Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Careless Caretakers

In my new home (still no nickname btw) there’s a 24 hour concierge. We’re lucky. Purpose built apartment blocks usually employ a caretaker, responsible for several buildings at a time. Frequently ex-soldiers or recently retired policeman, the bad ones veer between two extremes. Some are niggling, petty, jobsworths, who snoop on tenants. Others are shirkers who lurk in the car park, hiding in a lock-up supplied with tea-making facilities and fitness equipment (I’m not making this up).

The majority, though are diligent and dedicated. They coordinate everything: cleaning, basic maintenance and access for contractors. Work is frequently unpleasant, with housing tied to the job, all for minimum wage. Residents of social housing are hopefully blessed with cleaners, security guards and even an onsite estate manager. Floors reek of disinfectant, which means they are clean, whereas come Sunday, neglected developments like Dovecot Towers stink of human ammonia as floors are mopped just once a week.

Janitors are ideally placed to control lucrative drug-dealing and vice. In central Manchester, gangs once attempted to control the doors of city blocks just as they had the clubs. Residents had an elderly caretaker for protection; fortunately he was an ex para, and bit of a lad himself. His one aim was doing as little work as possible. Gangs would have ruined the peace, so with help from his associates, access was denied.

One work shy caretaker drank openly throughout his shift. When a tenant reported him for being abusive, his revenge was swift. He told everybody, wrongly, that she was a prostitute. I once called the police on hearing a burglary in progress, as he was in the pub. When I mentioned that he had spent all day boozing instead of supervising essential repairs, he wondered ‘...was I was going to make something of it?’

His replacement smirked derisively when a suicidal resident had the door kicked down so paramedics could revive him. This half-hearted agency temp was saving up to travel the world and spent days sneering at ‘the normals’. But janitors often double as stand in social workers. John The Para reminded one tenant to take his anti-psychotic medication, and reliably shepherded another resident with mental health problems towards his carer when the demons came to call. Between John, myself, and another neighbour, we managed to keep him on track.

John was of a different generation, and his confusion when faced with changing social attitudes (or boys snogging on the stairwell) meant he was occasionally sent on a course. He used to call me: ‘Love (Bugger I’m Not Supposed To Call You Love Am I Love?)’ But I said Love was fine by me. Eventually, he grew to appreciate our building’s diversity and accepted the neighbourhood’s trans-gendered and gay community.

John was kind-hearted, but gruff. Initially, he kept spare keys to all flats, and was frequently woken in the early hours to rescue residents who’d been locked out. He personally interceded when my neighbour was threatened with disconnection, took in parcels when his employers forbid it, and reluctantly did the cleaning, mending and all that went with his job. He died prematurely of a heart attack.

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