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Thursday, 27 December 2012

#67: Two Degrees of Separation — Part Four

I stuck it out for about a month. The landlord popped round to say hi and collect the next month's rent a few nights before it was officially due. He’d heard what had happened, but understood I was OK with it now.

“I’ll have my rent in a couple of days (on the due day),” I said, a little shiftily.

“You sure you’re alright – you’re not going to do a runner on me, are you?” replied El Landlordo, perhaps smelling a rat – though I think we had at least a couple living there with us (so it could have been a dropping of poop, rather than a hint). “You know you’ve got to give a month’s notice?”

“Yes, I know," I said. "And no. Absolutely not (re. the doing a runner thing). Furthest thing from my mind. Happy to stay here for the next 20 years. Well, perhaps not quite that long.”

El Landlordo then left, apparently swallowing my story. Though if he really did believe that, he’d surely believe anything.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Two days later (following much undercover work), a silver Volvo estate turned left into a quiet Stoke street around noon and parked by a house not a million miles from mine. A gentleman and lady emerged from the car and knocked on the door of a house. The door creaked open and the couple stepped inside.

In a blur of subsequent activity, the contents of a small box room (in this random Stoke city house) were whisked out and into the boot of the silver Volvo. Possibly in under an hour. The room was given a quick clean and the house key then slotted inside an envelope, which was placed on the Welcome mat.

Ten seconds later the sound of screeching tires reverberated around the Victoria Ground and its surrounding neighbourhood, as the Volvo wheelspan out of this quiet, secluded street and headed west towards Etruria.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

The landlord’s suspicions proved accurate. I was out of there a day before the next month’s rent was due – thanks to some expert help from my getaway team… AKA Ma & Pa.

As we headed west towards Etruria, there was no plan. In fact, it was pretty random that we were heading in the direction of Etruria at all. I think a one-way system may have played a part in our ‘choice’.

But I needed to find a new place to live – and fast. Mum & Dad were on their way to spend a weekend with friends in Derbyshire (I was also joining the party), so we were trying to squeeze this getaway/relocation AQAP (Q obviously standing for quickly).

Basically our strategy was to drive around a selection of Stoke-on-Trent suburbs, keeping our eyes peeled for any "Roommate Wanted" or "Room for Rent" signs/ads.

We tried a couple, with no response. Then found ourselves in Etruria, creeping round a few dodgy looking streets and trying hard not to look too much like curb-crawlers.

Suddenly, crawling down a steep side-street, we spotted a sign in a window: Room for Rent.

The neighbourhood appeared to have recently been involved in a nuclear war of some description. However, it was our best (read: only) option so far – and, as such, worth a shot.

A sign on the front door read: Accessed Round the Back. Meaning the front door likely opened into a room; used as a bedroom; and likely soon to be used by yours truly if the price (both financially and spiritually) wasn’t too high a one to pay.

We parked up and headed around the back of the house, walking up an alley which looked like it had a few stories to tell, and through a rickety wooden gate into a cramped back-yard.

I was worried knocking on the back door would cause it to collapse into dust. But thankfully it clung to its hinges, before a smiling chap with glasses answered our call and offered a shrill “Hello there!” in a broad Irish accent.

The chap was Mark, a 24-year-old economics student from Dublin (he'd later make no bones about the fact he was essentially just here – as in, at Staffs Uni – to drink; and the economics course was his vehicle/excuse/diversion to make that happen).

Mark lived there with his buddy Jon, a chemistry student from Dudley who had one leg shorter than the other – and thus a permanent limp. The two had shared a hall of residence in their Year One.

They were looking for a room-mate to round out the landlord’s desired quota – and, sure enough, the front room (featuring the front door) was the one on offer.

Mark gave me a quick tour of the house, which featured a living room/dining room downstairs (in addition to the front ‘bedroom’); leading into a narrow kitchen then bathroom at the back of the house.

It was clear Mark and Jon were both Olympic standard smokers as well as drinkers, and the chances of cigarette 'steam' seeping under the door into my room were high.

But I thought I could make it work. And considered all these ‘challenges’ part of the university experience. We’d also essentially run out of search-time.

So I took the room.

We unloaded all my belongings via the front door – and I agreed to go with Mark to see the landlord and sort out the paperwork the following Monday (this was a Friday).

I was now ready to start Year Two of university. At the new, improved Staffordshire University.

And this was where the fun really started.


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