At the end of long lane, named after the cut of meat from a four legged animal, in the south of the city, there is a row of shops. At the far left end (if you are coming from the North) are two grey painted shop fronts.
Two, Three, Four years ago these used to hold the blue and white signs of a TV Rental and Repair Shop, a company established more than 40 years ago for the renting and fixing of TV’s, washing machines and electrical goods.
I live in the flat two floors above. I live in a flat made of wooden walls, 70’s carpet and doors that are locked from the other side. Thick red patterned carpet, white leatherette chairs, a ramp down to the bedroom, male toilet sticker stuck to my bathroom door, painted pictures left by the previous owner. Where I live, the flat I rent, where I call home used to be the offices for the people that worked in the shop below. I think. The place they’d dissect and repair appliances, TV tubes, and washing machines.
In the dark of the night, as the streetlight creeps through the gaps in my blinds I start to listen to the building. I start to wonder if there are skin cells and finger prints from the previous owners left on door handles, crumbs from bacon sandwiches fallen into the cracks in creaking chairs.
Below my floor are empty offices, left like the Mary Celeste, as the owner packed what he could and jumped ship. Files, chairs, desks. My landlord owns the whole building. Started clearing stuff out. 40 years worth of files and invoices, and rental agreements chucked into a skip.
The estate agents next door said for months after the shop was shut down, old ladies would turn up, staggered down by their TV’s, asking where the owner was, how could they fix their black and white TV’s without him. Now there’s no more Ceefax, no more analogue. And I see those old ladies, staring at the white noise, waiting for a picture to form.
My landlord is ripping them open, the carving the walls into separate flats, new builds, new shiny flats, in white paint and thin walls, clean silent plumbing.
I put my ear to the wood walls and listen to the building.
I’ve lived in this flat for nearly a year now, know it’s eccentricities and it’s foibles. Knew I was always living on borrowed time in this place. I’ve had sleepless nights woken by the creaking of the window panes, mistook the aching of the building for footsteps on my stairs. Awoke, heart beating to a man emerging from one of the locked doors at the side of my bed.Politely, calmly asked him what he was doing.
My eyes focused, my head cleared and I was talking to thin air. A dream. The clothes in my wardrobe. Then, I started sweating, my eyelids started itching and I couldn’t find my dreams again.
I’ve been woken by the roar of motor bikes and scooters racing along the lane, the sound of kids gathering for illicit cigarettes and cider. The rustling of pigeon footsteps as they race along the ledge. The purring as they talk to each other, sending shivers up my neck. Them dive bombing the window, ragged wings outstretched. (I am not a fan of pigeons, I once saw one shag another one to death.) I have been unable to watch horror films (not my favourite genre at the best of times), can’t even hear people tell the story of a film, just about survived reading murder mysteries while my imagination runs to fever. I found myself checking behind shower curtains and leaving lights on, lived nocturnally through sulphur streetlamps and blinds that do not close. Once I heard voices in the flat as I walk up the stairs, home late at night, brandishing my keys between my knuckles to find…
My radio left carelessly on, spouting 6 music at unearthly hours.
Though all this I’ve partly enjoyed, living somewhere between a film set and made up stories in my head. It’s my home, my place, where I skid down the ramp to my bedroom without even thinking about it, where I live under strip lighting and cover the gaps in the blinds with a blanket, where I sit encased in the hug of my white leatherette chairs. The first time I’ve lived properly on my own, and pace is mine, what I put and where I put it is mine. I knew it was coming, spoken to my landlord about his plans. Awoke yesterday morning to the sound of wood ripping, screaming from the walls, hammers and power tools taking down what was.
They have started on the rooms downstairs and now it won’t be long before my flat is no more.