Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Stair Mistress

Another new flat, and so far, it’s basic but reasonable: properly sound-proofed and sturdy, with separate rooms and even a bit of storage. It’s in an old warehouse which was converted decades ago, so even if the area can be slightly ‘challenging’ at times, I am happy here.

Except wouldn’t you know it, there’s one problem: it’s position (on one of the highest floors) is starting to become an issue. Yes, I realise I sound ungrateful, and yes I know that the higher the flat the warmer it is and the cheaper the bills, but you try carrying a heavy bag of books, and then stocking up on groceries, after grappling with an amusing collapsible umbrella in a wintry storm and obliged afterwards to climb upwards and onwards.

Where I live, these hallways are called ‘closes.’ The less salubrious examples have no door, granting strangers the freedom to wander in, look around and do whatever they want to do. Once inside it doesn’t matter how luxurious the flats are: even if they house spendthrift millionaires, with décor and fittings both sumptuous and grand, the close always looks like a dodgy alleyway in a notorious slum. Walls are covered in cracked ceramic tiles, or painted in diarrhoea coloured splatters with mysterious oily stains on the chipped concrete steps.

Fortunately, my close has a locked door. Even so, for some reason, even in the middle of snowstorm, someone usually opens a window – so bracing. The cold, grey stairwells become like a film-set, with shadows and plumes of frozen breath contributing to the eerie atmosphere.

This lay-out has an chilly effect on residents. We never linger and only meet when taking steps three at a time, or, when and panting and shattered we rest our red and stripy hands after lugging bags of spuds and washing-powder up the steps.

Occasionally I meet the people who live beside me, or their guests, like the girl who had stayed the night with a neighbour. She was grinning and blushed when I greeted her: she rushed down the stairs, stopping on every level to fasten a button, check the time, or tie back her hair, obviously remembering the night before and smiling again before checking her diary and laughing out loud at a text message.

Later I noticed an elderly lady stranding helplessly beside her front door as relatives carried heavy groceries to her kitchen. Stairs make these buildings impossible for anyone whose legs are slowing down.

My new home’s not that high, but already it seems like quite a daunting trek. In my vagabond life, drifting around has led me to formulate a list of must-haves. Thanks to Nice Heights, I know the value of a thoughtful lay-out and a concierge. Thanks to this place (I can’t think of a name) I also want a lift next time. Well, it’s something to aim for, isn’t it, and we all need a dream.

(NB: I’ve had some contact with an admirable and determined rental-rights campaigner from Texas, who issues standard forms to help tenants battle the combined forces of agents and landlords. One is headed: “Record of shots fired.” It’s different over there, isn’t it?)


Neil80 said...

Stairwells and corridors are like Tea-leaves. To the keen eye, small, sometimes almost imperceptible signs can reveal all about the overall health of a block. Does the management agent care? Broken lightbulbs, flaky paint and worn out carpets say no. Is there a sense of community? Yellow post-it notes stuck on doors say no; noticeboards say yes. Are there any party-animals in the block, the half eaten kebab answers in the affirmative. All this is before we even get to graffiti, suscpicious smells/stains and broken windows.

The strangest corridor I've been in was the other week whilst doing the register of electors. A new(ish) build Housing Asociation block with walls so thin you can clearly hear every noise coming from inside the flats. Standing in certain spots gives you a soundclash of Cbeebies, Radio 4 and what sounded like a film.

RenterGirl said...

Hi Neil80!
Here, they are all the same, no matter what. It's just how it is. It is interesting to stand and listen. I have memories of Dovecot Towers, and standing on the balcony tuned in to the conversations and music oozing from the walls. Thanks for reading!

Richard said...

Trying to get communal areas improved is one of the most frustrating aspects of living in flats. Finding out who is actually responsible for doing it is often surprisingly difficult. Sometimes you have to wonder where exactly those management fees actually go.

fifi said...

I've just moved in to a flat where the management company cleans (roughly once a month, I think) the corridors, takes any oversized rubbish the binmen won't remove every month or so, and fixed a dodgy lock on an outside door a few days after it was reported. I'm so happy I could cry.

Benjamin Judge said...

When we rented in Manchester city centre I stubbornly refused to live anywhere with long corridors that made the building seem like a soulless hotel complex. We ended up in the Sorting House which solves the problem by having all the flats open onto a Japanese garden.

Of course this sort of open plan means losing a few potential flats so most developers opt for a more economically rewarding 'stack'em and pack'em' style of architecture.

Anyway, nice to see you are settling in.

CMS said...

What I wouldn't give for a concierge! Although I feel relatively safe where I live people regularly tailgate you into the building - people who obviously don't live in the building and are frequently found sitting on the stairs drinking and/or smoking. I should think myself lucky, I suppose - 'record of shots fired' - not quite at that stage, thankfully!

RenterGirl said...

It's bizarre, but all the flats are the same; no matter how posh, no matter how desirable. Cold, bleak, chipped and scruffy (the close, not me...)

mark said...

It's the way they were,are built.

I've been in tenament blocks(private flats) which have been flood damaged.

The old plaster ones.behind the lathe is nothing between all levels,the is a conduit for sound.
Older properties have a 2 foot empty gap between the ceilings and the floor above.
The fact that you live in a tenament means people just won't spend the money to sort it out as it is not an essential repair.