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?)