I spent a weekend in London last month. I went to Hammersmith Apollo to see Dara O Briain, who’s on my favourites list, and I wanted somewhere to stay on Saturday night, since it isn’t practical to get home from Hammersmith at that time of night. Usually when I go to Hammersmith, I go to the chain hotel ten minutes down the road but something made me decide to try Airbnb for the first time for that night.
First up, I don’t particularly enjoy having to be approved before I’m allowed to book. I understand why – you’re staying in someone’s home – but I don’t like feeling like I’m having a job interview to get a bed for the night. You can’t just apply, you have to write a jaunty little blurb about why you want to come and what a great person you are and then when you’re approved you have to write a second jaunty little blurb about how pleased you are and make arrangements to pick up the key.
Next, because you’ve arranged a time to pick up the key, you have to be there on time to pick up the key. I had no particular plans for London during the daytime. I intended to just hop on buses or trains, hop off when I saw anything interesting, take shelter from bad weather and otherwise just be in London until it was time to go to the Apollo but suddenly I had an appointment and buses from central London to Hammersmith take longer than I’d really anticipated – I made it with barely three minutes to spare.
My mum, who is the ultimate prophet of doom, had made endless negative noises about the whole thing. “I’ve heard so many horror stories”, “good luck…”, “You can always move to a hotel” etc. I wasn’t nervous because I’ve learnt not to take her too seriously but all the same, this was a new experience and it had far more potential to be catastrophic than a hotel did. And it was great!
It’s a huge house a five minute walk from the Apollo, one hundred and twenty-odd identical tiny apartments. I was given a key to my room and an electronic key to the front door so I could come and go as I wished, I was told that I could check out as late as I wanted on Sunday because no one would be moving in until much later, I signed a short-term rental agreement – a proper legal document of the sort that I signed when I rented a house as a student, which struck me as quite a big deal for a single night, and found myself in temporary possession of a teeny-tiny flat.
I had a double bed under a nice window, outside of which was a lovely tree. I had a full kitchen packed into a space the size of your average dining table – two burners, oven/grill, microwave, toaster, kettle, washing machine, fridge-freezer, the works, in the most unbelievably tiny space, plus a few bits and pieces of cutlery and crockery and bits for washing up. I took advantage of having my own kitchen to cook a garlic flatbread – wasn’t worth getting a whole loaf of bread and pack of butter and jar of marmite for toast but the flatbread was perfect. I ate it sitting on my bed, using the broad windowsill as a table but I later discovered two folding chairs hiding in the wardrobe which would go with the real table.
The bathroom was also tiny (it did smell slightly mouldy but I couldn’t for the life of me track down any reason for it because it was pristine) and came with the usual complimentary shower gel, shampoo, soap etc but also a toothbrush and tiny 5ml toothpaste and razor. It was warm and toasty enough to have the window open most of the night and that made it lovely and comfortable.
I don’t remember it being particularly noisy, despite being just off the Fulham Palace Road. There was a teeny bit too much light coming through the curtains but that’s me being picky – I like to sleep in absolute darkness but I know lots of people like light and some people (mad, crazy people in my opinion!) use nightlights, so they wouldn’t be bothered by it.
Two things did occur to me. That it was a lovely apartment to own for the weekend, that it’s the sort of size I’d end up with if I lived in London and that I’d never be able to afford to live in that particular one because it was too nice. The other thing was how much that building must be worth – to own a building in London that contains 120 apartments and to finish and furnish them all so nicely. The nice woman who let me in and showed me around must be revoltingly rich.
I considered taking up the offer of “you can stay as long as you like” to leave all my stuff there on Sunday and to London around without having to carry it but in the end, the idea of having to haul myself back out to Hammersmith again later to pick it up overruled it. I washed up, tidied up, packed up and departed into the hustle and bustle of London.