Although sometimes it feels more like the Conciergerie.
There are pros and cons to managing the block.
One, is that, as chair of the management committee and budget holder, I am in charge, which is nice.
On the down side, there are always non-payers. Although our annual block charges are cheap compared with other properties where leaseholders pay thousands of pounds a year—ours are between £400 and £575, depending on size of flat—the absentee landlords are persistent non-payers, and the other residents tend to pay towards the end of the six monthly period.
I can hardly blame them as I used to do the same, but, and this is a big but, since the residents (well me really) took over the block management, work is actually getting done around the block. And it gets cleaned weekly. Years back, we had a Moroccan cleaner, he took Ramadan off, so nothing happened between July and September. On the rare occasion any painting was done, it fell off within weeks.
Two years ago, Partner started work upstairs on a particularly bad area. ‘It will fall off within a few weeks,’ said the nearest flat owner. ‘It always does.’ Two years later, it still hasn’t fallen off, but he is gradually working his way downstairs to repaint the whole staircase. After two years it gets pretty scruffy looking as people endlessly knock it when they replace electrical appliances (water heaters have a two year life here).
Out of an income of approx £8K, £2K goes on insurance, £500–£1000 goes on a rip-off company secretary service that does stuff all apart from sending me an annual bill, I have communal water (for cleaning) and electricity (staircase lighting) bills to pay, cleaning is around £900, and I try and keep £2K in reserve for emergencies. Within months of taking over and before the balance of the funds had been transferred to me, I had to pay £1700 out of my own money for emergency works to salt and fresh water pipes, plus unblocking sewage. Talk about things happening in threes.
So, that doesn’t leave a lot to play with. I’ve got arrears carried over from last year of £2400 and total funds received this so far year are £1800. The only reason it tops a grand is because the freeholder who owns a few flats, always pays for the full year. Great in January, but not so good in July because I’ve already had the payment for the last six months. I may have to wait until nearly June before I can get the money from the rest of the payers, approx another £1200. Which leaves around a grand that I may or may not get, plus arrears. Interestingly the ones who have paid so far are the other directors.
It’s very chicken and egg. People don’t pay if they don’t see work being done. They don’t see the insurance charges, the company secretary fees, even the light and water bills. They see cleaning, and redecorating and think they are getting at least something for their money. But I can only authorise the work if I have the funds …
Meanwhile, although I am technically in charge, it’s Partner everyone speaks to. After all, he’s basically the block fix-it person.
There was a knock on the door one evening from the Jewish family upstairs. They wanted to speak to our neighbour but she wasn’t answering her door. I’m not sure what they thought I could do about that but I told them to go and speak to Partner who was faffing about upstairs on something.
Turned out they’d dropped a prescription for the wife’s mother that had fallen onto our neighbour’s windowsill. And that has exactly what to do with block management?
Wandering downstairs last Saturday to do a 7.15am dog walk for the neighbour up the street who fell, Partner bumped into the same Jewish neighbour upstairs, who was off to shul. Could Partner please come and turn on the freezer? Yes, when he’d walked the neighbour’s dog. ‘No, now, right now.’ Although what the neighbour would have done if the two hadn’t met on the staircase I don’t know. Probably knocked on our door on the way back from shul.
Gibraltar has an Orthodox Jewish community. They go the full whack with clothes including many men wearing the large hats and long beards that resemble Amish. The women wear somewhat twee-looking pinafore dresses, and often have long skirts (no trousers), thick stockings and flat shoes although I have seen the odd racy one with a skirt at knee-length, sheer stockings and heels. I have no issue with the women wearing sensible clothing, strikes me as eminently practical, but that isn’t why they are doing it, is it? I digress.
Shabbat (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday) is very strictly observed in Gibraltar, Jewish shops down Main Street are closed, the synagogue fines anyone caught working, no-one travels by car or bus, no-one uses electricity (hence not being able to turn on the freezer), the intercom service for flats is prohibited, so everyone yells up from the street for whoever they want, writing is banned, and so is the telephone.
Which brings me onto the next—to me—ridiculous scenario where Orthodox Jews are prohibited from doing something essential. The mother whose prescription fell out of the window ended up in hospital. Our neighbours were waiting for a ‘phone call to update them on her condition, except of course, they couldn’t answer the ‘phone. Could they pass on our ‘phone number, for someone (either the hospital or a relative) to ring us, for us to take the message, and then run (limp) upstairs to pass onto them? Of course. Hell, why not? Mrs Jewish Family ran upstairs to get paper to give to Partner so he could write down our number. Could he also write down their cleaner’s number too as a back-up number? Remember, no writing allowed, although ok for heathens to write for them (some Jews actually pay non-Jews to carry out prohibited tasks).
There was a glitch in this story though. I could understand the hospital ringing me, but how could another (Jewish) family member ring? I never did work that one out. Just after 1pm, the ‘phone rang. And stopped by the time I’d limped my way over to it. Did the idiot leave a message? No. Did the idiot ring back? No. Did Mr Jewish Family come downstairs to see if we had heard anything? Yes. So we told him about the non-‘phone call.
Presumably though, the mysterious caller rang the cleaner, who does not live in the same block, so had to hike across Gib to deliver the message.
I can understand not working, focusing on all things spiritual and otherwise (it’s ok to eat, sleep and have sex on Shabbat) but I would have thought a little rabbinic dispensation might not go amiss when your mother is in hospital for a brain operation so that you can either a) answer the ‘phone or b) travel to hospital (in Spain) to visit her. Apparently not.
Meanwhile, having finished the redec upstairs, Partner is continuing to clear rubbish off the roof terrace. One of the top floor leaseholders asked if we could move it as he was worried about the membrane being damaged and rain leaking into his flat (never buy a top floor flat, say I). I said we should put up a notice asking people to identify their rubbish and we would start throwing out unclaimed rubbish the following week.
Partner was busy throwing out a coffee table and broken plant pots today when the freeholder walked past (he lives next door) looking his usual extremely smart self, obviously off to hobnob with the great and the good amongst God’s Chosen People at the synagogue.
If there was a Best Dressed Man in Gibraltar competition, I doubt anyone else would enter. If you even mention the best dressed/smartest man in Gib everyone knows who you mean.
‘Morning, Mr Freeholder,’ says Partner chirpily. ‘You’re looking very smart. Off to the synagogue?’
Preen. ‘Yes, thank you my boy. I hear good reports of the work you’re doing.’
Partner preened back at him. ‘I’ve been working upstairs, put a new door and frame on, and I’m clearing the rubbish off the roof. I’m going to put a board up there with a note on telling people to keep the roof tidy and not throw rubbish up there.’
‘Of course my boy. And if they don’t, put a bolt and padlock on so no-one will have access apart from you. We’re quite within our rights to do that.
‘Give my regards to Roughseas.’
And off he strode, complete with bowler hat and elegant cane, to dispense more bonhomie to the deserving en route to the synagogue.