Tales from bed­sit­land:

Banned in 2013, bed­sits of­ten pro­voke nos­tal­gia among their one-time oc­cu­pants – even if the con­di­tions were of­ten grim

The Irish Times - - Home News - Ro­nan McGreevy

Banned fi­nally in 2013, bed­sits of­ten pro­voke nos­tal­gia among their one-time oc­cu­pants – even if the con­di­tions were of­ten grim.

The of­ten-ma­ligned bed­sit was as much a rite of pas­sage for gen­er­a­tions of renters as it was a place to stay – a fea­ture of Ir­ish life when money was tight and stan­dards were less than ex­act­ing.

Their pos­si­ble re­turn as a so­lu­tion to the hous­ing cri­sis has pro­voked a wave of rem­i­nis­cences from Ir­ish Times read­ers.

Many of those re­mem­ber un­scrupu­lous lan­dords; damp, cramped con­di­tions; me­ter slots for elec­tric­ity; one-bar electric heaters; pay phones in the hall­way and the du­bi­ous plea­sure of hav­ing to share toi­lets with oth­ers.

Yet bed­sit­land can also pro­voke a twinge of nos­tal­gia. Bed­sit dwellers were by def­i­ni­tion not en­cum­bered by mort­gages or fam­i­lies. They were usu­ally young, fre­quently broke and – through choice or ne­ces­sity – will­ing to en­dure con­di­tions their older selves would never coun­te­nance.

The writer Amanda Bell stayed in a bed­sit on Har­court Street while study­ing for her fi­nals in TCD in 1991.

The place was so small she could make break­fast, eat it and then wash up “with­out get­ting off the bed”. The win­dows were barred, the car­pets sticky and it was so cold she wore a hat to bed at night.

Her par­ents wor­ried about the fire safety in the house, “but at 22 I was obliv­i­ous to such con­cerns”. It was 10 min­utes’ walk to col­lege and it cost £25 a week.

Free­lance jour­nal­ist Conor Kane re­mem­bered his Rath­mines bed­sit was about as big as a ho­tel room, with a two-ring cooker and a shower.

It was so grubby he learned to swim at Rath­mines swim­ming pool which had as much to do with be­ing able to use the show­ers as any­thing else. Still, the bed­sit cost him £27 a week and was 15 min­utes’ walk to col­lege. Needs must.

Closet with a bed

For £20 in the 1990s Tim Walsh got him­self a closet with a bed, mini-fridge and an electric ket­tle. He needed 50p pieces for the shower when he got home from work at 2am, and the pay phone on the wall never ceased to trill at the most in­ap­pro­pri­ate time.

“Even­tu­ally, I moved into a proper flat on Rich­mond Street South with my own toi­let and shower. That cost me 40 quid a week. Like a palace com­pared to that bed­sit,” he said.

Most peo­ple who have ever been a stu­dent or lived away from home at a young age have stayed in a bed­sit or know some­body who did.

Ir­ish Times travel edi­tor Joan Scales lived in a bed­sit in Clapham, south Lon­don in the 1970s. The first place she looked at had a large hole in the floor. Don’t worry, the land­lord breezily told her. He would put a ta­ble over it.

“I did find a some­what pre­sentable bed­sit for £10 a week nearby in a house shared with five other girls,” she re­mem­bers. “In a funny way it helped me be­come much ti­dier. There was so lit­tle space that I had to hang up my clothes as I took them off.

“We shared a tiny kitchen on the first floor, with two fridges and a cooker; you ate in your room. The toi­let was on the top floor and a bit of a hike from my ground-floor room. There was a bath­room with a gas geyser on the ground floor, and no shower, just a bath.”

Jasper Mur­phy was a stu­dent in UCD dur­ing the 1980s and now runs McCarthy’s Bar in Fethard, Co Tip­per­ary.

He fled from one bed­sit on Townsend

Street in Dublin, where the bath­room win­dow was ringed with barbed wire, to a bed­sit in Ranelagh which had two beds in it.

When he ex­plained to the land­lord that he and his friend wished to have sep­a­rate rooms, the land­lord ex­claimed “no prob­lem”.

‘No ven­ti­la­tion’

Mr Mur­phy con­tin­ues: “And the fol­low­ing day when we re­turned from col­lege, he had put a wall into the al­ready tiny room and made it two rooms. The front one had the win­dow. The back one had no nat­u­ral light, a kitch­enette and a toi­let. And no ven­ti­la­tion.

“Which we pointed out to the land­lord. ‘No prob­lem,’ he replied once again. The fol­low­ing day while we were at col­lege, some­one ham­mered a hole in the ex­ter­nal wall and put in a fan.

“We stayed there for a while and the flat across the hall be­came va­cant. We lit­er­ally

jumped across the hall with­out telling the land­lord. It wasn’t much big­ger, but it was bet­ter.”

He­len Far­rell from Lu­can lived in a three-storey bed­sit on the North Cir­cu­lar Road in Dublin. Back in 1995 it was known as “mur­der mile” and crim­i­nal­ity also ex­tended to teenagers do­ing late-night donuts in stolen cars on the waste ground out­side.

She re­called: “The car­pet was a 1960s red pat­tern that re­minded a friend of a di­a­gram of blood cor­pus­cles, and al­ways smelt stale, no mat­ter how many Shake n’ Vacs I car­ried out.

“There was no cen­tral heat­ing, just a Su­per­ser that shot out a flame well past its safety grat­ing when lit, and a raw cold crept into my bones that win­ter that seemed to set­tle in for the long haul.

“I was never alone there as I al­ways had the com­pany of the see-through book-lice that lived on the cream wall­pa­per. I in­tro­duced

the first and only smoke alarm to the prop­erty but doubted it would make much dif­fer­ence on the third floor.”

Fold-out couch

Gavin Crow­ley re­mem­bers the lone­li­ness of liv­ing in a bed­sit off the South Cir­cu­lar Road as a ma­ture stu­dent in the late 1990s. His bed was a fold-out couch.

At 25, he was too old to share with younger stu­dents and pre­ferred to live on his own. Bed­sits were of­ten the only op­tion for those on a bud­get who wanted to avoid what Jean-Paul Sartre called the hell that is other peo­ple.

One day Gavin lost the only key to the front door. As his land­lord was not avail­able, he ac­cessed his liv­ing quar­ters through a win­dow. Once, he was late with the rent and feared his land­lord would use the miss­ing key to evict him.

He re­mem­bered: “I was para­noid that the land­lord would put me out of the place

if he knew what was hap­pen­ing. So I ended up go­ing through this vi­cious cy­cle of meet­ing him with the cash, not ask­ing about a new key and con­tin­u­ing to go in and out of the front win­dow. Ridicu­lous I know.”

Gal­way na­tive Wil­liam Tritschler said he had spent much of his life work­ing in the Third World “but the dingy, soul­less, hope­less­ness of bed­sits can beat it all”.

Bed­sits re­minded him of “grubby gab­er­dine coats and small, com­pressed card­board hand cases. Why was it al­ways rain­ing?”

He for one has no nos­tal­gic han­ker­ing for their re­turn. “Bed­sits were banned for a rea­son. The au­thor­i­ties com­pletely failed to guar­an­tee de­cent stan­dards for peo­ple in this type of ac­com­mo­da­tion,” he said.

“They also failed to pro­tect the pub­lic from rip-offs by land­lords. The chances of any fu­ture im­prove­ment in this di­rec­tion is just not pos­si­ble. I hear the cash-reg­is­ter bell ring­ing.”

‘‘

For £20 in the 1990s Tim Walsh got him­self a closet with a bed, mini-fridge and an electric ket­tle. He needed 50p pieces for the shower when he got home from work at 2am, and the pay phone on the wall never ceased to trill at the most in­ap­pro­pri­ate time

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.