Don't pretend this doesn't depress you. Photo: Matti Mattila on Flickr via Creative Commons
Show Hide image

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.

Getty
Show Hide image

Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit