Country houses for sale

Rosie and Jim: A windowless prison cell, yours to rent at just £2,000 a month, and other joys of the London property market

Jim is taking the first step towards a career switch which might one day see him become the new Arnold Schwarzenegger; Rosie, meanwhile, thinks she might have a secret weapon in her efforts to find a flat to rent. I think by now you'll be able to guess that it's not going to go well.

Catch up on previous Rosie & Jim Country Life columns here.

Last weekend I went to Cornwall; one of the other guests happened to work in lettings for a London estate agency.

‘Help me,’ I pleaded with no shame, for reasons that regular readers will understand only too well.

‘I can’t,’ he replied wearily.

His company had just let a very normal, two bedroom flat in Balham; within hours of it being uploaded onto the agency’s website they’d received 75 viewing requests and more than ten blind offers. His face wore the expression of someone still in light shock.

So, in honour of London’s current Hunger Games-esque approach to renting, I’m happy to present my top five finds:

  1. A two-bedroom flat in between Holland Park and Shepherd’s Bush. Looks lovely from the outside, elegant townhouse, big windows and so on. But said flat is actually on the lower ground floor and the windows in both bedrooms are so high up that you need a step ladder to look out of them, after which you’re rewarded with a view of… an empty lightwell. Feels like a prison cell, yours for £2,050 a month.

  2. A very affordable flat somewhere north of Queensway; has windows you can look out of. Sadly, the landlord has a peculiar obsession with orangey-walnut lacquer and laminate. It’s on the kitchen cupboards, the bath panel, radiator covers, shelving unit and TV stand. It’s even on the floor and it’s shiny, so everything is reflected back at you a million times over like a House of Horrors — quite the bargain at £1,925.

  3. On the topic of interior design disasters: the flat in Barons Court that has magnolia yellow-coloured walls, coral red carpet throughout and swag curtains with a fetching electric blue satin trim. You’d think you might have to pay extra for such wonders, but no; it’s a mere £2,000 a month.

  4. The ‘two double bed’ flat in Maida Hill. Note that it says ‘two double bed’ and not ‘two double bedroom.’ The second bedroom is quite literally… a bed. There isn’t enough room for a standard hinged door — you’d need to be an under-nourished child to fit through the gap. No one knows where clothes are meant to go — or, indeed, how they managed to squeeze the bed into the room without taking down a wall. Perhaps they did have to do that, explaining the £1,875 asking price for what’s not much more than a converted shoebox.

  5. The pièce de résistance: a two double bedroom, 600sqft flat in Notting Hill, going for more than £2,200 a month. The kitchen is a line of cabinets in the living room. Unfortunately, the wall that the cabinets are against does not have plumbing for a dishwasher so it’s by itself on the other side of the room. A handy side table, as long as you don’t mind whatever is on top of it rattling around every time it’s on.

I have a new hobby. This often occurs in the winter months, where the lack of  ‘outside time’ is severely diminished and my usual hobbies — cricket, sitting in beer gardens — are not currently available to me. Last year it was baking. The year before that it was panic buying loo roll (I jest).

This year, however, I have made the contemptible decision to better myself and have decided to take on that palace of masculinity known as ‘the gym’.

For those who know me, this will come as a surprise. I am of an immensely slight build, and quite tall — a whippet in human form, as friends often remind me. However, I have been reassured by a personal trainer that I have ‘a great frame’ and, with the ‘right nutrition’, I could get ‘big’. So I thought I would give it a whirl.

Gyms are a strange place. Here is a room filled with the unappetising stench of leftover sweat, where people in a variety of outfits ranging from extremely tight lycra to a hoodie and jeans do monotonous acts to a dishevelled chorus of grunts, all under the tacit understanding that within these four walls we are allowed to be the disgusting versions of ourselves required to reach our goals.

It can be quite intimidating at first, especially when struggling through a set of bench presses only to be told by the next person to ‘leave those weights on as that can be my warmup’. Maybe that will be me one day.

The training is actually very satisfying and an easy way to get the ‘good chemicals’ that GMT often denies us in these short days.

What is less fun, however, is the amount of food required to make any realistic progress. For the past three weeks, I have been on a high-protein diet and devouring between 5–6 meals a day. A holiday for me currently is when I can skip breakfast. The monotony of endless chicken is not entirely what I signed up for, but progress comes at a cost.

Whether this is a hobby that will continue once the winter has ended shall remain to be seen. I am constantly quite sore all over, and have yet to see any real results although I am sure they will come. I think what is most compelling for me is the knowledge that if I try hard enough, I can do a thing that many thought impossible. And it’s a welcome distraction from the cold, darkness, wind and rain. If you are next in a gym in Bermondsey, and see a tall man with blonde hair struggling with some weights, by all means come and say hi.

You can catch up on Rosie & Jim’s previous columns here.