I live in a rented house share in Brixton. On Saturday, because I can no longer go anywhere else, I was gardening in our tiny flower bed. That’s a polite way to say it. I was at war. I’ve never actually seen the Liam Neeson film Taken. But there I was, raging at the bindweed, “I will find you, and I will kill you.”
Then my housemate and I unearthed something hard and ancient-looking. Buried deep, among the most evil and persistent roots, was a Moët bottle. Its cork was held in place with packing tape. And ahoy! There was a message in it. We cracked off the tape and I made a hatchet job of pronging the paper out with a BBQ skewer. It read:
“Here once lived four gentlemen. This house was adored for four (good) years. There might be a theme here. We hope to pass this house to four people, boy or girl, and we hope they treat this house with disrespect and love as we did. Annoy the neighbours, they won’t complain.”
Underneath was a drawing of our house, with four stick figures outside, plus a fifth (“this guy lived here too for a bit”) and a Google Street View van. I was gleeful. Coronavirus has made us all castaways on socially distant islands, and there we were, sourcing new channels of communication with kindred spirits.
Perhaps it was because I haven’t met a new person in a month, but it felt highly significant. We placed the dusty bottle on the kitchen window sill and agreed that it should have pride of place. As I returned to the bindweed I became obsessed with the idea of finding the four gentlemen.
The thing is, I really want them to know that (in a feat of cabin fever) one of my other housemates has built a pub in our under-the-stairs cupboard.
Jack is a computer programmer and likes projects. I am lucky to live with him because I am, in his words, “so analogue”. He has done a great job improving my internet connection. In our previous house, he also spent several days coding his light switch to order him a one-button, emergency Nando’s delivery.
But I digress. We decided last week that our house needed a bar in order to be properly self-sufficient during lockdown. Jack got to work. Ebay provided an antique bar pull. A keg of ale arrived. The keg needed to be kept at a temperature of 12 degrees, so it had to be the basement. We discussed channelling the beer up to the living room but the wait time to get extra piping was too much. So the bar has been installed at the top of the basement stairs. (If my landlord is reading this, I swear it will be removable without trace). It has been christened The Daily Briefing.
After opening night, Jack reflected that he had actually spent quite a lot of money on the setup. He has since programmed a robotic voice which asks for your name as you pull your pint and adds the cost to your tab on our house Splitwise, an app that lets you keep tabs on who owes what.
I’m not really sure what the etiquette is, but I think the four gentlemen should join us for a pint on a Zoom call. We can’t give them a beer, but it’s the thought that counts.
I have tried Tweeting but I don’t have the clout to go viral. They are surely immortalised on Google Street View, but my trawl was fruitless. I posted on my local Nextdoor page, but I worry that it was the wrong place for the joke about the neighbours. And I have toyed with prospectively asking our estate agent to pass on regards but I’m trying to save the next battle for replacing the decayed garden furniture.
Alas, this article is my last resort. I am crossing my fingers that someone can help me find the message in a bottle men.
Do you know, or are you one of, the four gentlemen? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org