Monday, July 26, 2010
My wife sat down to watch the latest instalment of "Taggart" last night, hobbling on to our screen with all the weariness of a geriatric nosing after a curled fish supper. I caught most of it out the corner of one eye. Preoccupied as I was with clipping my toenails.
It has never been the same since Mark McManus withered away in hospital. It was never really much to begin with, I suspect, but between McManus and the local topography it sometimes sufficed.
Last night's episode was filmed on location in the Gorbals. Right on my doorstep. Shored up with an implausible imported cast.
The topic, loosely, was one of urban regeneration.
One scene was even filmed in the high rise my wife occupied before we were married; the only vaguely successful attempt at refurbishing a twenty-two storey apartment building in two square miles.
"Look at that!" we exclaimed. Stupidly agitated at just seeing the tedious rejunivated on tv.
A clinically depressed woman sat frozen in her armchair drinking tea, the view west through her double-glazed picture window noticeably marred by a few indiscreet palm prints. Placed there, no doubt quite diligently, by some halm-fisted old fruit.
Let me tell you. That building is almost immaculate - sensibly maintained - but in the summer its tenants bake in central heating. Unhealthily indulged. Passing out between floors while struggling to escape for cigarettes. A loaf.
The episode was filmed some time in winter, I believe. The housing association closed down one lift for the better part of two days just to ensure a few rampant egos were not compelled to rub shoulders with the great unwashed.
They could not have similarly enticed a pampered cast into our own freezing building. The windows leaking condensation and howling drafts; the coffin sized elevators stacked with junkies on gangrenous legs.
There is not enough shortbread or 12 Year Old Single Malt in Glasgow to bribe a unionised film crew to set foot in such filth.
Briefly, the backdrop was one of heroic politicking. A lone ranger riding side-saddle on behalf of a seething inarticulate mass.
The truth is more a prosaic tale of design and procrastination by committee. The vacillation of the inept or plain corrupt as they waver between chasing awards and profit. The same the world over. That would have made for a genuine crime worth persuing. That might have made for good television.
Well. I might be a whingeing ineffectual bastard, I won't deny it; if you have made it this far down the page - and I have my doubts - let me pause and advise you that this post is distressingly long-winded. And I might as well warn you while I'm at it that I'm not about to let anybody off the hook by stapling on some oblique gem of a song.
Just so you can scroll quickly to the foot of it and dispense with the reading.
There. I've said it. This is just another instance of my scraping three shades of shit off the chest. Unbuttoning my shirt and letting it spill. You might as well fuck off now while the going's good.
All right with you ? Good. See you later.
In January or February this year, we called in the buildings inspector.
"Before you begin," I said, poking a hand out between raised glass and drizzle. "Take a look at this."
I ran my fingers lightly along the sill and four or five inches of mulched wood came away without any teasing. A plague of wasps could not have made a more thorough job of it. The buildings inspector sniffed and examined the mould creeping along the perished rubber seal.
"No doubt about it," he said. "All the windows are rotten, subject to water penetration. I don't need to see any more to get a handle on it, but I had better do it by the book."
I was relieved. I had thought it might have taken more of a fight, but here he was, writing it up without argument.
"Listen, " he said. "I'll submit my report and you should hear word back in two to three weeks. They're putting in new windows, finally. They're putting up the cages to make a start on the worst of it."
Should might be the most overrated word in the English language.
The cages went up, but I could see little activity. Four weeks came and passed. I was about to pick up the telephone when two more men arrived without warning to measure up those bad windows. All the windows are uniformly the same dimensions, but what do I know ? At least things were progressing.
A month or so later and the cages came down. And not a new uPVC window in sight. I scurried about peering up at the building from every side but I could not detect any.
This would have been approximately the same time the foul smell appeared in the ground floor foyer.
The children would travel down in the lifts to set out for school in the morning and gag as they sprinted to the front door. My wife would hurry back with groceries and lock herself in the bathroom to vomit.
Twice, I telephoned the Ghetto Housing Authority.
"What's it got to do with you ?" a voice enquired the second week around. "Do you actually live there ?"
"Of course I live here, " I said. "That is the reason I'm telephoning. Maybe it's a bad mop. It smells like a bad mop. I'm not suggesting nobody is actively cleaning up in here, everyday I see pople pushing around a mop, but the smell is indescribable. Appalling. The same smell follows you into the lifts now too."
"It's not a mop, " the voice snapped. "Those mopheads are changed regularly."
"So I'm given to understand, " I said. "The woman I spoke to here last week told me the concierges are not permitted to use bleach, these days. Disinfectant. A health and safety ruling. Just what's the procedure with rotating those mops, anyway ? Do the concierges in our block have access to running water ?"
I have lived here for more than ten years, but I still have no clear idea how things work. Every second day or so I might see one concierge or another disappearing into a mysterious warren of rooms just off the ground floor lobby. I say hello, but that is as far as it goes. The job they do is far from pleasant. Unrewarding. Like most jobs.
The voice on the other end of the line had no more of an idea of shop floor procedure than me.
"How the hell should I know ?" the voice screamed in my ear. "I am a housing officer. Not a concierge."
"Listen," I said. "I don't give a rat's arse whether you breakfast at city chambers. This is the second time I've raised this same complaint. I expect something to be done about it. I'll bet that if there was a similar stink right outside your office it would disappear pretty damn fast."
I was close to losing it entirely. I barely managed to hang on to the phone.
"I'll get back to you," the voice rasped. The connection went dead.
That rat's arse was just a figure of speech, a little rash maybe, but as it was it proved queerly prophetic. One has to be careful when dealing with the GHA. They can use your own words to stitch you up as efficiently as a death squad operating out of a cubicle somewhere in Latin America.
Good for screwing dissenters out of their hovels. Precious little else.
The smell, you will have guessed, was later traced to a decaying rodent in a disused room.
One night, possibly late last summer when the foyer door was taken off its hinges and left yawning invitingly for close to two weeks, it appears it wandered in off the street and squeezed under the locked interior door. Its mummified remains discovered inside an open trunk only when one concierge grew so disgusted that he resorted to breaking and entering.
The irony is not lost on me.
Well. The smell gradually faded after the rat was dug out and disposed with. The windows, though. That's another story.
It is a well established fact that the roof of our building bristles with all manner of antennae and masts. From one mobile telecommunications industy to the next, the Ghetto Housing Authority milks huge annual profit from what goes over its tenants' heads. There is little doubt in my mind that those profits explain why this one building remains standing while all around is demolition; chaos; splinters and dust.
For years now I have idly wondered whether we all crackle radioactively from the unseen effects of sustained bombardment.
Those supplemented rents certainly explain why the GHA might be prompted to protect its investment. Raking it in year after year, spending next to nothing on the upkeep of core stock while projected demolition dates come and go.
And so, when they finally went ahead with the scheduled demolition of the building just adjacent to us, and all these people still living here, they had little option but to confront the unpalatable option of spending some of that cash.
"Let's give those radioactive little bastards some new windows," the minutes might have read. "Face facts. Too many fuckers are beginning to ask questions."
So. Where was Karen Silkwood while all of this subterfuge was going on ? who didn't blow the whistle when those cages came tumbling back down ?
Where was our local MP ? MSP ? City councillor ? That one man band prancing about on "Taggart" ?
As I mentioned previously when covering our recent flaccid general election, not one politician of any party or stripe appeared on our doorstep to canvas. Dance a little. Feign hard of hearing while cupping an ear. It is hard to pretend that a jutting twenty-three storey apartment does not exist, even should one chose to avert one's gaze.
A blight on the landscape. Inescapable.
Well. A little bird whispered to me that those cages came down when it was discovered the frightful network of satelite dish and transmitter had spread right across our roof like so much poison ivy.
They just could not get those cages in place where they were most needed.
And all the while the distasteful sight of more recently deployed uPVC windows being stripped out of that empty shell less than one hundred yards away. Rooted out with hammer and chisel. Jettisoned prematurely in advance of the plastic explosive.
We went down there to speak to a housing officer in person. Some of them coasting into retirement. Others just out of school.
"Well," a young woman responded. "We are still waiting for the Building Inspector's report. There's been some delay."
She was not at all discourteous. The job had not gotten to her yet.
"Jesus," I said. "That is some delay. He filed his report four months ago."
"You have to understand," she went on, "a lot of permanent staff have been on holiday. Some of our key people have just this month or so retired. We'll let you know as soon as we get word back. We'll keep you in the picture."
"Is there any substance to the allegation that those masts extend so far over the roof that the GHA can not carry out essential repairs ?" I enquired. Feeling more like Jimmy Olsen than Karen Silkwood. Less competent. Decrepit.
She pursed her lips.
"That's a new one on me. I've certainly not heard anything to that effect. There is, however, a funding shortage, as I'm sure you are aware."
And so. Yet more weeks fly past.
There has been so much rain here recently that I am reminded the winter will be upon us all too soon. They will evacuate us briefly to detonate the charges some time in September. We will be back inside for tea. The drilling will eventually cease just in time to welcome in the gales. Sheets of glass buckling under sheets of still more rain.
Water puddling under the sills. The sudden cold taking us by surprise again.
The absence of silence will get to you. The tension of it just makes things worse.