Tuesday, 26 August 2008

I Know A Jolly Policeman...

I was busy typing in my flat when a yellow card was shoved under the door by the police. It was a ‘Burglary Alert.’ Between the hours of 8am and 3pm, ‘…a property had been burgled.’ Had I seen or heard anything suspicious? Did I have any information which could assist them to catch those responsible or information about other crimes in the area?

Worryingly, I hadn’t heard a thing. Later that evening, I called police to report the following: (here we go again…) the front door is always broken, there’s no security, the management company don’t give a flying one etc, etc. Furthermore (now take a while to enjoy this; it’s brilliant) every single window in the building is fitted with the same lock.

The policeman I spoke to was forthright, paternal and concerned. He took some time leafing through the enormous Dovecot Towers log to find the particular crime in question, and the Dovecot file is very thick indeed, containing ‘…a disproportionately high amount of incidents.’ I told him what I have witnessed: stolen post, intruders etc. He said that when such unreported incidents are included in their statistics, it’s even worse than they imagined. Why hadn’t I gone to the police? I said: we’ve no CCTV (well, what we had was stolen) and I’ve no idea when my post was taken. He said: why not move?

Mostly, he wondered what the management company do about all this, adding that if it was his beat, he would have ‘harsh words’ with them. To his open astonishment, I said that they won’t deal with tenants.

I pointed out that the ‘secure entry code’ on the main door has been the same since February. Despite there being ‘hotel’ guests and countless visitors passing through, the management company (now, this is even better) had informed us about the new code on a window poster next to the broken main door. Bravo!

The kindly policeman told me that three flats were burgled efficiently in quick succession, the locks busted with a cordless drill after gaining easy access through the broken main door. He carefully, but unconvincingly implied that the robberies were not close by, and his final wise advice was to put a huge new fangled padlock on my front door until I moved.

The investigating officer called a week later. She was also horrified: I told her about the door, and the window locks. She had noticed that crime was rife, and security was poor, but I knew that. Nobody else had responded to her card.

Now in abject despair, I emailed my landlord, who contacted the management company, detailing my (and now his) fear. The managers emailed their solution to the security problem.
Was it a new door, or lock?
Security guards or extensive CCTV?
Were they sorry?

They were ‘aware of the situation,’ and had instructed contractors to mend the door whenever it was broken (not – you will note – replace it) which might just be the stupidest thing I have ever heard. Oh – and they promised to contact individual tenants and owners, advising them to replace the locks.

I told some neighbours, who either didn’t believe me, can’t be arsed or think I am a keening prophet of doom (and a bit crazy.) Other residents I spoke to were oblivious to the burglaries, and had not been notified about the urgent necessity of fitting stronger door locks by landlords or the management company. So much for promises and ‘awareness.’

One man I spoke to had only recently moved in. He was astounded by the sense of alienation here; nobody speaking, neighbours shuffling back inside to avoid each other. He’d never seen his neighbours, and I was definitely the first resident to chat. I advised him to have all mail redirected, but he already encountered the Dovecot Mail. Like many here, his post-box was crow-barred open before he moved in, and never mended.

Just a few months or so previously, I wrote here that newbuilds are desolate and neglected and how this will lead to crime, even deaths. I wish I was wrong, but I’m afraid my worst fears are being confirmed. Time to leave? That goes without saying.
(NB As I write this, the main door has been broken for two days.)

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Or Should I Go?

The word choice involves selection; making a decision between alternative options. When I leave (and it is when) I will live in a similar place, with similar problems. Perhaps it would be easier to get the hell out of here, head off for pastures new. But where? I like the city; the problem isn’t urban life, but the state of these developments.

I want to find somewhere better, and flats are all the same. For all its many faults, Dovecot Towers is pretty standard in what is the ‘affordable’ end of the market. But uniformity is stifling. Just who decreed that all urban newbuilds must be identical? Thankfully, I avoided the teeny, tiny examples that were being built four or five years ago. My requirements are realistic, and I’m no diva demanding Jacuzzis, verdant terraces or miles and miles and miles of space in my lounge. To be honest, I wouldn’t need a house; I’m happy with a flat.

Modest to a tee, I’d really like a slightly larger balcony, so I can stand outside without dodging the door. What I’d really like though is a lounge: just a small amount of separate space so I can sit without being serenaded by washing machines, both mine and those of my neighbours, but all flats have office/kitchen/dining/sitting/laundry rooms, with nowhere to pull out a mattress when friends stay. I don’t like the idea of being greedy and rattling around in a three bed house. I’ve been checking rents, and they are falling to a level where an extra room is a growing possibility.

Regular readers know that all I really want is cupboard. It has become an obsession. I am not naturally tidy, and so have discarded superfluous possessions, with Oxfam the beneficiary. And I’d like a utility room. As for my imaginary, ideal new neighbourhood, I’d like a bar, or a cafĂ©, to escape to. I’d like to look across at something other than a perpetual vista of newbuild fading into newbuild.

If I go, I’ll be shuffling from one flat to the next one, hauling my diminishing possession from one side of town to the other. I feel exhausted and daunted, and I’m checking out ‘better’ flats, in neighbourhoods not routinely prone to crime. I spoke to the man at my bank (I was reporting that my replacement debit card was stolen from post box) and he said that theft was uncommon in his block, which is 50% owner occupied.

Wisdom says that I should bide my time holding out for rental prices to drop even further (and yes, doubters, they are dropping). More flats have been completed, and the available pool of tenants has reached maximum saturation.

For what I pay here I might afford a ‘luxury’ flat. It’s just that in the Alice In Wonderland World of Newbuilds, luxury for us (a bit of space, a cupboard or two, and a utility room) is what passes for average elsewhere. My dreams are not extraordinary, wide-eyed crazy fantasies. My wishes are mundane: I want a safe and comfortable place to call home.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Should I Stay?

Leaving Dovecot Towers will not break my heart. I didn’t want to live here, but at the time, I needed to find somewhere fast. Perhaps as a consequence, it’s never felt like home, and now something is making me wonder what will happen if I stay much longer. It’s not the murder. (FYI: the caretaker is playing it down, but confirmed that a passing resident noticed a strange smell, and pushed the door open. He admitted that the rumoured blood splatters were real enough, smeared on the wall of a deserted flat, while another resident mentioned East European gangs and torture.)

I have a new neighbour. I often have new neighbours, as nobody ever stays for long (except for me.) This one moved in a fortnight ago and he’s noisy. Dovecot Towers is designed in such a way as to heighten inter-neighbour annoyance. On sultry summer nights, when doors must remain open so we don’t suffocate, he stands on his balcony and shouts into the phone for hours.

Maybe it would be better if I could speak Urdu, as I can’t understand what he’s saying (maybe that’s why this is so annoying: a tantalising glimpse into an indecipherable world). Last Saturday was his birthday, and his sisters visited; they cooked for him, playing loud music and then shouting over and above said loud music. I ignored them for as long I could, then asked them to turn it down as I was working and couldn’t hear myself think, enduring his choice of blaring, blasted dubstep drowning out my own choice of music.

At night, his friends came round for a drink. They lingered on the balcony in the warm breeze, discussing the morality of alcohol and Islam, smoking weed, their shouting and laughter growing increasingly rowdy - nothing offensive (well apart from the heroic Olympic Long Distance Gobbing onto the pavement.) By one am, I cracked and asked them to keep it down. They were polite and apologetic. I felt really awful.

At 3am, I was shrieking again for them to shut up, as I had work to do the next day. Again they were respectful and this time moved inside, where they must have been sweltering. I hate to be a screeching neighbour. I know it won’t happen every day. I shouldn’t be able to hear him; bad design is responsible for this conflict, not my intolerance or even his volume.

If I stay, nothing will ever change. My Dovecot life is stuck on a loop like Groundhog Day. Every month is a repeat of the last: rowdy residents, subdued, until the next lot invade; the front door broken and never mended, post room robbed, again, and again or parties which stop for a while and then recommence, the monotony of my ivory walls, the fact that some genius thought it acceptable to place a washing machine in the lounge. If I stay, I will see all of this, cope with all this, and confront the effects of all of this into infinity. And beyond.

(NB: as I was writing this in my flat, police pushed a note under my door. While I was actually typing, three neighbouring flats were burgled; thieves entered via the broken, open main door, and drilled through front door locks. I shall keep you posted.)

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

No English Newbuild Garden

There are no large parks close to Dovecot Towers – they’re all at least a bus ride away. Some effort was made to landscape the barren concrete outside: there are three raised beds each planted with low maintenance cacti, all neglected and the adjacent bedding plants are gradually being stolen (even that’s better than nothing.)

I watch gardening shows and envy people with the knack. I could, I suppose, plant something here, but it’s a long term commitment. I could grow tomatoes in a bag. Without wishing to get too technical, my balcony has restricted access, as the door and windows swing open and would knock over terracotta planters, so my options are limited.

Despite minimal space, some clever residents successfully grow ornamental plants, and even vegetables. Horticultural dreamers grow flowers on their terrace; bright little posies, geraniums perhaps, in terracotta pots. Elsewhere there is a solitary example of architectural topiary, planted I suspect by the people who let their flats as ‘hotel’ rooms, establishing a veneer of beauty against a beige, Spartan backdrop.

There’s so much that could be done, I know. I read about those amazing guerrilla gardeners who sow illicit plantations under cover of the night, so that locals awake one morning to sudden greenery, fruit and perfumed blossoms. Then again, there are renegade gardeners of another kind altogether. With newbuilds competing for too few tenants, it seems that some flats are being let as large scale greenhouses, where they grow weed. Some tenants still grow their own. Only the extremely daft leave their crop to soak up sunshine on the window sill or balcony.

I know what you’re thinking, but I don’t want an allotment. I’d never dig it. I wouldn’t know what to do with the surplus, and they are so popular now there’s a long waiting list, and anyway, the way I feel today, I won’t stay here long enough to benefit. I love bonsai trees, but they are more demanding than children or pets. You have to trim, love and nurture them, moving them around with the seasons.

I dream of vines coiled over my railings, and harvesting their luscious fruit; of walking outside to be greeted by greenery, a perfumed floral scene, or aromatic herbs, like basil and rosemary. To really grow anything, I’d need to drill holes in the walls to enable a trellis to cling or for securing bountiful hanging baskets, all necessary to maximise the limited space, but drilling is forbidden. I could arrange old car tyres in towers and grow potatoes, or sow seeds for a scented colourful plant pot; I could do that. Someone in the flat a few floors down has done so and their balcony is laden with blowsy blooms dangling in wicker baskets (once again it’s a hotel.)

There are so many things I could do to improve my quality of life. When, finally and inevitably I leave, a plaque on the wall outside will read: ‘Rentergirl lived here full of good intentions, but never got around to any of it.’