Sunday, 25 April 2010

Smell You later!

I still haven’t thought up a nickname for my latest flat, and I’ve been there a while. After so many homes being either outrageously horrible, or stupendously nice, I think this flat is the goldilocks flat – that is, just right (apart from the letting agent.)

But things are beginning to shift slightly over to the world of weird. It’s a small thing, a tiny incident, but as one used to reading the runes of a building, scanning the evidence for signs, I found this disconcerting.

Someone has pinned an excerpt of a poem on the wall. It’s terrible poem, bad enough to make William McGonagall adopt a superior sneer. It was entered in a local newspaper competition and ends with the sentiment: “ I know in my heart/there’s a place for my modern art.” Heroically bad, in other words.

Something is awry. The signs are all around. I introduced myself to a neighbour, who seemed pleasant and amiable, but all I’ve heard since are constant tumultuous screeching arguments with her boyfriend, all day long, every time I walk past.

And while hunting a parcel that had gone awol (I *heart* the post office…) I left a jaunty message for my neighbours and noticed something strange: their flat smelt pungently of cheese. Could be stilton - might be the noxious aroma of bloke-foot, but it reeked, and made me realise why my flat had been smelling so bad – the odour was snaking across the landing and infusing my home with eau-de-roquefort.

Then the occupants knocked on my door to explain that they hadn’t seen my parcel (to a backdrop of “You fucking slag – no you’re a fucking bastard,” from the people opposite.) I tried to find a delicate way of asking why their home smells so strange, but I am not a diplomat. Perhaps they are artisan cheese producers? (By the way - they are French.)

Things like that are unsettling. In a former home, an occupant spoke to neighbours in the lift – he seemed fine, and they willingly accepted his invitation to join him for a cuppa. Imagine their surprise when her opened his door to reveal the stench of decay, and long departed (ex?) budgie nailed to its perch.

Then it got scary. He began stalking female occupants, waiting for them patiently beside their door, nodding silently when they emerged. He played ‘Hangman’ with their name on the wallpaper, using the words death and slaughter. He sat habitually in the local pub drinking milk – which to me seemed the strangest thing of all (or perhaps I am allergic to dairy?)

After months of terrified female tenants pleading with officials to intervene, he revealed his nature by posting a home-made bomb to a public school. Mercifully it didn’t explode, but he was arrested, and we never saw him again.

It starts with a poem, or a simple game of hang-man, and then everything goes astray. I hope this is simply my innate world-weary cynicism. I also hope the standard of the verse improves.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Rusty Dovecot

Despite having moved out of Dovecot Towers ages ago, I remain fascinated by this phenomenon. Dovecots (twat-flats, euroboxes, yuppiedromes, call them what you will) are everywhere, and with the recovery in sight (supposedly) soon it will be construction time again. I am about to study some of the worst aspects of these balsa wood and tin foil monstrosities, and have located a suitable case for treatment just up the road from me.

I can see that bits are actually falling off – random parts, like the tops of drain pipes, spouts, and the wooden cladding so beloved of those who wish to make a bog-standard dovecot resemble a beloved construction that’s been wonderfully designed and styled with devotion, rather than a cardboard box, sandblasted with plaster and dumped somewhere, or some concrete spewed out and chipped at.

And it’s rusting. There are long red streaks of iron oxide running down the sides. Now it looks as if the building itself is weeping tears of blood.

Like most Dovecots, the developers shaved off any extras, but kept some little ‘niceties’ outside, just enough to stop it looking quite so run down (or bleak) and were even aiming for a block of flats bordering on the fancy side. These marvellous embellishments take the form of some random splashes of paint,
and a sort of weird metal cladding on the balconies.

Everything else looks cheap and sad. The external paint is peeling (and considering the rainfall around here, you’d hope that the external weather protection was thick and of the best quality.) I wonder what else is decaying inside, because that bock is dying from the bottom up.

The real give way that things are not well in this sickest of buildings is the amount for ‘For Rent’ signs outside. I bet the landlords bought off-plan, and never thought to enquire about the specifications for the ‘finish.’ It sounds so boring – all that talk of paint, and plaster, and things a landlord will never see. Unfortunately, such things are vital: they dictate how long a building endures, and inexperienced newbie landlords are beguiled by the show flats, and talk of profit. They don’t care about water-proofing, and are beguiled by shallow flourishes aimed at indicating finesse.

The building in question is also dotted with that other tell-tale sign: wooden panels nailed on shoddily at random, which in places is hanging off. If they couldn’t bothered to make the place look completed from the outside, it makes me wonder what else they omitted: how many layers of water proofing? Or how many layers of plaster? Or screws, or solid foundations….coats of paint, solid metal screws, and necessities like that. Yes, I know that the building inspectors call, but something’s going wrong somewhere.

In 1967 Ronan Point, a new council block in London collapsed after a gas explosion, killing four people. I hope I am wrong, but I wonder how long it will be before a newbuild dovecot crashes to the ground, or slips slowly into the oblivion bequeathed by it’s quicksand foundations, taking the residents with it, to their doom.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Who's Been Sleeping In My Bed...?

All tenants have a bizarre and tenuous relationship with the people who sleep in our bed. We are serial divan-hoppers, and I have no idea who’s next for my mattress.

Certain situations seem a lot more intimate than they really are, but renting nomads enjoy undeniably close but fleeting contact with people they rarely meet. These enigmatic wraiths loom over us, wielding a disproportionately large level of power, and are able to blight or enhance everything from credit ratings to social lives. It’s all down to the people who move into your new home, or the people who step into life, into your bed (if not your shoes) after you vacate.

The woman who moved into Nice Heights – my old home (sigh – it really was lovely) is a pain, which upsets me because the landlord was excellent, and I suspect she’s stuffing things up for him as well. Relocaters pay the Post Office to forward mail (that’s a laugh – buy a lottery ticket – you’ll have more luck) but usually ask the new occupant to forward anything that still goes astray. Despite leaving a huge SAE and my new details, she never redirected my post. I even toyed with pointing out that: “…interfering with the post is criminal offence, young lady,” no missing letters arrived. I asked the landlord to remind her.

Perhaps she couldn’t be bothered, but her omission caused multiple difficulties, notable a burocratic nightmare with several businesses (including a utility company who wouldn’t/couldn’t grasp that I had moved, no matter what I said or did). I don’t know why she didn’t forward my letters - she simply chose not to. It’s awkward, because I showed her round, and thought at the time that she seemed a bit distant – even cold, but my landlord was convinced she was nice, and who was I to argue?

Sometimes it’s like walking across a grave, hearing eerie echoes of troubled lives. The former occupants of my current home did a runner not just from my flat, but also from credit card and utility companies. I inherited their old number, and was for weeks subjected to automated calls at all hours, demanding that they get in touch. Their mail was persistent, and angry.

Then a real person from one company called, and I “…pointed out their mistake.” But it all seemed so desperate, and the sight of several letters from the DWP indicated that they had really fallen on hard times. I returned all their post to sender, despite the letting agents telling me to throw the correspondence in the bin, even ripping up a letter in my presence. To this day, I still find forlorn, misdirected circulars from catalogues, or charities.

But things needn’t be so difficult. In another flat, the previous occupant left a note wishing me all the best and gave her number in case I needed anything or fancied meeting up (realising I was new in town.) She’s now a good friend.

Incidentally, somebody once found rentergirl by googling: “Should I leave balloons in the flat for the new tenant?” FYI - The answer is …yes.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

School Run(In)

Letting agents with ideas above their station (floating below pond life – lower even than the slime at the bottom of the pond) have appropriated terminology from their fellow gargoyles - estate agents. Both speak a language known to earth people as ‘bollocks’ and an advert that might once have read: “Flat. One room. Furnished. Rent £450 pcm. On Street,” now reads: “Well appointed bijou residence with friendly, self-annointed drainers and front-loading entrance. Stylish splash-guards permeate widespread pavemented zone enjoying luxurious police presence and accessible chemical delivery operatives.”

Another selling point mentioned in rental-ads is a tempting variation on this: “Close to excellent school.” Here’s why. Many parents aspire to live next to the excellent St Misfits (Ofsted report: “Urchins walk in about as smart as one of Kasabian, but emerge as clever as Stephen Hawking.) This encourages parents to use the wily guiles of leaden-hearted politicians to ensure that little Bastard gets to a good school, where they will be taught to read poetry, and not how to write graffiti about gangs and crack on the walls of their own home.

Does anybody question why a family of three would live in a bedsit or even a studio flat described as: “Economically spaced - ideal for the smaller sized.” Or that they never seem to visit? But then, I’ve heard of families making an extravagant show of visiting their ‘home,’ you know – walking a dog, being seen coming and going (and then going again) with the big weekly shop, and sitting in the lounge etc.

Being in the same area as a good school ups the price of property, be it rented or owned. Admittedly, some naughty people have been caught in the act by vigilant councils using spies for covert surveillance, but many still get away with it. Remember the days when children walked to a local school, and if it wasn’t very good, or failing, then parents would unite to improve it, rather than organise a mass escape?

A friend is currently subsisting on a low income, and sensibly rents a home within her meagre budget, all the while gazing longingly at glowing Ofsted-approved schools on the other side of town, where you have to be affluent, if not actually loaded with bling to afford a home, rented or otherwise. She really wants to move, but can only afford a tiny one-bed flat with no garden – not much for her growing lad. Another friend stayed in a rented home next to the failing local school, and did her best to improve things via the PTA. She helped her child with homework, and eventually paid for a private tutor. Then she gave up entirely and moved (admittedly, being a tenant made this easier.)

Houses in the catchment areas of little genius factories are rocketing in price, and price tags on accommodation close to finishing schools for the prison system are plummeting. Wealthy articulate people will always subvert a system, even when obliged to ‘lower’ themselves to renting property to do so, and there’s no guarantee of a place. Even worse, they will join on this frantic, whirling, danse macabre of renting hell (albeit briefly…)