Learning to Share

Via Tim Worstall, this article in which the following complaint is made by a Wetherspoons barmaid:

When you earn less than £9 an hour, it’s impossible to afford a place of your own in Brighton, where I live. How can people like me live our best lives if we’re splitting bills with five flatmates and arguing over the shared bathroom?

When I was a student, it was absolutely normal to share a house with other people if you weren’t living in halls. The idea someone could afford to live on their own was literally unheard of, even among the poshos who came from money. In fact, at that age you don’t want to live on your own because it’s boring.

Similarly, it was normal for young professionals to share a house with one or two other people in a similar situation, which was a big step up from a shared student house. The place was usually nicer, people had to get up in the morning so didn’t play music until 3am, and a fire in the kitchen was no longer a laugh. People shared mainly because they couldn’t afford to rent on their own but also, again, it’s a bit boring living on your own at that age. I knew nobody who lived on their own when they took their first job, and bear in mind I’m talking about graduate engineers here. I was the exception when I briefly rented a place on my own in Liverpool which turned out to be a complete dump, so I high-tailed it back to my girlfriend’s house in Manchester which she shared with four other girls (there was one bathroom). If I remember correctly, my oldest brother shared a house in Slough when he was attempting to qualify as an accountant, and my other brother shared with his mate from back home for a few years. For people of my generation, they only started thinking of living on their own between 25-30 years of age when they either bought their first place or got into a serious relationship and they didn’t want their Friday night smooching on the sofa ruined by a housemate sitting on the armchair with his hands down his tracksuit bottoms. Quite a few people I know only stopped housesharing with friends when they moved in with a serious partner.

But in 2018 we have a barmaid who is almost certainly under 25 believing she is entitled to live on her own because, well, she wants to. Leaving aside the obvious suggestion that sharing is bad for her because she makes a rotten housemate, there is probably something deeper to all this, which I may have got a whiff of way back in 1996. The halls I stayed in during my first year at Manchester (Owens Park, as it happens; weirdos were put in Allen Hall) were fully catered, and it quickly became clear how each student had lived before starting university. I came from a boarding school and found the food to be two orders of magnitude improved from what I was used to: it was hot, there was a choice, it was actually cooked (instead of steam-heated) and there was plenty of it. Nobody who’d been to boarding school had a problem with the food at Owens Park, nor did most of the blokes. But there were a few people, mostly girls but boys as well, who weren’t used to eating collectively, even as a family. Having watched the behaviour of contemporary children, I can imagine these individuals whining and complaining they didn’t like this, that, and the other to the point they had their mother prepare their own special meal on demand for much of their childhoood. Little wonder they didn’t like canteen food when they turned up at Owens Park; I suspect the reason they didn’t go self-catered is because they didn’t know a saucepan from a rolling pin.

What this suggests to me is the university intake in 1996 came from families more wealthy than previous generations. I can’t believe too many people of my father’s generation would turn their nose up at Owens Park food, nor of anyone born much before 1975. Families would have eaten together, the menu would have been what the budget allowed for, and there would have been no choice. Mothers simply didn’t have the option to let their precious little snowflake push beef around the plate while scowling before caving in to demands for chicken nuggets and ice cream.

Similarly, most children of earlier generations would have been used to sharing a bedroom and living in a crowded house without much furniture or other comforts. I was lucky in that I had my own room for most of my teens, but the reason we had a big house was because it was plonked in the middle of a mass of fields in the extreme corner of west Wales. For many young men and women, the transition from a crowded terraced house full of kids and a tiny toilet to a shared student house would have been a big step up in terms of living conditions. Contributing to the housework would have been normal for these people since the age of 10 (not me, I was bone idle), and sharing bathrooms as normal as going to bed at night in the same room as one or two younger siblings.

However, those who are born between 1990 and 2000, as is probably the case with the Wetherspoons barmaid, have mostly grown up in what previous generations would have thought relative luxury. Almost all will have had their own bedroom, some their own bathroom, and the house will have been warm, comfortable, quiet, full of food, and with the Sky package on the 42″ TV paid for by someone else. Going from this to a shared house where slugs parade through the kitchen each night, the bathroom sink is permanently blocked, and everyone must pay for the heating is going to be a step down, without question. But moreover, anyone who’s grown up in a big house with one or two children is going to be less accustomed to communal living than someone who had three or four siblings and lived in a terrace. Add to that the sense of entitlement of a medieval lord and an overall unpleasant character, and it’s hardly surprising that some people can’t handle sharing a house. It’s another example of how a rather large number of today’s young adults seem utterly ill-equipped to deal with the world as it is. I blame state education and the parents.

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32 thoughts on “Learning to Share

  1. I don’t know whether it has always been like this, but it feels like everyone is such a whiny bag of misery these days. It’s like you need a mental disorder to write for the Guardian, and I can only imagine what it does for the readers, who must be depressed just to be interested in this dribble. Perhaps a way to make up their annual shortfall would be to get the professional psychology sector to kick in, given they are clearly a source of such ongoing misery and blame displacement requiring treatment. I can see hours of cognitive behavioural therapy in every article. And that is just in the “journalist”.

  2. What I find most outrageous about this is that this is a barmaid making this complaint. In what possible world would someone expect to be able to emulate their clearly well-off upbringing on essentially unskilled labour work? How oblivious to basic truths do you have to be?

    I’m a very well paid 27 year old and I still share a flat with a random flatmate. It’s not difficult or onerous and allows me to save the ~£500 per month extra that would go on rent if I had my own place. Why would a barmaid possibly feel she should be doing better than this?

  3. I saw what you did there 🙂

    The best way to be popular at dinner among those weirdos was to be vegtarian, which I was, strictly, at the time, and still am 6 days a week. The meaty mains would be served to each table of six (?) boys (and girls, the second year of my incarceration), the veggies and those with other tiresome requirements would go and collect their slop individually, so people would actually want to sit with the veggies and weirdos.

    It was tuition fees that changed the student body massively – by that time I was postgrad and teaching’em, so at least trying to keep some distance. You will have seen that step-change as an undergraduate.

  4. I’ve only recently moved into an apartment that I have to myself, after decades of shared living. I can’t see it making a lot of sense for a single person to live alone, financially, regardless of wage level. You can do a lot with the additional money it saves.

    The reality is that rental prices are set by the income of working couples, that’s a big burden for any single person’s wages.

  5. I saw what you did there

    🙂

    It was tuition fees that changed the student body massively

    Good point.

  6. I lived in flatshares until the age of 32, when I bought my own flat. Said purchase funded by a decade of sharing and saving. It’s not rocket science.

    I don’t remember feeling that the world had done me wrong during my years sharing. The length of time was my choice; I chose to live in London (friends in the provinces got on the ladder much earlier) and I also chose to save for longer rather than get on the ladder in East Ham (not clever but there you go).

    I don’t know whether it has always been like this, but it feels like everyone is such a whiny bag of misery these days. It’s like you need a mental disorder to write for the Guardian, and I can only imagine what it does for the readers, who must be depressed just to be interested in this dribble.

    Agreed, although it seems to be more hysterical misery than depressive. I saw a comment on some article the other day claiming that 14m people in Britain live in poverty. Many Guardian readers genuinely think millions of people are only a food bank away from starvation.

  7. >How can people like me live our best lives if we’re splitting bills with five flatmates and arguing over the shared bathroom?

    Wetherspoons’ job is to serve customers beer, not provide the ‘best life’ for the people who hand out the beer.

  8. Which house did you live in in OP? (I was in L6 in 90-91 and 92-93)

    Did it still have 2A plugs for power in 1996? They had tried rewiring a bit of Tree Court in 1990 and found it so hideously expensive that they’d given-up.

    In reality everyone’s expectations about accommodation have continuously risen – you would probably have complained if they’d taken the basin out of your room in OP , but everyone who lived there from the 60s to the 80s had had to share in the communal bathrooms.

    You should see what modern high-end student accommodation looks like…

  9. Which house did you live in in OP?

    Little Court (3 or 4) 1996-7
    Tree Court (?) 1999-2000

    When they renovated all the windows in the Tower in the summer of 1997, I worked as a labourer on the site. Those green curtain walls in the centre were fitted, in part, by me.

    Did it still have 2A plugs for power in 1996? They had tried rewiring a bit of Tree Court in 1990 and found it so hideously expensive that they’d given-up.

    Yes. Grrrrr. The trick was, when you came back to OP in your 4th year, to work out which rooms had the proper power outlets in and request one of them.

    In reality everyone’s expectations about accommodation have continuously risen – you would probably have complained if they’d taken the basin out of your room in OP ,

    Basin/toilet 😉

    but everyone who lived there from the 60s to the 80s had had to share in the communal bathrooms.

    Yup, shared bathrooms and toilets when I was there. Girls and boys on separate floors, but only staircase separating them. What would the MeToo crowd think of that now, I wonder?

    You should see what modern high-end student accommodation looks like…

    I’ve heard.

  10. It’s not all endless improvements in student accommodation as the years move on. My third year, uni provided, accommodation in 2012 had no bathroom in the entire building. We had to go to the halls next door for that. A shared bathroom in the building sounds like sheer luxury!

  11. @notanarc – Mausoleum / Coffin and have both?

    @Mal Reynolds – Where was that?

    Just to supplement the anecdata, I lived chez parents for four years after uni, then managed to rent cheaply in Manchester for another two before I could buy, at the end of the 90’s, in my early 30s. Later, I saved even more money from not buying takeaway after I discovered the house had a room where you can cook things.

  12. I’m from an asian-indian background and many young british asians will be at home with their parents (and maybe even with some extended family)…till they are married! Only then is it seen as ok to leave home. I am 33, single, and I had a huge falling out with my family as I bought my own flat aged 30 (which I was only able to do by living at home at not paying rent) and was preparing to leave home. My dad wanted me to be at the family home till I got married. I know hardly any asians who rent, most will stay at home with family till they can save to buy a house (never usually a flat), either on their own or with husband/wife. There are some people in my extended family who have even purchased their own homes but are renting them out and still living with parents!

    I’m not speaking for all asians, but a lot of us from this background cannot understand how and why British people love wasting money on frivolities and thinking so short-term, and also why people have become so neglectful of families. I was accused of being selfish and not caring for my family when I left home!

    It seems that the desire for independence is quite strong in western culture, but maybe this will begin to change once things get more and more difficult economically and financially.

  13. @Justin believe it or not, Cambridge. Difficulties of getting plumbing into very old buildings was the excuse.

    @Jas indeed. Especially noticeable in end of life care as well where many Brits seem to view it as someone else’s responsibility to look after their own parents and grandparents. Rather appalling values.

  14. you would probably have complained if they’d taken the basin out of your room

    Too right. Where else are you supposed to piss?

  15. It seems that the desire for independence is quite strong in western culture

    Yes, but your Millennials have a funny old idea of independence. It seems to be ‘I want society to be rearranged and everyone else taxed to death so I can live how I want, right now and with zero effort.’

  16. I owned quite a few student houses in Liverpool between 1990 and 2010. I bought good houses in decent areas (Allerton,Lark lane etc) and fitted them out to a decent spec. I ended up with 100% occupancy and few problems, the students by and large were a decent bunch and seemed to have a ball although near the end the quality of the students had dropped. In the end boredom and profit taking won out and I cashed in, twas fun though for a while.

  17. @MC “Yes, but your Millennials have a funny old idea of independence. It seems to be ‘I want society to be rearranged and everyone else taxed to death so I can live how I want, right now and with zero effort.’”

    It’s like they remain as teenagers, wanting everything paid for by their parents but demanding a teenager’s perception of independence.

    Also I wonder if some of this is a function of millenials having older parents than previous generations. My parents were relatively young when I was born and I remember the gradual improvement in how we lived as I grew older and my dad’s career progressed. I wonder if children born to parents in their late 30s, who therefore miss the earlier years of not being as well off, assume everyone must perpetually live at the means of someone at least 20 years into their career?

  18. In 1990, I was in Oak House, just down the road from OP. I’d say we were a slightly different lot there as Oak Hse was self catering. So we had 8 of us to a flat with shared kitchen, 2 bathrooms and a living room. No TV. It was really fun. We had an open fire escape to the girls flat next door, so it sort of ended up being a 16 person mixed flat. I actually enjoyed the learning to cook thing and thinking that making a beef stew was the hight of culinary expertise! And we were all allowed to smoke indoors – which for an 18 year old, was great!

  19. I wonder if children born to parents in their late 30s, who therefore miss the earlier years of not being as well off, assume everyone must perpetually live at the means of someone at least 20 years into their career?

    That’s an excellent point.

  20. I was in Oak House, just down the road from OP. I’d say we were a slightly different lot there as Oak Hse was self catering.

    Indeed, I used to go there plenty to visit friends. As you say, the only real difference was OP was catered. Both were 1,000+ students IIRC.

  21. Girls and boys on separate floors, but only staircase separating them. What would the MeToo crowd think of that now, I wonder?

    I was at Allen either side of the transition (sic) from an all-male to a mixed hall. The theory was it would make the lads better behaved, and that turned out to be correct.

    Too right. Where else are you supposed to piss?

    I’ll take the fifth, please.

  22. “I’m not speaking for all asians, but a lot of us from this background cannot understand how and why British people love wasting money on frivolities and thinking so short-term, and also why people have become so neglectful of families. ”

    It’s called the Welfare state. The illusion someone else is gonna do it all for you. And you deserve it.

    Or “the evil of Socialism” more succinctly.

    Cue music: “How do Do-it-All do it? Won’t somebody tell… etc, etc”

  23. Also I wonder if some of this is a function of millenials having older parents than previous generations.

    I can’t speak for Britain, but around here it’s single motherhood that’s the problem. Mothers are a lot less hard on their children than fathers are, in terms of instilling discipline, stoicism and independence. They also don’t want the kids to move out because then they’re alone, so they keep them in a state of retarded adolescence until nearly thirty. The number of single mothers I know with kids in their twenties still living at home with the same lifestyle they had at 16 is staggering. The suggestion that these wastrels at the very least should be paying rent and contributing to the household expenses gives Mother the vapours.

  24. @Damian – I used to get paid to mend the video projector from Squirrels, though mostly in my second year when I lived elsewhere.

    Oak House was pretty much the nadir of student accommodation construction – tiny rooms (with tiny beds) with painted block walls and 8 rooms per kitchen/flat is about as horrible as it gets.

    OP was much better built, although much older.

    Here’s a mid-range one run by a private co (for Bristol Uni) which opened this Sept:

    http://www.bristol.ac.uk/accommodation/postgraduate/residences/marlborough-house/

    And here’s a high-end one (opened last year):

    https://www.iconinc.co.uk/locations/liverpool-the-ascent

    Oak House they are not…

  25. @TN

    +1

    I knew nobody who lived on their own when they took their first job, and bear in mind I’m talking about IT graduates here.

    I scrimped and saved to buy a house. After a while, found it boring and took in a lodger.

  26. Kids today” is a respectable, ancient meme. You can’t go wrong with it.

    But if the bartender were 35 or 45 – so her complaint could no longer be dismissed as the whining of a spoilt adolescent – how would you respond to her argument?

  27. The response is easy: the only excuse for being a bartender* at 35 or 45 is that you are the landlord, or really really get off on doing it.

    It’s a pocket-money job, or, at best, at the bottom rung of a different career path.

    *: a job I have done and do not deprecate as it can be bloody hard work.

  28. “Kids today” is a respectable, ancient meme. You can’t go wrong with it.

    Did the young ‘uns often appear in national newspapers expressing their deep unhappiness? I think that’s the key difference: this isn’t about adults tut-tutting about kids who want to live differently from their parents and to go their own way, it’s about kids telling the adults they are seriously unhappy and want the adults to solve their problems.

    But if the bartender were 35 or 45 – so her complaint could no longer be dismissed as the whining of a spoilt adolescent – how would you respond to her argument?

    I’d argue that no free society can pay a barmaid enough such that she can live a reasonable, middle class life on her own. This is an entry-level job, and entry-level jobs were never intended to support people in middle age.

  29. …it’s about kids telling the adults they are seriously unhappy and want the adults to solve their problems.

    To be fair to the young, they are merely asking the adults to pay them more. That’s not new or unique. It seems new because living standards kept growing for several generations and the young could expect a better life than their parents.

    …no free society can pay a barmaid enough such that she can live a reasonable, middle class life on her own. This is an entry-level job…

    American bartenders making $25-30/hour, mostly from tips, might disagree with you. Enough to rent a separate apartment, at least.

  30. American bartenders making $25-30/hour, mostly from tips, might disagree with you. Enough to rent a separate apartment, at least.

    My gut feeling is this belongs to a bygone era.

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