I thought my sharehouse days were over. After five years of grotesque fridges, rodents, house parties and passive-aggressive toilet paper wars, I moved into a one-bedroom Melbourne flat with my boyfriend. Gone were the days of sharing toiletries space in the bathroom. Gone was that sense of dread when opening the fridge. Gone was the fear of looking your housemate in the eye after waking up to their sex sounds. Suddenly, I could swig wine from the bottle and dance in the living room. Garden naked. Contemplate buying a cat.

Until we packed up: deciding to drift around Europe rather than stand still. To drift until the money ran out.

And run out it did, much sooner than expected.

“That’s cool,” we laughed, scouting the sidewalks for freebies. Any excuse to give our suitcases a rest and get to work was a good one, especially if it let us develop our latest geographic obsession.

Edinburgh: that mighty city of rock and castle and chips sloshed with gravy, with curry, with anything. Where, in summer, the sun never sets – it just kind of dozes from midnight till two in the morning, steeping the city in a kind of illuminated gloom. Where everyone carries an umbrella, because it will probably rain. And it can rain for days.

With most of the money gone, our only practical accommodation choice was to put away our pride and learn to share again. As a couple, a houseshare would not only save us a ton in rent but, in the mix, we’d get to meet some fabulous, cosmopolitan people while working our way back to financial stability.

Pity no one wants to live with a couple.

Finding the perfect houseshare isn’t easy, especially in a foreign country where you’re trying to survive entirely from the money you make through the internet.

What follows are true, unadulterated stories from the battlefield of the Edinburgh Sharehouse.

The puppy murderer

Most houseshares experience flatmate tension, and our friend (another expat) was no different. He’d found himself living with two other housemates in the heart of Edinburgh who, for fun, we’ll call Frank and Jenny.

Frank and Jenny were buddies from back home in Italy, and they had an interesting relationship. Once, Jenny went on holiday. When she returned to the flat, she discovered her puppy – a spotty, adorable ball of cuteness – was missing. This was strange, because Frank had agreed to feed and cuddle it while she was away. This incident was promptly followed by a letter from Frank announcing he had, in fact, kicked the puppy to death, and that he’d presumably do the same to Jenny but with a knife (this was conveniently left beside the letter).

Edinburgh: that mighty city of rock and castle and chips sloshed with gravy, with curry, with anything.

Jenny was obviously distressed by the news, and, with the assistance of our friend, reported Frank to the correct authorities who promptly interned him in a mental hospital slash prison.

By the time we arrive in Edinburgh, all the above events had already transpired. Our friend relayed the story as an amusing anecdote over dinner, coupled with his concern after overhearing that Frank’s friends were hoping to break him out of hospital.

Several bottles of wine and dumplings later, we’d forgotten.

“We don’t have a home!” I whine, splashing wine everywhere.

“But you can stay with me for however long you like,” our friend says. “I have a spare room.”

We take up his offer gratefully, and turn up promptly, if a little bleary eyed, the next morning. Key under the mat; wireless password on the table. Cute.

Enter the Scottish police, advising us of Frank’s escape from the hospital (sans medication) and a suggestion to deadbolt the door. Exit police.

Minutes later, the door is accosted again by a furious amount of banging, tugging, and Italian curses; while we, assuming this could only be dog murderer Frank or one of his friends, attempt three different emergency numbers before correctly dialling the Scottish police. By this point the door is almost torn from the hinges, while I’m simultaneously trying to work out an address to tell the operator and terrifying my mother through Facebook Chat. Our friend is messaging us too, urging us to wait while he finds out if the wailing woman banging her fists on the door is, in fact, his upset housemate Jenny. Click.

“Would anyone like some tea?” is all I can blurt from my miserable mouth after unlocking the door. By this stage there are six police cars piled up outside and clusters of neighbours standing in the doorways, gape-faced.

We laugh uneasily, dismiss the police and drink our tea. An hour later, an officer returns to inform us that, as luck would have it, Frank has been found and returned to the correct institution.

We promptly head for the pub.

The pensioner

There comes a point, when you’ve been dragging your suitcase across roads, around cafés and into the ankles of slow-paced pedestrians for over a week, where you resort to even the fishiest of Gumtree ads.

“Lovely eastern style double room available on short term basis”? Cool. “NON-SMOKING STUDENTS OR POSTDOCS PREFERRED”? Not quite accurate, but still awesome.

So when we were offered a “clean double room with off street parking internet”, we were totally in. Meet you there without giving us any specific information about the place? Absolutely.

A few crumbling roads and brick apartments later, we roll our suitcases to the steps of a squat unit surrounded by patchy grass and some sad foliage.

“Wow, a garden!” I exclaim. We are very impressed.

We ring the doorbell and hear the soft pad of slippers. A gap-toothed ancient lady opens the door, her tiny head swamped by silver ringlets.

“Louise?” I ask.

“Hello,” she says, and waves us into her tiny living room. Beside the floral couch, a television plays gently in the background. We try make conversation, before realising that ‘Louise’ knows very little English and, therefore, is probably more bemused than pleased with our blabber. She waves us over to a table, which is strewn with post-its and laminated sheets of foreign characters. She dials a number on the telephone before handing it to me.

There comes a point, when you’ve been dragging your suitcase across roads, around cafés and into the ankles of slow-paced pedestrians for over a week, where you resort to even the fishiest of Gumtree ads.

“Uh, hello?” I say. “Is this Louise?”

“Yes, Megan. I am Louise.”

“Are we at the right place? Who is the lady that showed us in?”

“She is my relative.”

“That’s nice. What’s her name?”

“Ann. Her name is Ann. Now, if you walk down the corridor and turn right, that will be your room. Go have a look and then tell me what you think. There is a bed, washing machine for you to use and wardrobe.”

I do as I’m told, mainly because I respond well to directions. First, however, I turn to the woman who showed us in. She’s as shy as we are, and I try to apologise for our strange presence by at least getting her name right.

“Ann?” I ask, smiling. She looks at me blankly.

“Ann? Is that your name?”

She grimaces in confusion before waving us impatiently down the hallway. The room is fairly cramped but comfortably decorated, with a bed that drowns out most of the space and a window peering onto the road. ‘Ann’ leaves us for a minute.

“What even is this?” I hiss to my manfriend.

“No idea.”

“What do you think of the room?”

“It’s okay.”

We shuffle back to the telephone, where I resume my conversation with Louise.

“What’s going on here?” I ask. “Is Ann our housemate?”

“Yes, yes. She lives here. But you’re free to come and go. You can use the kitchen, and the washing machine and the living room. Deposit is £390, that okay?”

“Can I let you know? We have a few other houses to look at.”

“Yes that is fine.”

By the time we leave – gushing apologies to our hostess – we’re finding our suitcases unwieldy to manage. Everything starts to look a little strange. We saunter oddly down the road, keeping an eye out for a café, or a pub, or anything resembling the world we’re used to.

The music party

“It’s my birthday next week, and, if you don’t mind, I’d like to have a musical showcase in your room.”

“Sure,” I say. We’d finally scored a sharehouse in a pretty part of Edinburgh, beside a canal, with an enormous room – complete with piano. We were feeling pleased with ourselves.

“Sounds fun. Will there be wine and cheese?”

“Because, you know,” I continue. “Wine and cheese and music: it’s perfect. Like, of course there will be wine and cheese!”

“Oh! I don’t know about wine and cheese, but there will be tea and cake.”

I laugh, before realising my housemate is serious about this.

Next week, we sit dutifully beside the piano, waiting for the evening to commence. Everyone else is empty handed. We secretly nibble at our cheese; sip at our wine and whisky. One guy blasts a sax while another improvises on the piano. It’s sounding good, and things appear to be livening up – hell, one girl even accepts a glass of wine from us – so I’m feeling better despite the fact I’m clearly tipsy in the soberest of rooms.

What I don’t realise is the showcase hasn’t even begun.

Suddenly, the music stops, people sit on the floor, and the tea comes out.

Now, I’m not sure if this is strictly a UK thing, but it seems as though the rules that govern a musical showcase evening are ones I am not familiar with. To save future social anxiety, here are, from what I’ve gathered, the dos and don’ts of a musical evening:

DON’T giggle when the piano is announced to be of ‘equal temperament’.
DO shut up, close your eyes and sway sensually to the music – even if it makes your audience uncomfortable.
DON’T make allusions to the Beats, jazz, mortality or dancing in the middle of a sonata.
DO tell people to shut it when they murmur over the music.
DON’T make jokes about ‘clackers’, harmonicas or any other percussion instrument of minor importance in an orchestra.
DO try to cover the evidence when spilling whisky over the back of the piano.
DON’T begin a drinking game with the premise to ‘drink every time the musician looks sincere’.

If you follow the simple rules above, you will surely avoid the wrath of early twenty-something music students and live a long and virtuous houseshare existence.

Unfortunately, I’m not that virtuous.


Megan Anderson is Going Down Swinging’s online editor.