AT the Labour Party Conference a few weeks ago, the quietly-spoken, genial Jeremy Corbyn hoped to usher in a new era of tolerance and cooperation. I tried to remember that this morning as I performed my fortnightly chore of putting out the recycling-bins at my flat.
Several bins? Well, yes. Our block of 10 flats shares three of Newcastle City Council’s blue bins. There were once four, I think, but that belonging to Flats 9 and 10 hasn’t been seen for years. Come to that, the bin assigned to our flat and the one above is the sole example in the street still boasting its separate container for bottles and glass.
Why do I put out all three bins out? That question lies at the heart of this blog. I think I’m the only inhabitant who knows which days the bins will be emptied, though the dates are clear for all to see on Newcastle City Council’s website: if I don’t line them up on the pavement, the bin men will not collect and empty them.
It’s a war of nerves. On the rare occasions that we’ve been away, no one put the bins out. So should I put out only my own bin, leaving the others to suffer over-spilling bins and learn their lesson? My nerve fails me. This is the nature of communal living.
We’re not exactly a commune, but are quite friendly, and sign for each other’s postal deliveries (though, again, I feel I’m the only person who sorts out the five letterboxes and gets rid of the junk mail). Good relations can be tested, however. A couple of weeks ago we suffered our second flood in two months, on each occasion the result of a leaking washing-machine in two different flats one or two floors above.
One thing I’ve learned about flat-dwelling is that you carry two insurance policies. We insure our contents, but the property management company sees to buildings insurance. So we’re currently dealing with two claims, each with two insurance companies – who remind me that we have to pay an excess charge on each of the four claims before they’ll come out, each a few hundred pounds.
Then they phone to inform me that an operative called Bill will come round tomorrow and check on the claim: I report to Mrs T who takes me to task for not checking which bit he’s coming to look at, and whether he’s buildings or contents.
I can’t keep up, I whimper, no longer having any idea who’s coming to do what.
There’s good reason for my bewilderment. In the second flood my MacBook was wrecked by water pouring through the ceiling. The whole of my life was in that MacBook. The collected works of Bernard Trafford were wiped out, plus all those passwords, personal stuff, contracts – everything we used to keep in filing-cabinets and nowadays save digitally in a small slim machine.
Before you weep for me, I must admit that things are looking up. After 10 anxious days during which the MacBook barely started to function again, the insurers (contents, claim 2) said I could replace it. An obsessive backer-up, I reached for my external hard disk. While I went to the pub (to settle my nerves), it allowed its contents to flow into the new MacBook which, on my return, looked exactly like the old one.
Does that make it a happy ending? Not quite yet, though the smell of damp is receding and gradually, Bill, Wayne and the other nice contractors who work for the firms who act for the insurance companies are starting to put everything right. It’s merely a matter of months. So the quality of life is rising.
I might even manage to be civil to my neighbours soon. Tolerance. Cooperation. I’m with Corbyn. I’ll also vote for any party that gets people in upstairs flats to check their plumbing regularly.