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Flatmates - a drama in three acts

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Offer flat share in central London. Excellent location near British Museum. 6 min. walk to Russell Sq. Tube station. Two bedrooms, large living room, open plan kitchen, bathroom. Contact: S. Holmes, 43c, Montague Street.

Nigel, accountant, 42 years

You must be mad, said Dorie when I told her about my plans. Share a flat with someone you don't know? Really, Walt, you can't be serious. London's full of crazy people just lying in wait to pounce on you and do unspeakable things to your body.

Of course this was the Big Sister speaking. I am nothing if not cautious. I am caution personified. Never go alone by tube after midnight. Never open the door to strangers after dark. Heavens, I don't even do online banking.

And the advert sounds respectable. Very respectable. No hint of dark desires or perverted passions. And an ideal way of reducing the astronomic rent I've paid for a better broom closet so that part of my salary will remain for the more exciting things in life: like the occasional visit to a bird breeders' exhibition or my stamp collection. I've been an avid philatelist for years and pride myself on owning Britain's largest collection with birds of the English salt marshes and mud flats.

 

Day 1

Moved in today. Mr Holmes is a well-spoken and cultivated man. Tall, with dark curly hair worn a bit too long. Well-dressed, too. Nice suit, costs probably more than I earn in a month. Lots of books and a violin case on the coffee table. Only the machete in the umbrella stand looks a bit disconcerting.

My room is nice, small but clean and with some shelves for storing my stamp albums. There was a funny moment when I opened the wardrobe and a big box fell out and nearly landed on my head. It contained a large collection of little plastic bags with powders in various shades of grey labelled "Silk Cut", "Marlboro Lights", or "Woodbine, filtered, after 1948". So he's a collector, too. How nice. We seem to have something in common after all.

In the evening a strange thing happened. When I came into the living room, after my shower, he was at the window looking through a pair of high-end binoculars. Before I could get excited and ask him if he was a bird watcher, he murmured something which sounded like "Bingo! I knew he kept the chainsaw under the bed and the manacles in the closet. Wonder where he put the corpse."

Perhaps I should get my hearing checked.

 

Day 2

Quiet night. I slept well in my new room and dreamt of discovering the Mauritius Post Office two penny blue in my grandfather's sock drawer. Woke up as happy as a clam.

I went downstairs for breakfast only to find that there wasn't any milk in the fridge. Mr Holmes was playing his violin, so I decided not to disturb him and went out without my morning cuppa. Will go to the supermarket later.

I met the landlord, Mr Jones. He's an elderly man who likes to go to the park and watch the birds. He got very interested when I showed him my favourite budgerigar photos. Mr Holmes overheard our conversation and remarked off-handedly that he once dissected a budgie on his kitchen table in order to prove it had been poisoned with carbon monoxide. Macabre sense of humour.

 

Day 3

Today I used the living room to sort my stamps. Everything was fine until Mr Holmes stormed in through the door in that long dramatic coat of his, swishing his coat tails and making my stamps fly all over the place thereby nearly trampling a rare specimen showing an Eurasian Spoonbill.

I threw myself over the stamp to protect it from his custom-made shoe. "Mr Holmes, take care, please", I said as politely as possible.

He frowned when he discovered me on the floor, gathering up my precious little paper squares with my bare hands. "Lost my tweezers, must buy new ones", I murmured apologetically.

"Just a second", he said, went into the kitchen and came back with a pair of tweezers. I thanked him and continued to pick up the stamps. "They're excellent quality. Only yesterday I used them for extracting the toe nails from a decayed foot."

Now this was a strange guy. When I told him about the foot and offered to show him the documentation about the stages of post-mortem toe nail discolouration I'd been working on for days he ran upstairs, came down with a suitcase, grabbed those silly stamps albums of his and left the house in a flurry. I fear I'll have to run the advert once again.

 

Andrew, sales assistant, 34 years

In the group they told me distance might be helpful. So I applied for this job in London and here I am. It's still hard, I think of Holly every second but at least there are not all those familiar places, the pubs we used to drink in, the parks we used to walk, the shops we used to get the stuff for our home-cooking marathons during the weekends. I still feel the tears prickling in my eyes when smelling couscous.

But it's very expensive, this city. Don't know what I'm going to do when my savings are used up. Unfortunately my salary is in no way proportional to the cost of living.

Then I saw this advert. Share a flat, why not? I mean, after all it's a reasonable way to reduce costs. And what did they use to say at the group? Talking helps.

 

Day 1

I haven't the slightest idea how this guy knew that I had broken up with my girlfriend, work in a computer shop in Tottenham Court Road or suffered from severe acne as a teenager (well, maybe the last one wasn't that difficult), but apart from that it was all right. The rent's affordable, the location excellent as it said in the advert and he seems to be a nice enough guy. First name's Sherlock, bit strange, he didn't want to explain where it comes from. The dressing gown looked a bit - well, posh or vintage, whatever, but it suited him. Naked feet. Strange outfit for this time of day but then he didn't expect a visitor, I suppose.

He seems to be unattached, at least he's living alone, so it might be nice to talk a bit in the evenings, burn a scented candled, discuss relationship problems, have a mug of herbal tea, watch telly. Maybe he broke up with someone as well, so we could share our painful memories and comfort each other.

 

Day 2

It didn't go so well today. When I came in from work, Sherlock was lying on the sofa, this time in a tartan dressing gown. Wonder how many of these things he has.

I told him a bit about my day while making toast and remarking upon the drunk customer throwing up all over the new iPad I wanted to show him. I went to sit in the chair next to the coffee table when I realised he hadn't moved at all. To me he looked a bit sad.

So I told him about Holly. How we got estranged and tried so hard to save our relationship. All the tears we shed and how she gave me the dreamcatcher as a parting present.

This seemed to wake him up. "A what?"

I explained to him that it was a Native American object made of pearls and feathers and string and meant to save you from bad dreams during the night.

He said something that sounded like "superstitious nonsense" but I'm not sure about that.

Next I told him about my group and how much it had helped me to share my suffering with other men who were in the same painful situation. From then on everything went downhill.

I don't really know what made him burst into tears and shout that I was a heartless bastard. I just told him that I hate scented candles because they make the flat seem like a highly distasteful amalgam of sweet shop and brothel. He didn't take it well. Next I declared that I didn't approve of grown up men sitting in a circle and bemoaning their ruined relationships instead of doing something useful. He looked at me in deepest horror and said that my love life must have been highly traumatic considering how I was repressing my emotions. I told him that I don't do emotions and that I regard them as a serious disadvantage in dealing with other people. "But there must be love in your life", he kept saying. "You cannot exist without love." "Of course there's love in my life. You would be surprised how much I love a good corpse in the morning, the smooth way the harpoon enters into a pig's belly, the sound of a riding crop on naked skin …" That's when he started to cry and shout and banged the door shut. So much for emotions. Quod erat demonstrandum.

 

Matthew, 27, chef

"You're a lucky boy, Matt", said Tim. He knew how long I had been looking for a new place after changing jobs. The new restaurant was simply too far away from my old place in Lambeth.

"What's he like?"

"Well, he's quite good-looking but he needs feeding up. I'm already planning to cook him some nice things with plenty of butter and cream."

 

Day 1

What a mess! I wanted to celebrate the beginning of our, how shall I put it, new living situation and went shopping.

Then I calligraphed the menu:

A creamy coconut soup with a hint of curry and lemongrass

 

Thai style Fried sea bass with tamarind-chilli sauce and jasmine rice

 

Lemon meringues with exotic fruit salad and cream and coffee for dessert

 

First I had to work my way through dirty dishes, strange pieces of lab equipment, food leftovers, chemicals, and ammunition for a gun. I somehow managed to prepare all three courses without cutting, shooting or blowing myself up. I put a small vase with flowers on the kitchen table which I had cleaned from all the debris, the petri dishes, and the microscope. Sherlock Holmes is an eccentric, to put it mildly. But then I was so happy with my new digs that I decided not to dwell upon it. I'd bought napkins, the nice ones that look and feel like cloth. So everything was fine.

That is, until Sherlock Holmes came home.

He threw his coat over the sofa, followed by the scarf, looked over the kitchen table and snarled: "Where's my experiment?"

I pointed at the shelf where I had stored the microscope and the rest of the lab equipment.

"I just threw away the strange-looking dark red thing."

"You did what, you moron?"

Now that was rude.

"That was a piece of human liver with a perfectly developed aflatoxin culture in it. That is mould to stupid people like you."

I decided to ignore this. "Please sit down. I've cooked us something nice."

He eyed me suspiciously, looked at the table with the flowers and the polished plates and cutlery and the expensive napkins. "I don't eat."

"Come on. Everybody has to eat." I took his arm and half dragged him to his chair. "There, sit down. Let me spoil you. It's been a long day." I put a soup bowl in front of him.

He looked at the bowl as if it was his personal enemy. "I don't want soup, I want my liver back. Now." He sounded slightly threatening.

"Let's make a deal: You eat the meal, and I'll have a look at the bin."

"No." He stood up, very calm and composed. "I don't eat while I'm working. Digestion slows me down."

"But it's really good, Thai-Continental cross-over, I'm a professional …"

"Shut up. Eating is for idiots. People who talk about food and the weather because there's no room for anything else in their pathetic little excuse for a brain. If I had any say in it all food would be injected intravenously. And now get my liver back!"

 

Day 2

So the evening didn't go exactly as planned. I extracted the liver from the bin and Sherlock lovingly placed it back on the table. Without a word he fetched the microscope and started to cut thin slices from the red lump which he placed on a slide with a look of genuine happiness. After having cleaned the kitchen I retreated to my room to calm down.

As a chef I work long hours. This means when I get home at about midnight or even later, I usually fall into bed and sleep before my head hits the pillow. That is, at least until today.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not adverse to classical music. Or musical instruments in general. Or strings in particular. Or Sherlock's violin to be very particular. But not at three o'clock in the morning. Even if it is Bach.

 

Day 3

Tonight it was Vivaldi.

Got a major dressing-down by the guv. Or the maître, as he wishes to be called. I should pull myself together, stop staring into space, there was far too much coriander in the sauce.

Well, the only excuse I had was my excessive exhaustion. Far too many exes in one sentence.

 

Day 4

Sibelius.

Stumbled, thereby breaking two serving platters and spraining my ankle. Maître was unimpressed.

 

Day 5

Beethoven.

Nearly fell into a frying pan full of langoustines.

 

Day 6 Shostakovitch.

That did it. Burnt the Kobe beef. Got sacked. Broke the bow over my knee. The only way of keeping myself from battering Sherlock to death with his violin.

I hope this chap knows how much a good bow will cost. No appreciation of classical music. And I didn't forgive him for disposing of my liver anyway. Truth to be told, I just found myself homeless. My landlord declared in no uncertain terms that he had enough of sobbing men stumbling out of his door, clutching stamp collections to their breast or muttering madly about violins and langoustines. So I'll have to find a new accommodation. Just remembered lovely Mrs Hudson who still owes me a big favour. I think I shall pay her a visit. And then on to St Barts and see if Mike's around …