Don't pretend this doesn't depress you. Photo: Matti Mattila on Flickr via Creative Commons
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In the housing crisis, blue carpet is a symbol of the landlord’s freedom to channel Ebenezer Scrooge

The housing crisis has created a seller’s market in which landlords have the power to treat their tenants with as much contempt as they like, including installing carpet in shades never found in nature.

Sometimes you find yourself browsing through £5m London houses on Zoopla. If you’re anything like me, you do so tearfully and at 3am, having realised long ago that you’ll never own a property. Throw a slice of fridge-cold leftover pizza, or a bowl of cereal into the mix and you’ve just Picassoed yourself a picture of me at nearly any given 3am.

It’s probably quite telling that, these days, I fantasise more about wooden floors than I do about women. Telling of what exactly, I have no idea, but I somehow manage to make it dirty. A belt sander, a wall splattered with paint… “Hey, reasonably-priced flat, I’ve been a very naughty London-dwelling millennial…”. I’ve developed full-on objectophilia for Georgian houses in Islington, decked out in G-Plan furniture, and I blame the housing crisis.

You want what you can’t have, right? So, this brings me to what I can have (if and when I ever earn enough to make London rent). I can have houses with blue carpets.

Here’s a potted history of the Blue Carpet that I totally didn’t just make up: it was invented in the early 90s by a slum landlord called Clive Stench. Stench, a formidable bastard, spent 37 years developing a carpet that would make his tenants abandon all hope. The completed product, a work of evil genius worthy of the early Wernher von Braun, was blue. A completely new shade of blue, in fact. One so horrible that it can’t be found anywhere in nature, because nature took one look at it and said, “Yeah right”. This design was quickly distributed to the owners of shitty rentals all over the country, and there it remains, dotted with red wine stains and plainly malevolent in its blueness.

When I look through affordable (ha!) rentals in London, the Blue Carpet is a running theme. It’s there to remind me, and millions of others like me, that a rented property in London isn’t somewhere you live; it’s somewhere you pass through on the way to death. A bit like a crap service station that doesn’t even have a Burger King.

Blue Carpet simply does a spectacular job of saying, “You’re not welcome here”. Landlords want us to know that these aren’t homes they’re renting to us for ruinous stacks of cash, they’re dismal and faceless money factories. After all, a Blue Carpeted house is just a few dehumanisingly short pens away from pastiching the interior of a Jobcentre Plus. And woe betide anyone who spills something on a Blue Carpet. It doesn’t matter that it predates John Major’s prime-ministership and already looks like it’s been jizzed on repeatedly by anyone who’s ever trodden it; there goes your deposit. Here’s a game for a lonely night in, try and imagine all of the fluids, bodily or otherwise, that went into making your Blue Carpet so sticky that it practically clicks when you walk on it.

The cruel genius of Blue Carpet is that nothing goes with it. The idea is that you take one look at it, say, “Fuck this”, deck out your bedroom with a stolen park bench and a rusty Morrisons trolley, and wait to shuffle off this mortal bedspring. The Blue Carpet was designed to break you.

The housing crisis has created a seller’s market in which landlords have the power to treat their tenants with as much contempt as they like. The Blue Carpet is a symbol of the landlord’s freedom to channel Ebenezer Scrooge having an argument with a Poundland shop assistant over the price of a pack of felt tip pens. We’re truly living in an age of Blue Carpet tyranny.

So, letting agents, please do us all one small favour and stop describing Blue Carpeted properties as “neutrally decorated”. They’re not.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The so-called “milkmen’s kids law” would seek protection for men who feel they have been duped into raising children they believe are not biologically theirs – at the expense of women’s rights.

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored Seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter” – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Maas’ proposal, announced on Monday, examines the problem carefully and sensitively before merrily throwing a woman’s right to privacy out of the window. It would compel a woman to name every man she had sexual intercourse with during the time when her child may have been conceived. She would only have the right to remain silent in cases should there be serious reasons for her not to name the biological father (it would be for the court to decide whether a woman’s reasons were serious enough). It is not yet clear what form of punishment a woman would face were she not to name names (I’m thinking a scarlet letter would be in keeping with the classy, retro “man who was present at the moment of conception” wording). In cases where it did transpire that another man was a child’s biological father, he would be obliged to pay compensation to the man “duped” into supporting the child for up to two years.

It is not clear what happens thereafter. Perhaps the two men shake hands, pat each other on the back, maybe even share a beer or two. It is, after all, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement, a transaction which takes place over the heads of both mother and child once the latter’s paternity has been established. The “true” father compensates the “false” one for having maintained his property in his absence. In some cases there may be bitterness and resentment but perhaps in others one will witness a kind of honourable partnership. You can’t trust women, but DNA tests, money and your fellow man won’t let you down.

Even if it achieves nothing else, this proposal brings us right back to the heart of what patriarchy is all about: paternity and ownership. In April this year a German court ruled that men cannot be forced to take paternity tests by children who suspect them of being their fathers. It has to be their decision. Women, meanwhile, can only access abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even then counselling is mandatory (thereafter the approval of two doctors is required, similar to in the UK). One class of people can be forced to gestate and give birth; another can’t even be forced to take a DNA test. One class of people can be compelled to name any man whose sperm may have ventured beyond their cervix; another is allowed to have a body whose business is entirely its own. And yes, one can argue that forcing men to pay money for the raising of children evens up the score. Men have always argued that, but they’re wrong.

Individual men (sometimes) pay for the raising of individual children because the system we call patriarchy has chosen to make fatherhood about individual ownership. Women have little choice but to go along with this as long as men exploit our labour, restrict our access to material resources and threaten us with violence. We live in a world in which it is almost universally assumed that women “owe” individual men the reassurance that it was their precious sperm that impregnated us, lest we put ourselves and our offspring at risk of poverty and isolation. Rarely do any of us dare to protest. We pretend it is a fair deal, even that reproductive differences barely affect our lives at all. But the sex binary – the fact that sperm is not egg and egg is not sperm – affects all of us.

The original 2015 ruling got it right. The male demand for reassurance regarding paternity is an infringement of a woman’s right to privacy. Moreover, it is important to see this in the context of all the other ways in which men have sought to limit women’s sexual activity, freedom of movement and financial independence in order to ensure that children are truly “theirs”.  Anxiety over paternity is fundamentally linked to anxiety over female sexuality and women’s access to public space. Yet unless all women are kept under lock and key at all times, men will never, ever have the reassurance they crave. Even then, the abstract knowledge that you are the only person to have had the opportunity to impregnate a particular woman cannot rival the physical knowledge of gestation.

We have had millennia of pandering to men’s existential anxieties and treating all matters related to human reproduction, from sex to childbirth, as exceptional cases meaning women cannot have full human rights. Isn’t it about time we tried something new? How about understanding fatherhood not as winning gold in an Olympic sperm race, but as a contract endlessly renewed?

What each of us receives when a child is born is not a biological entity to do with as we choose. It is a relationship, with all of its complexities and risks. It is something worth contributing to and fighting for. Truly, if a man cannot understand that, then any money wasted on a Kuckuckskind – a living, breathing child he could get to know – has got to be the least of his worries. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.