Mark Simpson on the hell of other people’s crumbs in your margarine

FLATSHARE OFFERED: Easygoing bloke with GSOH seeks business traveller who needs place to keep spare toothbrush. No pets, no friends, no conversation. Paranoid introverts who keep themselves to themselves and are actually invisible welcome. Rent dependent on how much oxygen you use.

Rooming with people is rubbish.

Contrary to the propaganda put out by shows like ‘Friends’ and ‘This Life’ roommates are not trendy or clever. Roommates are a social disease.

Sartre, you see, was wrong: Hell isn’t other people. Hell is other people’s crumbs in your margarine tub.

As a species roommates insist on doing irritating, thoughtless, selfish, anti-social, psycho things—like using the bathroom and cooking. They switch lights on and off—click, click, click, click—irritating you and wearing out the contacts in the switches. And they have the effrontery to encourage people to send their personal mail to your address, littering your doormat.

I’ve even had roommates who actually invite their friends around and sit drinking coffee and laughing in the sitting room, behaving for all the world as if they actually lived here! As if they didn’t know that the only reason you allowed them to pay half the rent and use the spare set of keys was to change the bin-liners and make the place look occupied when you’re out.

Of course, you also get the occasional outright basket-case. One loony ex-roomie of mine used to smile and say ‘Hello’ whenever he ran into me. Creepy or what? Sometimes he’d follow me into the kitchen, freaking me out by asking me scary, leading questions like, ‘So, how was your day?’ or ‘Turned out nice again, hasn’t it?’

He lasted less than a week and he would have gone sooner if I hadn’t made allowances for the fact that he was from the country.

Even when they realise that you’re not interested in idle chit-chat they don’t give up. They’ll try and get chummy another way. One bloke would leave cheery notes outside my bedroom door which I, of course, never replied to. Blackmail shouldn’t be dignified with a response. Another used to try and bribe me by leaving Post-It notes on food she’d bought, saying things like ‘Eat Me!’. But these attempts at being ingratiating just grate. Of course I’m going to eat their food. It’s in my fridge.

You try vetting them at the interview stage, but it never really seems to work. People just lie. You know the ones: “Oh, I work very long hours and I’m seeing somebody who lives in Bristol – I’m hardly ever here.” Then, of course, you catch them sneaking in one weekday night several minutes before midnight. Or they try to tell you that just because their partner went and died in a car accident they won’t be visiting them any more. People are so unreliable.

There’s nothing for it, you’ve got to be hard. Anyone who’s ever had a flat-mate will know that it’s so easy to be taken for a ride. When you realise you’ve been had you feel so stupid and foolish, you could kick yourself, or rock backwards and forwards, your knees drawn up into your chest, moaning and muttering in the corner of your room with the lights turned off for a week or so. It’s a frightening world. There are so many kooky people out there who want to move in take over your life and move your collection of glass coffee tables a whole inch out of alignment.

The worst thing about roommates is that they make you feel like you’re the one with the problem. They go running around telling everybody that you’re impossible to live with, or a fruit-cake, just because you asked them to buy and label their own toilet seat. Really, some people have no concept of hygiene at all.

Or gratitude. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve tried explaining to people that the Calor gas camping stove and basin of water in their bedroom are top of the range models and that no one could ask for more. They also never seem to grasp why their door has bolts on the outside.

I once thought I’d found the ideal roommate. One of those corpses in cryogenic suspension. We were very happy together for a while, but in the end it didn’t work out. We had too many rows about the noise and astronomic electricity bills his frozen nitrogen pump was causing.

Getting rid of the roommate infestation once they’ve settled can be very tricky. Especially without communicating with them. So you have to resort to indirect methods. A kipper under their bed often conveys a helpful hint, as does the old horse’s-head-at-the-foot-of-the-bed trick. But I generally find that walking into their bedroom naked in the middle of the night, arms outstretched, moaning, ‘BRAINS!! I NEED BRAINS!!’ is most effective. Come to think of it, just walking into their bedroom naked usually does the trick.

Why haven’t I done the sensible thing and got a place by myself? Well, I suppose that, if I’m honest, I have to admit that in spite of everything I’m a bit sentimental and I sorta like having somebody around to avoid. See, I’m a People Person and I think I’d be a bit lonely if I lived by myself.

I mean, what would I do on a wet Thursday afternoon if I didn’t have a roommate’s underwear drawer to rummage about in?

(Originally appeared in Attitude, 1996 & collected in Sex Terror)