Toward the end of September I’d just landed in London after more than nine hours in the air, with another short leg to Edinburgh to come after this layover. Years of contemplation and months of preparation brought me here. I’d gone past comfortable to stagnant; I was ready for a change.
I’d turned on wifi as soon as I got a signal after border control, and not long after, an AirBnB message notification popped up.
I’d booked a cheap-ish, cat-friendly flat in Edinburgh for six weeks to give me time to find more permanent accommodation. It’s not easy to find a place that allows pets, either on AirBnB or more permanently, so I felt lucky to get something that wouldn’t require a mortgage.
It read, in part: “Sorry about this but we have just discovered a wee issue in the flat- nothing major, just a fairly mild damp smell in the shower room. We’ve had someone look at it and they’ve said they’ll need to do something about it at some point. We can either wait until you’ve left to deal with it or sort it quicker while you are there to get rid of the smell- you can see what you think when you get there.”
[An aside: In the latest episode of the hilarious Derry Girls, the “wee English fella” James says he hates that “people here use the word ‘wee’ to describe things that aren’t even actually that small!” Here being Ireland in that case, but the same holds true in Scotland.]
I replied to thank him for letting me know and I’d see what I thought after I arrived. I wasn’t thrilled, but I’m adaptable, and I’ve stayed in some very questionable accommodation in my life.
When I arrived at this questionable accommodation, the host’s mother let me in as arranged – though a little late. Her son had given her a different time than the one we’d arranged, so luckily she’d arrived early in order to do a bit of cleaning. Unluckily, my early-to-her arrival meant she didn’t have time to do much of that.
Exhaustion acted as beer goggles and all I felt was relief that the 13 hour journey was over, the flurry of pre-move activity was behind me, and that I could soon collapse into the rickety-looking bed, relief that my new life was about to start in earnest.
“It’s very basic,” she said apologetically as she brought out the vacuum cleaner. Two Ikea couches, a full kitchen, a bed crammed into a small bedroom, a shower. Each room was separate, including a room with a toilet and sink plus a room with a bathtub/shower and sink. It would do for six weeks.
After she finished her rushed clean while I sorted my baggage, she kept asking if I wanted anything else, apologizing again that there was no tea, coffee or milk as advertised in the Airbnb listing. “Please go away” was how I felt, but “no, thank you, I can go for a walk to pick up some things and then I’ll just go to bed” was what I said. She was lovely. I was exhausted.
She left me a container of soup and some buns that were likely for her own dinner, and then I was mercifully on my own. The cats would arrive the next day, but in the meantime I could get settled and sleep. And despite the creaky, uncomfortable bed, I did sleep.
The next morning, the exhaustion goggles were gone. I had a shower. That’s when I realized the smell was coming from inside this room, permeating the flat if I didn’t keep the door closed. I kept the door closed. I could still smell it, but not as strongly.
The carpet was stained outside the bathroom. It was stained in more places than that, but there was a large patch on the other side of the wall from the bathtub. Clearly a leak. I hadn’t noticed at first but the tub didn’t fit the room; its snout had been lopped off in order to cram it into the available space. And in that space, I suppose, water was accumulating and things were growing. If it wasn’t a ground floor suite, the downstairs neighbours would likely have a flood – but on the other hand, the owner would likely have fixed the issue by now.
There were multiple sprays designed to cover the smell of mildew in the closet. This issue was not new. Not a surprise. I wondered how many guests had left positive reviews because they felt too guilty leaving an honest one. “Cheap, allows pets, smells like mildew.” I told him I’d rather they get someone in sooner rather than later to fix it. I could have contacted AirBnB and asked to be relocated, but my options had been very limited when I booked the place months before; I didn’t have faith that they’d arrange something suitable.
You can get used to a lot if you set your mind to it. Sometimes I thought the smell abated, sometimes I thought the sprays worked, sometimes I thought I was just used to the smell.
There were other quirks to get used to. The blinds, it turned out, wouldn’t roll up or stay up, so I got creative with some hair elastics to force some light into the gloom. The ground floor windows were, however, frosted so passers by couldn’t see in. Which meant I couldn’t see out. The already rare winter light was further filtered, meaning I kept all the lights on. The better to see the carpet stains with. I got used to the gloom.
At least the carpeted areas felt solid to stand on. The bathroom and kitchen tile seemed to cover a wooden grid and I felt like one wrong step would have my ankle trapped in the world of the mildew. That felt true more than was true, but I got used to not making wrong steps.
After regular messages from the landlord about how difficult it was proving to find a plumber, I gave up. Finally, a few days before I was to make my escape to my shiny new flat, they set a time. The plumber arrived, identified the problem, and called the owner with the bad news: the attempts to patch up the bathtub had failed, further patches would fail, and the only solution was to rip up the room, remediate the damage, and reinstall the fixtures.
Did the owner give approval for the work to go ahead? HAHAHAHAHA no. Maybe he did after giving it some thought. Maybe he continued to tell people “oh by the way it turns out there’s a wee damp smell”.
As I sit in my cozy new flat, which smells only of my cooking, with unfiltered light coming in, I realize I hadn’t gotten used to the gloom; I let it descend. Sometimes you need the change.