‘Take a seat,’ said the prospective lodger as we stood in my dining room. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand,’ I said.
‘Perhaps you’d like to sit down while we discuss things,’ he said, producing a folder which he waved at me.
Something was wrong here, even I could work that out. ‘Discuss things? What things?’ I asked, backing up a bit because he was a big fella — 6ft something, lanky, with long unkempt hair that made him look like a premiership footballer after a bad night out.
He advanced towards me with his folder. I backed into the dining-room table. The builder boyfriend was going to go mad. He had told me not to do viewings when he wasn’t there. But as he doesn’t want another lodger, I have to do the viewings on the sly, when he’s out.
The tall guy came closer. ‘Discuss my credentials,’ he said, flashing his teeth. ‘No, don’t worry about that,’ I chattered nervously, ‘my last lodger, you see, I took her on without checking anything. I just asked her where she worked and that was good enough for me. She worked at the council. Where… do you work?’ I hesitated because at the mention of work he seemed to stiffen and a dark look came over his face. ‘I can show you proof of funds,’ he said. And he opened his folder.
‘No, honestly. I just need to know where you… work?’
He sighed heavily. Then he launched into an irritable explanation of how he was an extremely busy man, what with painting and decorating and acting in films while working on a retail park in New Malden.
I gulped. ‘Will you be working regular hours?’ ‘No,’ he snapped back. ‘Will you be out late at night?’
‘I will be going to my church group,’ he said, and a crack of thunder might as well have rung out. ‘Oh lovely, and where is that?’ ‘It’s in…’ And he named a half dozen different towns and villages within a five-mile radius. Right, that’s it, I thought. He’s been let out of wherever on the strict understanding he goes to meetings.
I wouldn’t mind that even, only he’d been damnably rude about the house. He’d all but carried out a full structural survey. He lay on the bed to test it.
Who does that? And then he disputed whether it was a standard small double. I offered to get him any bed he wanted but he was adamant that he wanted to argue about this one. Then he looked at the antique reclaimed fireplace surround. ‘What’s this?’ he said pointing to the painted board covering the grate.
‘That’s a fireplace?’ I said, baffled. ‘Oh, so this chimney is closed, is it? That’s no good.’
‘Actually the chimney is open. We have two working fires downstairs. This is shut up because I wouldn’t want you to light a fire in the bedroom.’
‘Open, is it?’ he said, looking furious. ‘Well, that will make it very draughty.’
‘It’s not draughty. It’s the warmest room in the house. That radiator is brand new.’
At this point I wanted him to leave, but he was so frightening I had to let him continue. He went into the bathroom. ‘What’s that?’ he said pointing out the window at two inches of cut-off pipe protruding from the wall where the old bathroom had been ripped out.
‘It’s nothing.’ ‘Hmm, I doubt that. It’s obviously something,’ he said.
I felt like saying: ‘Look, do you want to rent the room or do you want to make me an offer for the house because frankly I wouldn’t now consider the former as you’re clearly barking.’
I tried to change the subject. ‘Are you having trouble with your current place? You said you were in a hurry to move.’
‘Dogs barking next door,’ he snapped, rapping a wall with his knuckles to test it. ‘I told them to make it stop but they won’t.’ He fixed me with a glare: ‘Any dogs next door?’ I shook my head, which wasn’t a lie as there were no dogs next door.
The fact that there were two dogs locked in my bedroom was a secret I hoped to keep until I got him out of the house. Something had told me to shut them up when I saw him coming up the path, glowering. I now congratulated my instincts.
I prayed they wouldn’t bark until I got him out. After he ordered me to sit down, I had to tell him I was happy, it was up to him. He should go and see more properties, then come back to me with an answer.
If he says yes, I’ll have to emigrate or hammer pieces of wood across the windows to barricade myself in the house.