Our block’s old stair railings, despite protest by all of us that they were in design dynamically flowing, were replaced by railings that were rigid, on the grounds a really big-headed child might have stuck its head through the wide bars parallel to the stairs and got stuck, for which the landlord would be held responsible and the cost of fighting the case to a win wouldn’t be worth it. We don’t have children and no child visits.

The upstairs leaseholder hadn’t taken our fight all the way through the complaints procedure to the ombudsman who didn’t even bother to respond. Apart from neighbours, his only relationship is with the landlord’s representatives, primarily our customers liaison officer who gives him what he wants. The only way to get his money back was to sell up, I said, and to improve the price he should instal a washing machine. He was bragging how he’d got the landlord to lay down vinyl tiles on floor and stairs to further improve the stairwell.

We were going to be redecorated and were given options, the ones for the stairwell to do with wall, railing and flooring. I would’ve liked the ruddy colour for the railing but no way was I going to vote for magnolia for the wall, so from the other option chose a pink for the wall and a light grey to go with it, and for green tiling.

Before the painting was quite finished, the leaseholder came down, while I was at my shed by the balcony door to the stairwell, to ask what colour I’d chosen for the railing. He gave the impression he had chosen the same. Since Bob’s taste is impeccably bad, I was put out it should be the same, my taste always being good, but I was supposing even somebody of bad taste could hit on the good for once, and somebody of good…. My man – my unconscious will – intimated at the interface of consciousness with the unconscious where we communicate that this was not so and I reconciled myself best I could to having, if only in this instance, taste as bad as Bob’s. Bob’s disappointment we should have chosen the same colours was evident if inexplicable since concurrence is usually agreeable but not in this case, for either of us. ‘He hadn’t,’ my man said. It didn’t matter whether I’d chosen the same colour as him or he me, I retorted. ‘What d’you mean?’ I suspected. My man stayed silent, refusing to elaborate.

A couple of months later Bob waylaid me again. He speaks to me when he wants something. He wanted me to agree the paint on the railings wasn’t the colour in the brochure. “It never is,” I said. He wanted me to agree the railings had been badly painted, the paint already deteriorating, and to change my choice to black railings with grey floor tiles. “Too much black, Bob,” I replied, “too much grey.” I wasn’t giving him what he wanted. Black hadn’t been an option.

I had a letter from the landlord about repainting which specified when but not what. The painter asked me when the painting had been done. “Not long ago,” I confirmed what his question implied that the railings didn’t need redoing. He stripped and rubbed them down, not knowing what colour he would be repainting them. His supervisor told me black. The painter confirmed they were to be painted black. I was incensed and wafted my incense by email to the customs liaison officer against whom I was railing.

She let a weekend go by before she gave a considered answer justifying the unjustifiable diktat to waive our choice from the options Richmond Housing so-called Partnership had given us in order to give the leaseholder what he wanted, the which she denied she was doing, of course. Meanwhile two dark undercoats were applied before she stopped the painting to give us a choice between black and …black ie dark grey. Choice of tile colour was extended to three newcomers, the better to have the grey already being chosen for tiling endorsed. I pointed out by her diktat we had no choice and that that included the tile colour which was part of the abrogated package. In any case we’d chosen a tile colour to go with a light optional colour whereas the newcomers would be choosing theirs to go with the dark undercoat for black. Black, I told her, was unacceptable.

As well as looking up my diary to pin things down, I canvassed tenant neighbours who’d had the option. Next door and downstairs I didn’t expect to have opted at all. I nevertheless warned one of them, not to choose between black and black which would retroactively sanction RHP’s diktat. The upstairs neighbour, who hadn’t minded the grey but now did and was advocating black, though not quite sure whether that was before or after Bob had primed him, had been drawn in by the liaison officer, who hadn’t bothered to tell me, as part of a majority consensus of two for black. In a last throwaway line Ian admitted he hadn’t chosen optionally the railing colour and chose the tile colour subsequently. Finally I asked my neighbour other side the stairwell, who hadn’t objected to grey either but wasn’t averse to black, what colour she’d chosen for the railing. She hadn’t. I twigged: the only one who’d had the grace to respond to the options given was me. The landlord was deciding for the leaseholder who hadn’t chosen against me who had. Nobody imposes his will on me and by Nobody I of course mean my man, in whom I trust, he being peripatetic spirit and all. I may have to revise that statement.

On the first lick of black, the first laying of a grey tile, I shall post a letter to the CEO of RHP, a copy going to the local newspaper and Standard too maybe, to give me some security against being evicted because Bob, in conjunction with the liaison officer who effected it, had had two tenants evicted he considered brought down the tone of the place and would prevent his selling his flat. Bob is exclusively motivated by self-interest.

I am motivated by the will not to be dominated by him, in this instance through his collusion with the landlord who, in the person of Olivia, the customer advisor, has written to say our final choice is between black and dark grey and that they will decide by our majority decision; and by the way, Bob gets grey tiles as well. I’ve replied and posted copies through every tenant’s door. I also had it out with Tina, one of the two observers cited as suggesting black, providing the landlord with a basis to give the leaseholder what he wants.

I couldn’t be bothered waiting. There’s no point anyway writing to the CEO, though I’ve a letter to hand, when the whole organisation’s in cahoots with the leaseholder. I’ve written to the local paper instead, which didn’t publish the letter. I did send the letter to the CEO and a copy of it to the editor of the local paper but the last editor feared the council and this one might not want to offend its former housing department that became the social housing provider. Authority supports authority.

In passing somebody smiling at me in Waitrose, I was about to engage with him when I recognised it was Ian, who’d decided for Bob against me, and raised my arm to ward off any communication with him, pronouncing ‘pah!’ the while.

Should I weaken, all I have to do is remember the self-satisfied smirk on Bob’s face at having put one over on me to restrengthen my resolve.

The smirk was wiped off his face and hatred had taken its place as Bob bore down on me as I walked up from Waitrose. I skiffed him, unperturbed by the incident. “Arsehole,” I uttered but I say that a lot anyway.

I’m not angry all the time. Whenever I’m thinking myself into it, I tell myself to calm and watch television or read a book. With nothing else to do I’m catching up on my reading. The anger gives me something else to do. I was going out by the gate and passed Ian’s girlfriend who’s lived with him for years and I found out couldn’t be got rid of because the landlord’s okay with anybody’s putting anybody else up indefinitely. She plaintively called after, “John.” “Fuck off,” I involuntarily said.

Going down to recycle, I was surprised by Tina’s coming round the corner of the block. “Yuch!” I involuntarily said. It’s then I get angry and have to calm myself. Other times too when I think about it because I don’t see a way out as the workman lays the vinyl tiles. What institutional effect were they going for, penal? A new neighbour thinks it looks nice. It makes me want to have pursued riches and sport the vulgarity of gold taps. It’s not the bad taste though; it’s the underhandedness of it and collusion with it and the conniving to procure a plausibly legitimate cover for it fuels my distemper.


About johnbrucecairns

I'm a retired history teacher who's written for most of his life with a book readied for publication.
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One Response to Railing

  1. bbanublog says:

    Wishing you good luck with your new book.


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