Written on: 14. 10. 2011 in the category: news

Terrible things, bedsits — but are they the business of Government?

MY HEART is torn: the Government is to abolish bedsits by 2013. Part of me says thank God. Another part says what business is it of the Government to choose how people live? Let the market decide.

If you’re a certain age, namely, YOUNG, you probably don’t even know what a bedsit is. It is an entire flat, usually minus a bathroom, lavatory or fridge, distilled into a single small room. Everything that you notionally need is there, as it was in my first bedsit, in Harcourt Street, Dublin. It had been carved out of what had once been a large Georgian drawing room, by flimsy partitions that enclosed a space just large enough to include a single bed, a narrow strip of floor alongside it, plus a tiny cooking and washing area.

The ceilings were about 20ft high; each of my walls had far more area than I had floor. The outer window-sill provided some useful extra space, also serving as an al fresco fridge. But beware. Time between one putting out uncovered meat and it vanishing? About five minutes. Sharp citizens, seagulls.

Then there was the smell; corpse under the floorboards, coal-gas, wet-rot, feet and mice. This tenacious cocktail flourished, despite the air-conditioning, which consisted of windows that didn’t fit their frame and a door with a one-inch gap beneath it for the mice. What is the collective for mice? A scurry? A scamper? A whirl? Very seldom did “mice” ever become “mouse”; they were a perpetual plural, a musky multitude, a scatter of vanishing tails, whenever I returned from a long day ogling girls in the UCD library in that calm, measured and priapic way of young males.

I forlornly tried to keep warm by means of a gas-fire that nowadays would be as illegal as Semtex. It was portable and was attached to a rotting rubber tube that in turn fitted onto the gas nozzle on the wall like a condom (I deliberately introduce that particular motif here because being fitted over a gas-tap is the only use a Durex would have ever got in my bedsit). There was no special ventilation to cope with the toxic fumes: just the North Sea gale, via Hull and Liverpool, which turned left at Sir John Rogerson’s Quay and headed directly for my bedsit on Harcourt Street.

The bedsit’s tiny wash-hand basin was for personal hygiene — face, armpits, teeth daily and feet, awkwardly, on Saturdays — plus of course, nocturnal peeing. The basins were never securely attached to the walls and we would regularly be woken by the sound of one falling from its moorings, with some sleepy girl still perched on its porcelain. Casualty in St Vincent’s Hospital regularly had to treat mortified bedsit-females with a gash or two too many.

Next we come to That Which Cannot Be Done In A Basin (though sometimes, by God, considering the alternative, you might be sorely tempted to try). You know the Black Hole of Calcutta? Well, that was the heart-transplant wing in Stockholm Cardiac Hospital compared to the loo that was shared by about 20 people. Some tenants apparently weren’t quite sure where their bottoms were and so never quite pointed them in the right direction. Even the walls were . . No! Enough! Let us move on!

THE hardboard partitions between bedsits had the soundproofing qualities of a drumskin. I could hear most things that my fellow occupants ever did but alas, because I was always complaining about the noise they were making, they chose, rather reasonably, in the circumstances, not to include me in the making of any of it. And let me tell you now that few things are quite as unbearable as frenzied copulation with every grunt, slither and slurp sounding as if they’re happening on your very own pillow.

And from the bedsit overhead also, caused by the pelvic hijinks of a flat-dwelling lothario whose bedsit attracted girls like mine attracted mice. One can develop a very poor opinion of female orgasms when one’s only experience of them is as decibels, breaking through partitions and ceilings like the battering rams of medieval siege-armies. Tuesday evening was murder, for our friend had a rota of three women in succession: a German, an Irish girl and a Zambian lass, whose meaty bellows resembled the demented descant of the soprano-section of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on crack cocaine. But as time went by, at least with regard to sexual cries, I could easily tell one shriek from the other and indeed became quite the little polyglot. Had my life turned out a little differently and the UN ever conducted a debate in female orgasms, I might well have been a simultaneous translator,.

Yes, quite often terrible things, bedsits; but are they any of the Government’s business? How else would I know what a Lusaka climax sounds like?