Sadly, it’s that time of year when Reading Week is already drawing to an end. As ever, most of you will be returning from holidays, family reunions, skiing trips… any activity, in fact, that doesn’t involve work relevant to academic studies. However, though the close of this mid-semester break signals the return to essay deadlines and trying to access online journals with the now-obsolete Athens username (to access some I believe you have to punch your keyboard in frustration to prove your worthiness), it also means that a rather more stressful time of year is fast approaching.
No, I’m not talking about Christmas, though I’m already bracing myself for the turkey onslaught when my mother realises I’ve lost half a stone in weight since leaving the family home in September. Instead, I’m referring to the well-known St Andrews private accommodation rush. Whilst our friends at other universities are happily waiting for the buds to grow on the trees and for summer to arrive before even considering their housing options, for the well-organised St Andrews student, private house hunting will begin just as early and will prove just as difficult as previous years. Despite the new accommodation blocks at New Fife Park, the council-imposed restriction on HMO Licensing will undoubtedly see more students limping about town with war wounds from house viewing scuffles, whilst frantically phoning friends in an attempt to reserve a sofa space in a central location, in case they cannot find a room to rent.
As a third year, I have been through the accommodation war and lived to tell the tale. Therefore, my first piece of advice to those of you looking for private accommodation (particularly if you are looking for your second year), is to choose who you live with very carefully; you’ll have to live with them for at least a year and do you really want to live with someone who studies the same degree as you? The old adage ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ is proven true time and time again – I have plenty of friends who would happily admit that choosing flat mates from amongst their course friends was an unwise decision.
Secondly, you’ll also have to pay bills together, so I’d advise staying clear of the person who disappears faster than Houdini when it’s time to split a restaurant bill… unless of course you are that person. Arranging for bills to be paid (yes, even the internet costs money outside of Halls) can be an unnecessarily awkward monthly upheaval, especially if your attitudes and finances differ drastically to your potential flatmates.
Furthermore – this is crucial – start networking like never before, preferably just after Reading Week, to get ahead of the competition. Ask academic family members and friends in third and fourth year for private landlord details and any flats they know of that might become available. If you don’t like any of the private offerings, then be prepared for brutal competition at the Letting Agents. When they release their lists, the frenzied atmosphere can be intimidating so be organised and try to view properties as soon as possible. That way, if you have your guarantor forms signed in advance, you can be amongst the first to submit them, which should give you the chance to build up a rapport with staff and make a good impression. Finally, stay calm and try to keep things in perspective. You might not end up exactly where you had wanted, and you will have to compromise on some things, but you will certainly not be homeless and you won’t have to live in Dundee.
Luckily, I rather like where I live. Therefore, I will miss the private house hunting drama again this year and will be content enough to watch from the sidelines at Costa with my skinny cappuccino, whilst people rush about with potential flat mates and crumpled property lists from the various letting agents in town. However, I have been through the same trauma and for those of you who are about to take up the quest: you have my sympathy. I have included a poem I wrote in first year, in the hope that it will make you feel a bit better about your prospects, and if not, then it will hopefully entertain you all the way over in Dundee.
Indiana James and The Kingdom of the Housing Shortage
I came to the bubble September last year:
A young man with face so clean-shaven.
But after the flat hunt for quarters next year
I’ve been told I now look quite ravin’!
I hear people talk as I walk with a squirm:
‘James looks oh so rough!’ they exclaim.
‘He’s let himself go – a right mess this term!’
But the flat hunt is my only aim.
My beard is unkempt and wiry like bramble,
My skin is so blistered and dry.
I run about like Hannibal Lecter –
Fellow students I’ll now tell you why.
My two friends and I set out on a quest:
‘We shall go find a 3 bed!’ said we.
We didn’t know it would be such a test –
Being rejected by everybody.
‘Yes we are men and yes we are hairy!’
We were constantly forced to concede,
‘But other than that we aren’t so scary’ –
‘We are all very clean!’ I decreed.
But finding a house in dear old St A
Is worse than unbearable chores.
I even hired heavies to make some headway,
But then they got trapped in the doors…
Cinderella had a fairy Godmother
So I thought I’d get us one too.
His name was Vlad: 7ft; leather-clad
With a back-up muscle-bound crew.
But poor old Vlad was reduced to thick tears,
Whilst he filled in my guarantor forms.
‘What’s the point?’ he cried ‘You’ve no house yet!’ he sighed,
‘Why not just apply for the dorms?’
So up Vlad got and he drove into sunset
In his blacked-out pimp-gangster truck.
That I would be homeless at Ladbrokes he bet –
Yet another big blow to my luck.
I sat and cried at the loss of my guard
Who had fallen at the first hurdle.
‘Better work on my self-image!’ said I,
So I slipped into a tweed girdle.
My next move was to choose a sub-task –
Bribery or self-prostitution?
I would have done both (if not for the mask)
And my own moral constitution.
So off I trekked to my next port of call
To an agent of dark murky past.
I looked through the window to try and stall –
And saw a full horror movie cast!
I spoke to Carol and asked for the list
Of their three bed houses to rent.
‘Computer says no!’ she promptly hissed
So I scurried off to anger-vent!
But I picked myself up from off the floor:
‘We will not be homeless!’ said I.
So I went and knocked upon the next door –
Yet again I wanted to cry.
I then went South and lunged ’cross the road
To the place where the Pagans reside.
That evil clan added weight to my load,
So my forms to them were not applied!
Their Kingdom extended to mighty Rule,
While cash they so wanted to grab.
I saw bribing tools including a jewel
As big as a black London cab.
But despite my meeting some evil crones
And some Alan Sugars along the way,
Upon my journey made by other clones,
There was clearly some good, I must say.
My housing tale has a happy end –
We are housed by four princes in town.
I now can drink tea without the dark thoughts:
‘Is there enough in here for me to drown?’
My scars will heal and my beard can be shaved…
I might even hang up my mask.
My camping equipment can be packed away
Along with my Valium flask.
But even though our way is now clear
And my return to health is near-set.
Ladbrokes are waiting til June of this year –
So Vlad hasn’t yet lost his bet!
Good luck and happy house hunting!
Image – James Heaney