dump of incoming tasks.

I first had these thoughts when I worked in the back rooms of a busy shop: part of my job was to help unload deliveries of new stock throughout the day and see that it was all prepped for sale. I always liked to keep the cargo bay as empty as possible–to keep things moving along–so that I could be ready for the next delivery. We never knew when a lorry would arrive and how big it would be. Keeping the cargo bay as empty as possible meant I could handle anything that turned up. Instead of procrastinating over pricing a single box of new stock, my habit was to get it done and then take it easy, able to afford a “bring it on” attitude instead of fretting over whether I could handle what might come next.

On the day after the ceiling fell in, I decided to venture into the spare room to clean up the mess. For all my delegating responsibility to landlords and the likes, I do care about the flat and I don’t like to think of any part of it being neglected or unloved.

I donned my COVID mask to prevent soot inhalation, pulled on some rubber washing up gloves, and filled some tough supermarket “bags for life” with rubble. I mopped up as much soot as possible and my partner did some more mopping when she came home from her part-time job. No new equipment required thanks to improvisation. Done.

Well, except for the actual hole of course. In Britain, we’re all in ill-maintained housing stock but some of us are looking at the stars. Literally.

The rent versus ownership debate is by no means cut and dried. There’s a section about it in The Good Life for Wage Slaves, available now.

About

Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at www.wringham.co.uk/about.

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