Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Legends Of The Newbuilds

Perhaps it’s being confined. Maybe it’s desperation, or the feeling of being hemmed in, knowing that you will always live in a tiny newbuild flat, with no escape, moving to another, and another…and another, forever, and ever. But an entire belief system is emerging, circulated by illicit whispers in new developments; it’s a complex web of fantasies, fairy tales and modern myths, complete with it's own unique demons.

There’s the paranoia. ‘They,’ ‘Them,’ ‘The Government,’ have allegedly installed listening devices into all new flats. While nothing would surprise me coming from those Labour enthusiasts for ID cards, I think the man sharing this information should get some fresh air and smoke less weed, because all ‘They’ will ever hear is the high pitched whine of whingeing tenants.

Then there are stories about the rats. Huge, man eating rats the size of donkeys which devour small children, and chew your feet if you stand still too long. But don’t worry, because we are going to have buzzards living on the roof, to sort this out. That’s the rumour courtesy of yet another newbuild hating, wildlife loving tenant. I have never seen a rat. Rats are far too clever to move into a newbuild. ‘No, the place is definitely stuffed to the rafters with enormous great bloodsucking rats.’ He insisted ‘A man in a pub told me.’

People have some daft ideas. New tenants are touching in their innocence, and embark on an epic quest to locate the now legendary ‘Lock Up In The Car Park.’ The story goes that because the flats were designed without much in the way of cupboards, every flat has a lock up in the basement, to store the stuff you won’t need until you move out, or just to store stuff. Tenants have asked where they collect their key. What a crazy idea.

There’s the building haunted by a dead rent boy, or junkie. There’s the story that ‘… a man was raped in the basement. He’s in a mental hospital now. Don’t park your car alone!’ I think (in fact I know) that the last legend was invented by the caretaker when giving potential residents 'the grand tour', to deter ‘the wrong sort of people’ from moving in.

Another story goes that these flats were only built to last for ten or so years, as the land is earmarked for the new United ground, a swimming pool, or parkland. So there’s no point buying one as they’ll knock it down, but don’t worry as anyone living there from the beginning and paying their rent will have rights to buy a new flat cheaply. Of course, and I believe! The sceptic in me suspects this rumour was started by the buy to let owners.

The scariest rumour is that the flower bed is sited on an old Indian burial/communal plague pit. While I am sceptical, my fear is this: that they moved the grave stones – but: THEY DIDN’T MOVE THE BODIES!!!

It gets to everyone eventually.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Sharing my wisdom

The one positive development of recent weeks has been my lovely new neighbours. We met in difficult circumstances; they were moving in and slamming the front door. If you read rentergirl, you could be forgiven that I have hypersensitive ears like Superman, or am the grouchiest, most intolerant neighbour ever. I’m not really that bad - it’s just that in our lightly built block, whenever the door slams, my windows rattle, and light fittings fall off the wall etc. When I popped my head around the door, instead of the burly, psycho-scally I feared, was…. a reasonable man. I asked if they’d mind the door. Later, he visited to apologise, and even introduced himself. I think in Dovecot Towers, people like us are the deviants.

So far, they are polite, friendly, don’t blast out their music, nor are they menacing in any way. Their flat is identical to mine. It’s telling that they too have bargained down the rent with newbie buy-to-let landlord, who relented on the price after paying a mortgage on an empty flat for a few months.

But they aren’t allowed to put up curtains because that would leave ‘…holes in the ceiling.’ In their furnished flat, the landlady insists on blinds (thankfully of the sunlight blocking Venetian variety.) But they must repaint the flat before they leave in exactly the same one coat chalky cheap emulsion used by the developers. She’s even chasing the developers so as to get an exact match. Maintaining the decoration is the landlord’s duty, not the tenant. When did that tide turn?

Anyway, my neighbour helped me re adjust the door closer. So what, you think. You don’t understand; for six months now I’ve had doors slamming in my face. Hot tea has been regularly, painfully and messily spilled, and I have been spooked in the night by what in deep sleep sounds like a poltergeist, but is actually just the door closer on a hair trigger response to breezes. These closers are to prevent fires. As they are always propped open, keeping our tiny homes aired, the door slammers are a waste of time.

Oh, and aren’t I just the wise old lag? I am the Norman Stanley Fletcher of that block. I advised them: get your mail redirected to a safe address. Point out to the landlord the lack of a splashback by the kitchen sink (the paint peels off within weeks) and the paint marks on the floor.

It’s saying something that there is a knack to moving into, and then living in a newbuild. There shouldn’t be little tricks to pass on. My home is a building, not a car that must be run in for maximum efficiency.

The government is launching an enquiry into why so many people are dissatisfied with newly built property. Shall we save time and money? Because these buildings are poorly built, and badly designed. The design is not brand new, but the latest in a long production line of similar developments, and everything ought to work. The developers should by rights have ironed out the generic faults and niggles by now. One week later, and all is still well with my neighbours. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Let Battle Commence!

After work, the people who live below me just want to chill. They do this by eating pizza, and (it would appear) enjoying quite a lot of drugs, while playing thumping music. Only one of these is of any concern to me.

I didn’t want a war, but they’ve asked for one. Oh, they’ve asked for one. Playing music is hardly a crime, but I don’t mean ethereal whispers of pleasant sound wafting upwards on a summer’s day. I mean remorseless, unremitting thumpage. What’s worse, they’ve been playing the same track everyday between 7-9pm.

Due to complaints by fellow residents, a letter has been sent to them by the management company, worded in that eerily calm, reasonable, polite and yet intensely threatening manner used only by gangsters and the council. The sound diminished for a while, but gradually the level snakes up slowly until it’s at earbleeding full blast again.

Perhaps I should just shoot them. They deserve it. Or should I remind them that if I can hear the music, I can hear everything else, because they do everything loudly, with the door open. I could record them, and slip a tape under their door, hoping that embarrassment might shut them up.

Or maybe I could get medieval on their arse, and pour boiling water, or oil through the gaps in the decking on the balcony. Or build a badly constructed wormery outside, and then fail to recapture escapees.

I could report them to the council. The Environmental Health dept are badasses; they’ve got noise meters, and they can confiscate a stereo, or fine miscreants up to £1000 for polluting the silence. When they are cautioned, my neighbours briefly turn the volume down, but then friends visit, they want to stand in another room and enjoy the tunage.

Or could play my own music really loud; I have some very shit music that I could blast out at antisocial hours. But that could earn me a similar fine, so probably best not. I could time when they are asleep and press their buzzer. I could – when some confused visitor of theirs mistakenly presses my buzzer at 4am claiming to be a ‘pizza delivery’ - tell the drugs squad. The thing is, I sort of believe in karma, or rather the ancient Northern philosophy of what goes around comes around again to bite you on the arse. So best not.

In another block, close by, some renegades were given forty eight hours notice to quit by their landlord, after a tide of complaints about similar behaviour. I wish I was that lucky.

I could move out, but it's likely that another block would share the same problem: loud modern stereos too powerful for the thin newbuild walls, and used by inconsiderate neighbours.

I could reason with them. I could explain the distress they are causing me. But I would do so in the sure and certain knowledge that they don’t give right royal flying fuck what I think, as they will move out, and they’ll get a reference, or lie, and inflict themselves on someone else. They’d also know who I am, and I’d know who they are; an incendiary situation. Anonymity is desirable, and so I sit simmering, waiting for them to go, out so that peace, and my own music choices can prevail in my own home. But I just wish it would stop. How can I make it stop?

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Communal cooking

Last night, I was transported back to my childhood, via an evocative aroma, snaking through my balcony. This was no Madeleine, sending me into a frenzy of recollection, nor was it the sharp vinegary hit of fish and chips pricking my soul with hazy dreamlike memories of seaside holidays past. Rather, the pungent smell was rancid lard, used to fry eggs, which reminded me of my gran, and her habit of clarifying dripping, to make it last all summer long.

In my building, tenants have no secrets. Unless you live on salad (which I do) the neighbours can tell what we are eating. Pizza is the norm here, as are curries.

In one former house, the level of cooking was poor. ‘A’ would put a large pan of cold water on the hob, and place in it some mushrooms, potatoes and peas: this was her veg. Then she’d leave a cheap pie in the oven to dry out completely. She once put the pan on the hob with nothing but water, having forgotten about her veg, which led to her infamy: she had actually burned water.

It’s so hard not to comment on other’s food choices. You mustn’t judge, when poverty decrees some unimaginative but filling meals: we all ate too many baked potatoes. Even so, I had to bite my tongue when I saw that one housemate settling down to a huge plate of overcooked pasta. The sauce? Tinned spaghetti. Even that was better than the anorexic who lived on sardines and crispbread, whilst chanting the calorie content of our food as we ate.

I was mocked by all of the above for my habit of eating properly cooked food, which I bought from the excellent (and cheap) local market. Lovely fish, excellent cheese, but they thought me odd for not eating dairlea and pies. Then one got scurvy, and asked for advice. I suggested she eat some fruit, so she settled down to a meal of tinned cling peaches in heavy syrup. Another flatmate on a health kick ate a ‘salad’ consisting of spam, corned beef, boiled eggs, pate, salami, and some ham, with a lettuce leaf, (presumably to keep her regular).

But one flatmate had created a now legendary recipe that became the stuff of nightmares, a meal which had us all calling our families to tell them we loved them, tearfully putting our affairs in order, and saying our prayers, before alerting the emergency services. Her signature dish was liver curry.

Friday, 8 June 2007

The End Of The Affair

Time to go.

Last night was the final straw. Nothing major. No-one set fire to the building (well, not yet anyway.) I spent the night enduring the end of term, all back to mine, ‘we’re moving out for the summer so we don’t give a fuck about anyone’ crew, entertaining the residents with doors smashing, and screaming on balconies. They were arguing in the corridors, outside my flat. They were standing outside my front door and screeching their pizza order: ‘…STACEY WANTS EXTRA CHEESE!!!’ (Come to think of it, this means they may have discovered a 24 hour pizza service. Either that, or they weren’t really ordering pizza.)

It’s like moving into a shared house, and being ‘old enough to know better’ when everyone else is 19, and in their first home. The vomit in the foyer, the broken bottles in the lift; it’s all getting worse. I never wanted to live there, and I’m in no way sentimental about the dovecot I moved to in desperation.

There is something inherently transient about these new build city flats. They are 90% buy to let, with tenants on a six or nine month lease. Everything is temporary, and nobody cares.

The one redeeming feature of my home has been the view. When I first moved in, Wayne (who lives up the road) claimed to enjoy the sight of the snow on the distant hills. Being as I was half blind at the time, I couldn’t share his joy, but over the months, and at certain times of day, the varied, urban vista twinkles beyond my balcony. I speculate who’s at home in the tower blocks, gaze at the imposing, gothic prison towers, marvel at the fireworks set off by scallies (still, in June) and then worry about the smoke from the burning cars they have stolen.

All this will vanish when the new flats planned in front of me are completed. No longer will I gaze out across the city, savouring the city lights on a clear, crisp winter night. The building works are already a nightmare; the dust makes me wheeze, and settles in seconds on my freshly cleaned surfaces. Work begins at 7.30am, even at weekends. The lift’s been broken for two weeks now, and the front door is permanently open. Apparently someone’s been sleeping in the bin rooms.

My home enjoyed a brief moment of youth, when all was new, and everything functioned, but the block’s descent into slum housing is unavoidably underway. The caretaker pleads with the management company – who ignore him, or have ‘meetings’. My landlord promises a solution but then disappears on another of his endless holidays. There’s nothing I can do about any of this, except leave.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Summertime city

Summer in the city is a strange time. Everything seems easier. It’s sunny. It’s warm. People even smile, sometimes. New build dwellers get to know each other better than ever before. Not because residents well up with a newfound love of humanity, and visit bearing well chosen gifts, but because – with the doors and windows open – we can hear everything. That’s music, rows, sex, dogs, general chit chat, phone calls, TV shows broadcast throughout the block. I wonder if I am the only resident to have worked out that when you stand on the balcony, we can hear everything.

Barbecues can be a problem; the stench of half burned, half raw economy sausages permeates the air. The smoke sets off a cascade of smoke alarms, but there’s something heroic about this British urge to cook outside, feeding guests from a disposable BBQ on a tiny cramped terrace.

People stand contorted in the most improbable positions trying to catch the sun, enjoying that brief opportunity when full strength rays bathe the balcony. One man even stands naked in what he imagines is his private fifth floor eyrie. We can all see his secrets, and I really wish we couldn’t.

The sounds which waft gently upwards are often surprisingly pleasant. My neighbour is evidently as keen on Neutral Milk Hotel as I am. Someone else played The Avalanches, an album I had forgotten about - lovely to hear it floating into my lounge. Then Evil Trance Neighbour started blaring out tunage: horrible deep spod techno. Someone always just has to go and spoil it.

In the evening, under the hopeful reddish night sky, the thick sultry air smells of weed, soap powder (everyone can dry their washing outside now), smoke and pizza. People learn how to whisper on the balcony again, fearful, their secrets will be heard. I don’t imagine I’ll ever befriend the neighbours. But there’s a feeling that I know more about them, somehow.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Stolen post

Architects who are at the top of their profession rarely design city centre newbuild flats. They are too busy erecting huge, thrusting skyscrapers, or creating unusable public libraries. Their sights and hearts are set on RIBA awards, rather than comfortable, sensible homes. They leave that to the work experience, who completes this task reluctantly in the pub at lunchtime, whilst sulking, and spilling lasagne on the plans. This is the only excuse I can come up for the worst aspect of such flats; the communal post room.

It’s astonishing, but designers never envisaged the following: that a lock on the door might be helpful, that people might steal letters from their fellow residents by dipping their filthy little hands in the shallow boxes, or just help themselves when letters are left carelessly poking from the postbox.

They are made this way to save time for the poor beleaguered postman, who would otherwise have to deliver the letters through our front doors, which is clearly an onerous and outrageous suggestion. In Glasgow, where tenement flats rarely have lifts, various official bodies have noted that post goes missing strangely more often when residents live higher than the second floor. Letters are more likely to be successfully delivered on the first floor. Odd that. I have also been told that individual letter boxes in front doors are: ‘…a safety hazard.’ Really?

In the past, I have known a neighbour who trained his younger daughter to fish letters from post boxes with her innocent little hands. Another tenant with mental health problems thoughtfully shoved shit into his neighbour’s post boxes, and then a hamburger. Next he set fire to the post room itself. He was nothing if not thorough. One criminal tenant was spotted flogging a neighbours birthday present cheques to the highest bidder in a pub.

If you placed a communal post box on the end of an average street, would theft come as any surprise? Especially if the design enabled random passers by to play lucky dip with bills and hospital letters.

I’ve just had all my post stolen (again.) I don’t know what’s been taken, but I know a cheque has gone. They’ve also taken utility bills, some official letters, and a magazine. I suppose I can get them all resent, but then somebody mentioned ID theft. I may well be bigamously married. And they didn’t even invite me to me own wedding.