I open the drawer in the bathroom and sigh as I look down on nail clippings and hair stubble from a razor. She claimed to have cleaned before she left. Not much evidence of that. Anywhere.
I wonder about the hair stubble - hers? Or a man's? She said she was on her own with her toddler, (in order to get the maximum from "the social") but I found a pair of large sweaty sports socks flung in the top corner of the hall cupboard along with a tin of body-building protein - not hers I think, or her young son's.
Over the weeks of cleaning and re-decorating, the flat slowly reveals to us snippets of the lives of its previous occupants:
- The remnants of transfers that we remove from every wall and piece of glass. A sticky shadow of Spiderman still visible on a bedroom window.
- Hundreds of staples and small pins in the walls from an earlier family. Three growing girls covered every inch of the place with their favourite posters.
- The bureau behind the kitchen, where the father of the three girls retired to smoke furiously, leaving a thick yellow coating of tar and nicotine in the walls, ceiling and lino. That one small room alone took Tod a week to clean and re-paint.
- The small black and brown edged pock marks in the lino of the master bedroom where said father lay in bed smoking and flicking cigarette ash onto the floor.
- The contents of a jar of honey with a child's toy stuck in it oozing behind the plinth below the kitchen cupboards - how did it get there?
- The deep scratches in the lounge floor where small hands had run sharp edged toys back and forth.
- The black drag marks across the lino of the bedroom with the jungle animal wallpaper. Some piece of furniture, too heavy to lift, just hauled out of the room as they left.
- The unstuck stained lino and swollen door that wouldn't shut in the bathroom where water had seeped from a badly installed tank over a weekend when the place was empty.
Mum with toddler "brightened up" the flat with vibrant orange, dark brown, bright red, smoky blue, acid green paint - all of which had to be painted over in a clean, neutral white. But the colours wouldn't let go easily. Three coats of white later, the kitchen still has a blueish tinge. And bits of orange and brown peep out round the edges of uneven skirting boards and corners in the lounge, despite repeated attempts to brush over them.
Bare wires through the ceiling now feed into smart looking spotlights bought cheaply in a "closing down prior to re-opening" sale in Conforama.
The dust-dull glass lampshades hanging from metal chains thick with grime and grease that I wanted to throw away and Tod said "clean" now sparkle and throw out interesting shadows in the hall.
The lumps of black soot in the ceiling corners of the bathrooms and kitchen, hoovered and soaked and scrubbed, reveal themselves to be cream plastic louvred covers for the ventilation system that (now the air can circulate freely) no longer whistles and sighs.
The confusion of meters and bare wires right by the front door - the wall stained where there had been (another) water leak - is now covered by a smart white painted cupboard.
The flat has 100 electric sockets and light switches. Every single one has had its grubby faceplate removed, soaked in hot soapy water and scrubbed, while the fitments on the wall have been carefully cleaned (trying to avoid the exposed live wires) with kitchen towel soaked in grease remover. The final task as each room is finished is to put back the faceplates. Amazing the pleasure to be had in a room full of pristine light switches and sockets!
I find a pile of off-white plastic tiles in the loft and wonder where they are meant to go. A week later, as I start scrubbing away the grime on the lounge floor, I realise: the tiles in the loft match those in the lounge! Over the years, as the original wooden floors underneath have sagged, the old, brittle plastic tiles on top have started to crack. I decide to replace some of the most damaged with the clean ones from the loft. As mentioned elsewhere, this proves to be less than a good idea. Ideally, we would replace the flooring throughout, but cleaned, most of it looks fine and pragmatism steps in. We have already spent far more than we budgeted and we are told by the agent: "c'est pas méchant".
And at last we have a new tenant! Our weeks of hard work have paid off. She and her teenage daughters moved in at the beginning of June. She's a teacher and not "on the social" so her financial situation should be secure. Hopefully, she and her daughters will care for this sunny, sparkly, newly-painted home and want to stay for many years.