Residents of Dovecot Towers live in splendid isolation, but for a while I was happily acquainted with a neighbour. At first she was afraid to speak, mumbling a diffident reply to my cheery good morning. Slowly she realised that I’m not one of the bad guys, and we began, occasionally, to chat. She shares a one bed newbuild with her husband, and is appalled at… well, everything, and more.
Pilar is Spanish and can’t understand why the flats are so badly built, especially the walls, which are little more than a flimsy veneer of paint, leaving her able to hear most of what her neighbours say and do.
She asked me: where do all the families live? In Spain, apartments are larger, and families routinely live clannishly in high-ceilinged city flats with generous balconies, large kitchens, against a backdrop of thriving family friendly café culture (should individuals need to escape the confines of domestic life.) Several generations live in one apartment, but then there’s enough space.
Every time I saw her, Pilar was more and more disillusioned. What about respect, she asked: don’t people care? Everybody has their moments, she knows, but parties and screaming every single Saturday? She feels people veer between two extremes: either frosty and unfriendly, or banging drunkenly on her door at night. Why do they drink so much?
And why are the homes so horrible? Why are they built in such a mean spirited fashion, why so small? She wants her younger sister to come and stay, but has had to explain that her home is cramped, and staying for more than a week or so will be difficult for them all, camped out on an airbed in a combined lounge/diner/kitchen/spare room, with a washer on the go.
In Continental Europe, people routinely live in large, reasonably priced apartments. They seem to stay for life. Owners and landlords accept that they will see increase in value over many years, content to profit from reasonable rents, as the property is already mortgage free. Some blocks are Victorian, with both owners and tenants owning and living in the same flat for decades. Some leases have been inherited down the generations from Edwardian times.
In Europe, there is little stigma about renting and seemingly, less greed. Families live slap bang in the middle of thriving urban landscapes, but there are schools, doctors, and some sense of community or village life even in a bustling metropolis. People seem to accept that you never really own a property, but pass it on to your family, who will care for you when you are infirm with illness or age.
Pilar promised to copy me a form she’s obtained from the council about noisy neighbours. But then one day I came home and found boxes of packed belongings stacked outside her flat. Pilar must have had enough – apparently she’s returned to Spain. I really wish the good neighbours stuck around.