Like most people I know, I’ve lived with some great people and I’ve lived with some real nightmares. People who you just don’t think can be real — but yet they are, and everything about them seems to have been designed to actively get on your nerves! Actually that’s a bit unfair, it wasn’t always their fault, at least not directly (and also…let’s not overlook the fact that for some of them, I may have also been the nightmare). For example, once, on the first day I’d moved into a place, I returned home to find the landlord’s dog had emptied its wormy heaving bowels directly onto the centre of my mattress.
Despite the disturbing nature of the act — the pile was endearingly neat and tidy, like a little tower of horrendous doom arranged with all the care and attention of a superstar chef — amidst my sheer disgust there was also a minor element of respect: the animal had clearly thought the insult through from beginning to end, and had dumped his stringy load right in the middle, perfectly equidistant from every single side (whenever I get the opportunity to use the e word I take it). Even the stain seeping out from under the dreaded thing was uniform. He had also had the good mind to do it some time before I got home, so that I would be met with a solid rather than a steaming putrid heap. It was much appreciated, and the sheer concern and work that went into that one special turd was not lost on me. I suppose you could say it taught me a lot about life.
How do you decide who you live with? Well, there are the basics, like: 1) You check your landlord doesn’t have a hyper-intelligent dog with a grudge against bearded individuals before you move in, and 2) You have your method of vetting. We all have our house-mate-vetting methods — some more involved than others. I’d love to say that over the years I’ve developed a reliable, complex and highly sophisticated method of telling a great housemate from a potential disaster, but of course that’s not the case, and logic/probability says that although I’d rather not admit it, I’m liable to have a 50% chance of ending up with either for as long as I live with people who I don’t know (note: living with a near total stranger is always a bit of a risk).
What I love, though, is when people tell me they have ways of telling potentially good and bad housemates apart easily. Ways which work each and every time. Not just ways, but techniques which never fail. Whatever these methods are, personally I don’t believe in any of them. I think these people are full of shit. To do that you’d have to be a trained psychologist with years of experience in reading body language & interpreting handwriting, and it’d also be handy if you were a psychoanalyst too — preferably one capable of registering the barely perceptible variations in a person’s voice which separate lying from telling the truth. You could always use a polygraph machine to monitor the electrical conductivity of their skin, I suppose, but sadly even they aren’t 100% accurate, and let’s face it…they’re not exactly great to have around when your date comes home for the first time. Not to mention the chances of you acquiring a new room-mate diminish rapidly when you put an ad out there that says: Room mate needed. Must be willing to undergo extensive psychological testing first — but don’t worry, we’ll make it fun! If anything’s going to tempt a mentally disturbed but very determined individual to a challenge he or she has been training years and years for, it’s got to be that.
Until today, I hadn’t even really contemplated the myriad of to let adverts you can find in any newsagent window, up and down the country. Maybe that’s because I always spend as little time looking at them as possible, I don’t know. The only things I have contemplated about them in the past are as follows: 1) Never reply to one which is almost illegible. It’ll mean you have to ask a lot of questions and the guy or girl — or both, transvestites need housemates too — will probably sit there staring right at you for an uncomfortably long time that will make your palms sweat and all kinds of weird thoughts occur inside your head and 2) if you’re going to try and catch the attention of someone wandering about on the street, the best thing to do is to create an advert that looks vaguely normal; at least more normal than all the others (not usually very difficult). It doesn’t have to be the paper equivalent of the world’s most boring businessperson in a suit, but it does have to look like it wasn’t the desperate creation of one man or woman’s seriously drunken stupor. Or maybe it’s just me?
Trust the BBC to mess it all up. Sorry, not the BBC, the experts. Those bloody annoying experts, again. We’re not told specifically who these experts are — the article in question does refer to some experts, but none of these experts have dared to stake a direct claim, instead prefering to skirt around the issue and imply or not imply certain things — but we are told some things. Alleged facts. One of these alleged facts — it depends how you interpret the article — is that discrimination might be occuring up and down the high-streets of Great Britain (newsflash!). The kind of discrimination that should presumably have me running down to my local newsagent’s to file a formal complaint. Although the queue is so long that I’d actually be better off posting the formal complaint rather than going in person.
And there was me thinking that the real experts were the people who actually lived with other people. Instead, it turns out the experts are rich academics who have probably never lived with anyone else in their whole entire life. A good thing, I think. I can’t stand spreadsheets and presumably that’s all they’d be going on about as we found ourselves in the kitchen at the same time, discussing the various things we’d been up to during the day (Me: “so what did you do today?” Expert: “I measured the deceleration of particles in a fundamentally warped timespace continuum hypothesis and inputed it into a spreadsheet, how about you?” Me: “Yeah…”).
What annoys me about all this is just how much these so-called experts have apparently ignored during their research. While it’s true that they’ve considered many relevant socially-important-type things — such as how some people use these ads to streamline certain individuals to their door, which could definitely be seen as a negative thing if that offended others — it seems to me they’ve also ignored many things which are equally important. Because people aren’t numbers on a page, and to me, that seems to be how they’ve been looking at this. It isn’t a simple issue, is the thing, and I don’t believe it’s purely a question of like or dislike.
For example, let’s imagine the case of Jessica, which I just made up. Jessica is five-foot-three, an agnostic atheist, and has for a long time suffered from a social anxiety disorder. This is fair enough — a few years ago, while listening to the band Savage Garden, she was mugged and had all her stuff stolen; you name it, Jessica had it all in her bag that day, the silly, silly girl. Ever since then she has been exceedingly wary of anyone who hates Savage Garden, as well as carrying multiple things in her handbag. Sadly for Jessica, it’s a known fact that more people would prefer to make love to a life-size wax statue of Margaret Thatcher than they would listen to a Savage Garden album all the way through.
So, considering Jessica’s history, why shouldn’t she tailor her ad to suit her specific requirements? If Jessica feels more comfortable sharing a house with another woman — preferably one who adores Savage Garden as much as she does, but beggars can’t be choosers, and let’s be honest now, Jessica’s more likely to be six-feet under before that happens — then surely it makes sense for her to state this to begin with in her advert, to save everyone wasting their time? It’s not that Jessica hates everyone else apart from women. It really isn’t like that (actually, she once got drunk and snogged a tramp, but we won’t go into that here…). See, aside from her worrying fixation with the Australian band Savage Garden, she’s perfectly normal (apart from being a trampsnogger, like I mentioned). It’s just that this is her home and she needs to feel comfortable. She cannot do that when her housemate is a sixteen stone Muslim Michael Jackson impersonator who has turrets and a criminal record for GBH (the tragedy of it all is that he LOVES Savage Garden, and there it is…the sheer unbridled cruelty of life, again).
OK, so I’m being a bit mean here. I’m also making light of a very serious subject — although I’d qualify this by saying that it pales into insignificance when compared with the amount of hysteria and general misinterpretation that these kind of one-sided articles provoke. Jessica is an exception…or is she? In fact, I’d say she isn’t — it just appears that way, for the simple reason that her circumstances seem somewhat abnormal compared to the general average. Fact is, we all have different requirements when we look for a housemate, and only in a very (probably) few of those overall cases are those requirements anything to do with active racism or discrimination. In the majority of cases, I’d say that it’s just about who we feel comfortable with, for whatever reason that may be. Which is where religion comes in — yet another thing which the experts picked up on. For once.
Throw religion and enormous differences in culture into the mix and you have a right proper recipe for disaster (and before anyone starts getting upset, that’s not me having a go at religion, it’s just me saying that religion divides people — I know, I’m not the first person to notice this! — which can lead to differences of opinion on a grand scale). And who would know how to do that better than the so-called experts who love nothing more than stirring it all up? Don’t get me wrong: I’m completely against descrimination, sexism, homophobia, racism and all that bad stuff, but what I am not against is everyone having their basic human rights considered. If someone is inviting another person into their own home, I’d say they have every right to decide if that person is going to be a good fit for their household. Will they stink the place out with meat every day? Not great if you’re a hardcore vegetarian. Do they like to wander around naked during the evening? It might cause a problem — nobody wants to find pubic bum hair scattered all about. It’s a great thing that we care and look after the interests of the majority, but I can’t help but think that if we stop looking after what we need and want on a basic personal level, then there is something very wrong with our society.
One thing which crossed my mind as I read this article was this: would an expert be willing to live with someone who had absolutely no interest in academia, science or the studying of humanity? Someone who didn’t watch Eggheads? Chances are he or she might, perhaps, if he or she was reasonably open-minded and liked a bit of Home & Away, but then again…maybe not. Maybe they’d be too biased to put aside a life-time of conditioning in favour of the majority. Maybe they would think they were willing to give everyone an equal chance, but when it really came down to it, they were led by something embedded deeply within them — something which couldn’t be easily put to one side. Not too disimillar from religion, then…
I suppose another enormous thing not to overlook — which the experts made no mention of, although I’m not blaming them specifically for this, as the BBC article was obviously selective about what it chose to include — is as follows: most of us White English people — as well as a lot of Asian people and Black people — aren’t particularly religious, if we are at all. Some of us pretend to be Christians, sure, but in reality we couldn’t be further from it, and we wouldn’t know religion if it kicked us in the face. That doesn’t mean we don’t share many of the good attributes of people who are religious, of course — more traits of decent people than a consequence of following religion, I think — but it does mean that when it comes to religion, a lot of us are far from understanding what it is really like to be religious. Hardly surprising, then, that many of us can’t understand how religious people can have certain preferances while we are easy or indifferent. It’s not our fault, it’s just the way things are, the way things have to be.
As for the minority of highly-specific to let adverts that single out a certain sex, religion, age, sexuality or profession, I don’t have a problem with that. I am not offended. If I’m going to see about moving into a place, I’d much prefer to know who I’m going to be living with before I make the effort of visiting. The world’s still going to turn. I’ll just have a look at the next ad, then I’ll go home and moan about it. If I’m feeling adventurous, I might even treat myself to a Wispa.
Another thing I found hilarious about the article was something very sinister: marketing tells us from an early age that we should be selective about what we buy, which clothes we wear, and which products we use. It’s a mark of being a good modern human being, we might be led to believe, if we are easily led, which, let’s face it, we very much are. We spend our lives becoming attached to one way of doing things, singling out certain ways of living as better than others — often more out of habit than conscious choice or judgement. And after all that, we’re told that we shouldn’t be selective about who we live with. That we should consider living with anyone, no matter how that might affect us. Well, it’s a bit bloody late for that I’m afraid: it’s just not gonna wash. Personally, I’m very open about who I live with — religious or non-religious, Home & Away watcher or Neighbours obsessive — but that’s just me. Everyone is different, and you can’t go around enforcing people change the ways of a life-time.
There is another side to all this, though, and it’s also not very pretty. It’s also the reason why a lot of people have been getting upset about this subject on forums and messageboards all over the internet. On this side, people create to let ads which, by way of wording or composition, insult certain races and heighten racial tensions. Things like
Whites only accommodation — no indians, pakistanis or anybody else wanted.
don’t help, and if you’re anything like me then this advert brings an uneasy feeling. A feeling that the person who lives here isn’t the kind of person who you’d like to hang out with.
But then, the question you have to ask yourself is, is this ad any different?
Asian room-mate wanted — no white people. For religious reasons. No offense intended.
And that’s when things get confusing again…with so many motives at work, it’s hard to know if you should be offended or just indifferent, a bit like being forced to decide between Home & Away or Neighbours (luckily for you, they’re on one after another on Channel 5 so you don’t have to!). Personally, I’m not bothered. As long as it’s not racism masquerading as an ad, I’m happy with people doing more or less whatever they like inside their own home.
Even now, as I type these last few sentences, there is so much more to write about this subject. Even now, having dissected and compared a dozens and dozens of thoughts, I am wondering if there are darker forces at work here which haven’t been addressed. I wonder about the street of people who meet up to discuss about creating a legion of ads which ban anyone but Asians from moving in, and I wonder about the ads which aren’t even real, and are only there to induce hate in the community. The key thing to remember here, though, is minority. Don’t let the government make you believe that bad people are everywhere, because I just don’t think that could ever be the case.