Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Cupboard Love

I have a serious cupboard obsession. I want cupboards so bad, I dream about them. When visiting friends, I only want to talk about cupboards: exactly how many they have, and were they self assembled. I have become ‘That Scary Cupboard Woman,’ with bizarre and slightly disturbing fantasies about fitted wardrobes.

In my one bedroom newbuild, there is a closet for the boiler, meters, and fuse box, which heats everything stored inside to just above blood temperature. Foolishly and in desperation, I keep my vinyl there. I had no choice really, and I now fully expect my precious records to look and sound like Dali’s dream clocks.

I need bigger kitchen cupboards, but the mass purchase, one-size-for-all- unit is tiny. I have no space to keep much food, or store pans. This oversight wakes me bolt upright, screaming in the night. There’s not even a bathroom cabinet, as they are classed as non essential. Imagine guests greeted by haemorrhoid cream, diarrhoea tablets and intimate deodorant (not that I possess those items - honest - but you get my drift).

H had a basement in her house. She could never cherish it as I would. I crave a basement, or an attic. I can actually get quite wistful; just imagine, no boxes, nothing strewn around your home. I would spend time in that basement. I would love it, as it deserves to be loved. In fact I’d worship it like a god. I would install a shrine dedicated to: ‘Stuff’.

Without cupboards, you can’t economise and buy in bulk – even a bargain bumper pack of toilet roll is a major space devouring purchase, stored by necessity in the lounge, which is inconvenient in so many ways.

I am compulsive about chucking things out. There’s nothing I like better than empty floor space. I keep all my belongings boxed up in the ‘hall,’ as there’s nowhere else. It makes me feel temporary, like I’m passing through, or as if I can never stick around.

A growing pile of papers, and general stuff waits menacingly at one end of my lounge/kitchen/diner/entire life. I know I have to clear it up, for the sake of my own sanity, but where will it go? It’s already moved once of its own accord, and now it’s looming over me. I shift it regularly from one room to the next, sorted, sifted and reduced, like a creeping glacier of filing with no place to be filed.

Society is increasingly acquisitive. We need little encouragement to accumulate huge amounts of general ephemera, even with nowhere to store it. Why do urban dwellers need less space? We are the big consumers, the generation with books, clothes, CD’s, kitchen gizmos, and piles of general things.

Could architects and developers please grasp this salient fact: if they persist in shrinking flats, we will have nowhere to spread out, inspect and air our lives. It’s sad, but in Dovecot Towers, a cargo cult has emerged. We dance wildly and sacrifice goats to honour the great God of MFI, hoping that - in His infinite mercy - He will send us manna, and cupboards.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

The Tour of Dovecot Towers

Dovecot Towers is currently teeming with visitors, wandering around as if they own the keys to Liberty Hall. This happens every six, nine and twelve months, when standard leases end. Strangers are loitering in the foyer, cramming into the lifts, even standing vacantly outside my front door.

It’s like visitor’s day at a stately home. The place is buzzing with potential tenants all guided along the official tour. Estate agents park their branded Smart cars askew as space is limited. I catch them coaxing newbies to close the deal, winching them in with talk of proximity to the city (Bars! Clubs!) claiming to have had ten other viewings that day, so better hurry and commit - hand over that deposit, quickly, now.

You can spot the parents who are far too smart to lose money on student rent. Invest in property is their mantra, and I can see their point; why waste money on those halls of residence with rooms no bigger than a prison cell. Better to buy a flat and cash in when their beloved child graduates, perhaps even making a profit, or renting it out again.

Which means residents are landless peasant scum, and parental buyers stare at us disdainfully in the lift, mothers looking like they have just noticed a nasty smell. Their expressions are pained; they have headaches having spent the day exploring buy to let land, and are appalled, as flats are shoddy and uniform.

Parents of first year students look the established residents up and down with the beady of eye of those who know. They think we are all pimps, and pushers, crazed and waiting to ensnare their innocent offspring. What’s worrying is the amount of times they might actually have a point. One mother cast filthy looks my way, ignoring her surly daughter who nonchalantly ground a crafty cigarette into the floor.

I could start up as a guide: I would show all the places of note in Dovecot Towers: the foyer, where someone was mugged, and where rubbish is thrown on the floor as the bins left by management are stolen. The alcove where the prostitutes work, and the post room (or cheque donation lounge as I prefer to call it).

And I should be doing the interviews, ascertaining whether young Stewie going to throw rubbish off his balcony, or hold parties every weekend? Will they puke in the bin room? Will they form part of a community, or will they smirk and look away when neighbours say good morning?

I overheard one family asking many sensible questions of their vendor: the nature of the area, how much the flat had cost originally (adding – oh we can soon check that…) Another mother was reading her daughter the riot act: she’d be responsible for collecting money from her flatmate, it wasn’t a charity you know, if rent was late, they’d both be out. One slacker son had other concerns. His one and only question: is there a takeaway nearby.
Great news Stewie; they do home delivery.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Change Of Use

When I first moved to Dovecot Towers, the surrounding alleys were occasionally frequented by shady men, ducking and diving and wheeler-dealing. They didn’t bother me, and I never bothered them. Sometimes, I’d overhear the terminology of their trade, stray words like: ‘…grams…’ ‘…brown…’ or ‘….tabs….’

Originally cars were ordinary muddy family saloons, selected to deflect attention, but over time, such modest vehicles were replaced with enormous 4x4’s (still no Porsches though – too obvious?) The language of this new commerce is similar, but of a different dialect, even if the noble tradition of conducting business from the back seat was retained.

New generation businessmen wear suits instead of designer leisure wear, and park their cars to haggle over penthouses and balconies, not pills and powder. Somehow though, both types of transaction seem equally illicit. These new entrepreneurs also employ young runners who slip from car to car relaying messages, while spotting traffic wardens for a game of cat and mouse. I gather that discounts are negotiated in tens of thousands.

Round the back of Dovecot Towers, business is also undergoing transformation. Until recently, the padlocked yards, stranded lock-ups, converted railway arches and orphaned garages crackled and sparked with focussed mayhem from light, local industry. We had no convenience shop close by, but ready access to a pipe welder, a brake repair service, and a small carpentry work-shop.

The nearest pub is up for sale. Owners had locked horns with residents of the surrounding ‘luxury’ flats. Karaoke evenings and an Elvis impersonator are fine, unless you live in a new conversion with wafer thin walls. There was clearly something of a culture clash; men resembling either Mitchell Brother would gather outside, bristling with unfocussed rage. They dressed in T shirts even on a frosty winter night, and held their cigarettes defiantly aloft whilst struggling to restrain squat, muscular dogs. The police patrol car was a fixture.

Admittedly, that pub is scary and rough. Neighbouring residents objected to the licence renewal. It will be taken over, sanitised or civilised, then turned into a gastro pub, or a convincingly authentic real ale hostelry, with an artisan cheese ploughman’s and guest beers. The karaoke will become less heartfelt, and more ironic.

Once there was a car park up the road, next to derelict waste ground (both now covered in new-builds) where local kids ran amok, lighting fires and burning cars. A walk under the railway bridges entailed dodging loose bowelled pigeons, a journey made even more terrifying perhaps because of the previously mentioned amenities.

Local services still consist of sandwich shops provisioning the multitude of builders, offering pungent bacon doorsteps, pies, ‘tuner-mayo’ barms, and a full English breakfast which induces a stroke if you so much as mention it aloud. I don’t expect these older shops will survive. They’ll be replaced by delicatessens, a florist, then a Cafe Nero, and a Tesco Metro. With more people and more homes, the surrounding area will seem less bleak. But who will mend our brakes and weld our pipes?

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Tulips, Volcanoes and Fireworks

It’s like being stranded on a volcano, and knowing it’s due to erupt. From my window all I can see are enormous, glowing volcanoes, spewing lava in the air. Yes, I’m being melodramatic, and I am feeling insecure, but that oncoming property crash is beginning to pose a threat.

The situation is similar to tulip fever in 17th century Holland. Everybody invested in tulips. Speculators collected new bulbs, which sold for huge amounts of money. Stock market beginners invested in what was universally believed to be a solid gold opportunity. Money got silly. Profits were huge. But then consumers grew bored of tulips; crops could fail, and too many bulbs were planted – this wasn’t a good way to invest. Many dabblers were ruined when the bottom fell out.

It’s like that with buy to let. The flats are over abundant, and rotten. Many financial novices believed they had discovered an opportunity to get rich quick, and if banks were unsupportive of their ambitions, they even borrowed money from family, who will also be hit.

How will it affect me? I can’t avoid it, and I don’t even own my flat: I just live in the type of property that’s ripe for a tumble. Buy to let newbuilds in areas crammed with more of the same might plummet in price, bankrupting the owners. That’s not the irrational voice of doom talking, but the prediction of many staid financial publications.

Landlords can just about cover the mortgage with rents, but rely on equity for a profit. Tenants have spotted a shift in power relations, and are bargaining prices down, interest rates have risen, and nobody really wants to live in a newbuild flat themselves. In buildings like Dovecot Towers (and its neighbour - Shoebox Mansions) there are many empty flats in amongst the building sites, where even more tiny, one bed, newbuilds are being constructed as I write, bought off plan by investors.

My landlord seems to be in it for the long term, and could avoid negative equity by keeping his nerve. Then again, he might sell the flat (my home) and get out while the going’s good.

Meanwhile, scallies have been launching fireworks at Dovecot Towers. The flashes and whizz-bangs grew too close for comfort, and another talking-heads-over-the-balcony tenants meeting was spontaneously convened. Thumping Techno Boy ensured that police were called (they never arrived) and we calmed down a lady who thought a bomb had exploded when a rocket hit her window – she’s from Iraq, and was terrified. Other residents wandered around spotting and collecting evidence.

Local lads have decided that we in Dovecot Towers are the enemy. They are convinced we’re rich and that our homes are luxurious. They seem to be aiming rockets at the balconies, trying to land fireworks through the open door, targeting tenants relaxing in the lounge.

How little they know. We are buy to let tenants, awaiting the eruption, and I live in a house made of tulips. The idea of a being hit by flaming, heavily symbolic ordinance, whilst living in a laboured analogy really is the least of my problems.