Most student landlords fit into the stereotypical image of a burly, no-mess character, who would pitch up at the front door if your rent hadn’t been paid but would largely leave you to your own devices, unless the house was actually burning down.
And then there’s my mother.
My mother – with her cheery nature and natural desire to help – makes an extraordinary landlady. If the students so much as need a lightbulb changing, she promptly hops on her bicycle (she quite contentedly cycles everywhere, having never learnt to drive) and two-wheels down the hill to remedy the problem.
Pitching up at the front door with a deft rat-a-tat-tat, she bustles in, usually berating any poor student caught with a can of lager in their hand mid-afternoon.
‘Drinking at this time? It’s not even 5pm!’
She would then fix the offending lightbulb, wash a few dishes ‘now that I’m here’ and occasionally top up their toilet roll supply, before exiting in a whirl of energy, with a parting shot of, ‘don’t forget to put the recycling out’ – only just stopping short of actually staying to cook their dinner.
The extent of this madness doesn’t stop there. She often offers an impromptu ‘meet and greet’ service to bewildered students when they first land at Preston train station. My map-mad father once even printed off a map of Preston for one particularly feeble student – highlighting the route from the house to the University. It goes without saying that my mother has also been known to wash the occasional student’s bedding.
She puts up a pretence of exasperation with it all, her favourite phrase being: ‘Goodness knows how they are going to be able to do a degree!’
But secretly she loves it.
When I ask my mother what this year’s students are like, they usually fall in one of two categories: ‘simple’, or ‘a bit puffy’, the latter being my mum’s catch-all expression for any boy who acts feeble or slightly effeminate. The quota of puffy and/or simple students my mother encounters seems inordinately high.
Puffiness aside, it stands to reason that over the years, we’ve had our fair share of oddities. One such eccentric that springs to mind was Cameron – an idle character with unkempt, corkscrew hair, who languished in his room for days on end. Too lazy to go to the toilet, he simply used to urinate in a pan and place it under his bed. Not just one pan, but several… which accumulated over many months.
And when it came to moving out, rather than simply emptying his pans into the toilet, he placed them straight into bin liners, leaking his smelly urine all over the backyard – and subsequently the boot of my father’s car (much to his chagrin).
And how could we forget Alvaro, the hairy Spaniard, who barely spoke English – and could only communicate with my mother in exaggerated hand gestures (my mother firmly believes that adopting the tactic of speaking incredibly slowly and incredibly loudly to foreigners will somehow improve their communication). He was dubbed ‘the swarthy foreigner’ – a title which stuck with him for the remainder of the year.
And then there was The French. The French came in a pair, by the names of Idriss and Vincent. This troublesome twosome detested the English and had a strange obsession with leaving the bathroom completely sterile. If so much as a rogue bar of soap was left overnight by a fellow housemate, they would simply hurl it out of the window in utter disgust. Within six weeks of moving in, they had chased away the other three perfectly reasonable English housemates and commandeered the house for themselves, phoning my poor mother at all hours with their unreasonable demands.
Suffice to say, my mother has never viewed the French population in the same light again.
She would rather take a ‘puffy simpleton’ any day.