A still image. The exterior of a house with a red front door and an estate agent’s sign outside it. A hedge demarcates the front garden and is neatly trimmed. Two young men are outside the house, both with pixellated faces. One is striding away from the house; the other stands at its threshold and looks towards the camera. Belongings are heaped on either side of the front door, including a carved wooden giraffe.
A community centre room with a circle of chairs around its edges. Emma is sat on one of these chairs. A man and a woman are at one end of the room, next to a projector and some piles of papers stacked on a table. The projector is on a tilt, propped up by a slim book under one of its legs. The man and the woman are facilitating a training day. The woman, Anna, has just spoken and is looking around the room for a response. A line of faces, thoughtful. Then back to Anna:
“The angry boss?”
“Yes, that works. Any others?”
“The moody teenager.”
“The nightmare neighbour.”
“The kind nurse.”
“The martyred mother.”
“The passionate artist.”
“Good, good. All of these are ‘stock cultural scripts’. They are descriptions we reach for as a kind of shortcut. They limit our choices when we use them because they bring to our minds an idea that is pre-established and doesn’t leave room for information that contradicts it. We already have stories in mind that feature these characters, and think we know how these stories end.”
Three women, including Emma, are walking along a street. They consult a piece of paper and then knock on the front door of a house. It is the same house that was in the image we saw before, containing the two young men with pixellated faces. A woman dressed in a skirt suit, Mina, arrives behind them.
“Sorry I’m late. I’ll let you in…”
Mina struggles with the key in the lock and opens the door, then shows them inside. The walls are bright white and everything looks scrupulously clean.
“Here’s the ground floor bedroom… Original fireplaces…”
Emma sniffs. “It’s freshly painted.”
“Yes, it’s been completely redecorated. The carpets are new, too. Let me show you the living room… Sorry it’s a bit cold – the house has been unoccupied for a little while.”
The group moves around various rooms, opening cupboard doors and inspecting the furniture. Natasha opens the door to a bedroom and it drags heavily across the carpet.
“The landlord can get the bottom of that door planed for you – it’s because the carpets are so new.”
“Is the landlord nice?”
“Oh yes, he’s very nice. Always responsive. Though they had nightmare tenants before so they are a bit cautious.”
“Yes, you know: shouting, arguing in the street. They kept two dogs in the house – not allowed – and they actually tore up the carpets, tore them to bits. There was a sofa downstairs – ruined. And you see here, this chunk of wall? The dogs actually took a bite out of that wall. Terrible. They wanted their deposits back after that and we said, ‘Not a chance.’ We had so many complaints from the neighbours. Apparently their dogs would fight in the street. They got quite a reputation. And then, when we got them out, the threatening phone calls started.”
“They phoned your office?”
“They did – demanding their deposits back. But the cost of replacing the carpets, repainting the whole house… No way.”
The group move to another bedroom.
“Are these double glazed?”
An older woman, Emma’s mum Jane, is sat in a family living room with a computer on her lap. She looks up at Emma.
“What’s the house number?”
Jane taps at the computer’s keyboard.
“White front door?”
“No, no – a red one. Google gets the placement wrong sometimes, let me have a look.”
Jane passes the laptop to Emma, and we see its screen. As Emma clicks the camera travels along a tidy street.
“Here you go – it’s the one with these guys outside. Red front door.”
Emma zooms in on the front of the house and we see the two young men with pixellated faces, the heaped belongings.
“Oh my god, I think these are the nightmare tenants our estate agent was talking about. Apparently they had two dogs that fought in the street… It looks like they’re just moving in.”
“You can see a dog there, peeking over the gate!”
Emma zooms in on the front gate and we see two dogs – one looking over the top of the fence, and one poking its nose underneath. The image is dated May 2012.
“May… That seems about right. The estate agent said they were only there are few months before they evicted them…”
Emma explores, moving the camera back and forth, getting different angles on the house. The changing still images create a sense of movement. The dogs move towards and away from the gate and the man at the threshold turns to face the camera. We see he has a cigarette in his hand.
“I wonder if they smoked in the house, too? What a coincidence that Google went past on the day they moved in…”
“Your estate agent mentioned these people?”
“Yeah, apparently they were a total nightmare.”