Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Dovecot Towers Is Fawlty

Eavesdroppers and googlers only ever hear ill of themselves. The other day I was casually investigating the web presence of Dovecot Towers, when I had a big surprise; apparently, I live in a hotel. Who’d have thought it?

There’s always been something strangely transient about this place. Only three per cent of the flats were owner occupied, and many (Stop press – make that all) owners have rented out their beloved, hard won, but now unsellable investment, and made good their escape.

Amazingly, an increasing proportion of flats are being rented for weekend city breaks. Less surprisingly, the ‘guests’ do not have happy holidays. One commentator described their flat as grimy, grim and unpleasant (I told you so…) while another complained that the landlord didn’t leave enough toiletries in the bathroom (neither does mine!) One welcome pack was lacking in real coffee (this is uncanny) and the towels were dirty. I resent that. Mine are squeaky clean. It’s bit of an obsession.

So that’s why I am frequently accosted by strangers with wheelie suitcases asked for directions. This would also account for the sullen, bedraggled families waiting outside with a load of baggage. Units are offered as ‘luxurious urban apartment easily sleeping six.’ Luxurious? Are you sure? And why are these places never referred to as flats? Six is a bit of a push though; you’d need to fold up the people, not just the bed, and it’s not cheap. Mind you, yesterday I ordered some tea and biscuits on room service. Delivery was prompt - albeit extremely surly- and the tip was lousy.

You know those dismal Spanish holiday flats, where you check in at 3am, knackered and disorientated, thinking ‘…this isn’t like the brochure,’ and fight over the double room? Space is cleared by arranging the plastic chairs on the balcony, before heading to the bar, consoled by the fact that it might be tiny and horrible, but at least there’s the beach to spend the day, and you’ll only be there for a fortnight. Welcome to my world. Except: there’s no beach, no park, no sun, and we must stay… forever.

A disgruntled permanent resident left a nasty note because their expensive and highly prized parking space was sequestered by a tourist in town to see Dancing On Ice. However, a visiting stag party was extremely satisfied; they had a grand time, partying untroubled by the feds. Indeed they did. I could hear them.

What an enterprising and creative way of making money when in negative equity during a property slump. Facilities are lacking though: that brothel seems to have vanished, so there’s a business opportunity, and I understand there’s a vacancy for a drug supplier/booze fetcher.

Judging by the highly unscientific method of looking from my window, the recently completed flats are still mostly empty. Ideally, property will be snapped up for social housing as a means of quelling this buy to let newbuild madness…or flats could play host to riotous stag parties. I suspect which option is more profitable, and subsequently more likely.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Just One Songbird

Last week, in a leafless tree close to Dovecot Towers, I heard birdsong for the first time since moving in. A tiny plain brown bird was calling, plaintively and prettily, for a mate. Someone from the appreciative audience suggested it was a nightingale, or a song thrush, while mechanics from the local garage and passers-by listened to a little bird warbling his hopeless love-song.

New developments are built on sterile land, devoid of wildlife. The only furry creature roaming Dovecot Towers is a year old burger in the bin room. I’m not being dewy eyed and foolish. I hardly expect to stand on my balcony captivated by bunnies, shy deer protecting their fawns, or the bewitching vision of wild and flighty mustang ponies, but I’ve not seen not so much as a bumble bee around here.

When I lived in central Glasgow, there were wild beasts everywhere, providing a vivid demonstration of the food chain. In the nearby park, I saw pigeons, and mice scurrying around, which - as roadkill - were prey for the seagulls, themselves subsequently dinner for the foxes. I found myself trying to have a serious phone conversation, while a seagull landed on my window ledge, brandishing the bloody half a pigeon it was enjoying for lunch, and me screeching like a squeamish banshee. I watched a fox proudly trotting along, carrying a seagull (hopefully the same one) back for her cubs. Inevitably the raptors, like kites and sparrow hawks, will be next to occupy this urban des-res, exploiting a fantastic opportunity for fine dining. Once, I even heard an owl.

Glaswegian seagulls are huge, evil monsters. They dive-bomb pedestrians, and crap on your clean clothes when you’re off out somewhere fancy (and me with no shotgun.) The foxes of Glasgow are brilliant; proud vixens shepherd their cubs, trotting in the snow across busy streets, and at night they cry like babies. Wendy opened her front door and found a fox staring back expectantly: apparently it wanted some dinner.

Back in Dovecot Towers, the surroundings are barren: no birds, small animals, or predators, and I’ve never spotted a pigeon on my ledge, let alone hedgehogs in our pathetic lifeless ‘garden’ area. There’s nowhere for creatures to wander: no parks, or green spaces. Urban developments are unsuitable for humans or animal, and humans pay to live here. Wildlife boycotts the neighbourhood, so they must be cleverer than us.

I’ve noticed a quivering, inbred lap dog, stashed in a designer handbag carried by a posh girl from the penthouses, but larger pets aren’t really feasible. It would be cruel to confine them, which says so much about these flats; it’s too small for a cat. Rats never did condescend to move here, let alone desert us.

In the sixties, pioneer environmentalist Rachel Carson predicted that pesticides would silence Spring. DDT was banned, but newbuilds have almost fulfilled her prophecy. Already there’s no dawn chorus, and no avian choir at twilight: just a brave and solitary songbird to serenade the grateful residents.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Size Matters In Dovecot Towers

Despite what I may have written here, something (well, one thing; just one thing mind) is not too bad in Dovecot Towers. Compared to some, my flat is not that small. But when I say not too small, mind you, please be aware that everything is relative and ‘not too small’ in an urban newbuild is like being slightly taller than the average pygmy.

The size of newbuilds is one dimension where the absolute nadir was reached a few years ago, when ravenous, rampaging, ruinous greed on the part of developers, landlords and estate agents (let’s hear it for the estate agents!) was all powerful, and when, on seeing those minuscule apartments, no one dared to say: ‘Hang on – that’s just too small for a fully sized human, with a life!’ I’ve seen rooms that could have been a film set for Honey I Shrunk The Tenants (those teensy little actors would have been so cute!)

So just how big is big enough? I once stayed in a newbuild student flat, of the type creeping along urban roads nationwide. It was tiny, and contained a very narrow single bed, an en suite bathroom that would have fitted easily into the confines of a space capsule, a desk, a really little wardrobe (no other storage) and a shelf. I suppose the theory is that students are off inventing things, cramming facts in the library or getting pissed, and so space is a useless superfluity, albeit an expensive one.

Another flat I saw even made the landlord blush. Tenants could sway to one side to make a cuppa in the kitchen, whilst simultaneously opening the lounge window using their free hand to direct obscene hand gestures at people on the street below, without bothering to stand up. The ‘balcony’ was a narrow ledge with a railing; even a paper person would have trouble squeezing outside. ‘I know,’ admitted the landlord as he showed me round. ‘That’s why it’s ten pounds cheaper.’
As with all these flats, the bathroom was massive in comparison. I had visions of dinner parties held in the tub.

Around two years ago, developers apparently saw sense, possibly at the behest of buy to let landlords, who were having trouble filling investment flats. Since then, some flats have been getting slightly larger, with a more generous space. Keep in mind, however that by generous, I mean an extra metre, which isn’t that much when cramming in all your worldly goods. Honestly, is the cost of an extra ten feet worth of bricks and concrete really prohibitively expensive?

City flats will never be the size of country houses, and nobody expects a cavernous, yawning barn with our precious furniture placed awkwardly in the middle, forcing tenants to conduct shouty conversations with megaphones, due to the vast distance between us. We’d like: enough room for: two x three seater sofas (one to expand into a sofa bed), a dining table with chairs, and space for collectibles. Is that too much to ask? Or is a mad scientist going to come and shrink us all with special magic ray-gun, so we can fit inside?

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Scally In The Bin Room

In Dovecot Towers the other day, I found a scallie in the bin room. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, but was slumped on the floor, drinking supermarket cooking lager. The bin room has grates instead of windows to let fresh air circulate; he must have been freezing. He was of course wearing his hoody, and dressed from head to toe in black, but seemed extremely embarrassed. The main door has been broken for two months now, and he might have wandered in. He might even live here.

Recently, I have noticed a lot of scallies hereabout. Landlords have entrenched ideas about who makes the ideal rent payer, and scallies are at the bottom of that list, especially unemployed examples. Current economic turmoil is challenging the stereotypes long treasured by landlords who - since they won’t actually live in the flats themselves- select a mirror image to dwell in their investment. Even being employed isn’t enough; the perfect tenants are established professionals, non-smokers, compulsive cleaners, all obsessive about paying rent on time. Letting agents even check your fingernails.

When I first moved in, I half expected to look around at five thirty and watch a battalion of bowler-hatted city types making their way home to Dovecot Towers. But most solicitors, accountants and internet millionaires with psychological cleaning problems have property of their own, forcing landlords to let go of their desires and accept that ordinary people had better move in pronto if they wish to avoid repossession and ruin. These replacements may or may not have jobs, as long as they pay the rent and behave themselves, then everyone is happy.

I used to live in Glasgow. Sartorially speaking, the Glaswegian equivalents of scallies - Neds - are the extreme opposite to their counterparts in North West England. Many Neds dress entirely in white, and pride themselves on their pristine, deceptively virginal clothing, whereas scallies dress completely in black (allegedly copied from criminals who wear black to stop police identifying them from their dress). If Neds and Scallies ever met, a nuclear event would ensue, and I fear the world would end. Incidentally, the word Ned was originally thought to derive from Non Educated Delinquent, until a Ned wrote to a Glasgow paper, pointing out that the grammatically correct phrase is actually Un Educated Delinquent, which would have made them Ueds.

‘Gentrification’ is a pious, snide, and snobby term, but increased rents were forcing established residents away from districts bordering the desirable Merchant City. Around Dovecot Towers, similar traffic is in reverse. As has been documented on rentergirl many times previously, there are too many empty flats, all scrabbling for the ‘good’ tenants. It seems that reality is enveloping these gated communities for students just passing through, or accountants on six month contracts, who move in with a wheelie bag and head home at weekends, or those of us destined to stay for a while. Dovecot Towers is being repopulated.