Housemates from Heaven and Hell

This weekend, I’m doing something I’ve become very practiced at over the years – moving house.

So far, I’ve moved house eleven times. Most of these moves have happened since I became a student – hall of residence to rented house after rented house. In this time, I’ve noticed a very weird trend when it comes to houses that I share with anyone other than my family. Odd houses are good for me. Even houses are bad.

The first place I moved to as a student was my hall of residence at the University of Southampton, where I did my undergraduate degree. It was an old building, and I was on a corridor with nineteen other students, sharing a kitchen and a few bathrooms. In spite of this, I was happy there. Although I found my real uni friends at the karate club I joined, I got on well enough with my first housemates. House One, an odd-numbered house, was a good place.

House Two was very different. I found it by answering an advertisement posted on one of the noticeboards at university. The people on my corridor in my first year had all arranged to move in with other students from their courses, and my friends at karate were already set up in rented houses, so I searched for a house that needed a new tenant. I found one, with three girls who were in their third year at the university, and moved in at the beginning of my second year.

At first, everything went well. I’ve lived in several rented houses, and this was one of the nicer ones – no drafts, no mould, no slugs in the kitchen. However, a few weeks in, I did something wrong.

I have no idea what. My housemates never told me, and, being incredibly shy and having all the self-confidence of a snail, I didn’t dare ask. All I know is, I did something that was apparently so heinously unforgiveable that my new housemates stopped talking to me.

It didn’t stop at not talking. Whenever I found myself in the same room as one of them – the kitchen, usually – the atmosphere became so frosty that I could almost feel a genuine chill. In the end, it became so bad that I barely ventured out of my room, except to grab some food and scurry back like a frightened animal. I was more than glad when the year ended and I could get out of that hostile, even-numbered house.

Third year, Third house – an odd-numbered house, and a good one. A vacancy came up in a house rented by one of my friends from karate, and her friends from church. I moved in, and finally had the uni housemate experience that I’d missed in my second year. We had DVD nights and cooked together, had house parties to which I was actually invited (which I hadn’t been in House Two), and every so often, I served as a guinea pig for two of the housemates, trainee medics who were learning skills like taking blood pressure or checking a patient’s retinas. I heard stories from the maternity wards, and, despite my prevailing agnosticism, went along to a couple of church social evenings, which were just as fun and welcoming as the house itself.

Sadly, university ended, and we all moved away. I lived with my parents for a year, commuting into work while I was doing my MA at Oxford Brookes University. For the two years after that, the first couple of years of my PhD, I worked as a hall warden, which meant I was allowed to stay in an individual flat at one of the halls of residence in return for providing out-of-hours cover for the students. Working as a warden was exhausting, but fun – once I woke up to find a very drunk student knocking at my door, wearing nothing but his boxers and insisting that he lived in my flat. (I sent him upstairs, to the flat where he actually lived. He’d got the wrong floor).

When my time as a warden was up, however, I moved onto House Four. It turned out to be the worst house yet.

House Four seemed nice enough to begin with. I was sharing it with two other women, one of whom was lovely. The other one, I later nicknamed Beelzebub.

Beelzebub wasn’t the landlady, but a tenant like me. Despite this, she had decided that she made the rules in the house. She’d also decided, however, that these rules didn’t apply to her. She gave me the task of cleaning the kitchen, and would tell me off if I left even the smallest waterstain on the draining board. Her task was cleaning the bathroom, but she would refuse to clean the toilet if there was the slightest visible trace of excrement anywhere in the bowl. She would rage at the other housemate and me if we didn’t triple-lock the front door at night, but she would leave the back door wide open while we were asleep. Halfway through my time there, she took to bringing the bins halfway in, but not quite – not leaving them around the side of the house where they belonged, but just in front of the front door.

Beelzebub also had a dog, the most unfriendly dog I had ever met. He was a rescue dog, and had had a hard life as a puppy. This, my housemate told me, was why he snapped and growled at anyone who came near him, besides her. I never believed that excuse. I’ve known a lot of rescue dogs, and, like all other dogs, they tend to take on the traits of their owners. Beelzebub’s dog wasn’t a hostile, snappy nightmare because he’d been abused, but because his mistress was just as much of a hostile, snappy nightmare, if not more so.

By this time, I was starting to wonder if I was the problem – if I was just horrible to live with. I keep things clean, but not necessarily tidy. I’m pretty clumsy, and I do stomp around a lot – for a bookworm, I’m not particularly quiet. But I’d always thought I’d pulled my weight as a housemate. My bad experiences had made me doubt that.

I escaped to House Five when life with Beelzebub became too much to bear. (Even after I’d left, I wasn’t out of reach of her passive-aggressiveness – she sent me emails blaming me for the mould that had grown on the wall of my bedroom. Apparently it was my fault, and not the pervasive damp that was in every room on that side of the house). As usual, an odd-numbered house was better. I was happy there, and thought that, maybe, I wasn’t such a terrible housemate after all.

After seeing this trend play out, I was nervous about House Six, the place I moved this year after spending the summer at my parents’. There were plenty of things about it that were exciting, not least that my room was the attic – I had to climb up a ladder to get to it, which made it feel like I was living in a crow’s nest on a ship. It was also considerably cheaper than most other rooms I could find in Oxford, and was ridiculously close to the hall where I go dancing (and where I happen to be reading some of Sigyn on Saturday 26th April). But I was worried that the Curse of the Even-Numbered House would get me, and I’d spend the time less poor, but completely miserable.

But, for some reason, the curse didn’t strike. My landlady and I have had our ups and downs – she did have to tell me off for leaving crumbs on the kitchen counter – but, all in all, I’ve had a blast living here. I was a little concerned that living in the same house as two noisy young boys would make it difficult to work – but actually, my landlady’s kids have made me laugh more times than I can count (especially when they start throwing paper ninja stars at each other). When I move out this weekend to go back and live with my parents for the summer, I’ll be sad to leave.

Let’s just hope the curse doesn’t strike when I get home.

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About Alice Nuttall

Alice Nuttall is a caffeine-guzzling knitter who divides her time between Oxford and the various worlds in her head. She is the author of a YA fantasy novel, Spider Circus, and three webcomics, Footloose, Cherry, and Black Market Magic, as well as several short stories.
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