Trouble at t’ mill

Watch out! They're watching you

There’s trouble brewing in our happy little building. I attended the comunidad meeting last week at which we were to discuss the sale of the porter’s flat next door, the re-distribution of maintenance and cleaning costs and other matters. Other matters sounded ominous, so I decided to attend. Also because I wanted to find out more about my eccentric neighbours and the building in which I live. So far I am on speaking terms with a middle-aged gay couple, an outspoken and forceful Andalucian with a hippy husband and a small child, who thankfully likes me (the mother that is- the child can take me or leave me), a South American couple whose young daughter sometimes plays in the courtyard and peers in my front door to talk to me, and of course the inimitable Presidenta who just happens to be an ex junkie prostitute. Sadly they’ve left but there used to be a couple of Canadian Sado-masochists as well. How do I know this? Ah, the walls have ears…. and so do the neighbours. It makes me wonder sometimes how much they know about me, and then I stop wondering because it’s not a nice thought. Probably somewhere between most of the personal details of my life and everything.

At the meeting, which started a mere hour late, I had the pleasure of getting to know Luis, the oldest resident in the building- he told me he had lived there all 70 years of his life. He was an affable, exciteable chap dressed in slacks and a formal blazer. He addressed me as ‘usted’ and asked very politely which flat I lived in, and when I confirmed his guess that it was the interior ground floor, he asked jokingly,

´The puticlub (knocking shop) giving you any problems? Oh, we all call it that, I know it isn’t really one.’ I replied that it was a little annoying at first to be constantly woken in the night by the buzzer, but that they had kindly resolved the problem by fitting a switch.

‘Ah, I know what you mean, my dear, I have the same problem.’ he assured me, ‘There’s a torero’s tailor in the flat next door to mine and they’re always ringing my bell by mistake.’ It was at this point I felt myself slipping even further into some kind of acid flashback resembling the film set of an Almodovar film circa 1991. Of course there’s a Torero Tailor’s upstairs! There just had to be. It was worth going to the meeting just to unearth that gem of information.

As soon as the meeting kicked off it descended into two and a half hours of people all shouting at each other at the same time. My head began to throb with the effort but I tried to follow the drift of it all. After a while it became clear that this was the perfect opportunity for all the neighbours to settle old scores, or if not settle them, worry at them like a dog at the end of the garden with some old bone it keeps digging up. The Andaluza has the biggest flat (120m sq). I have heard it said that envy is the national sport here, though I would argue this is the case just about everywhere. It was clear that all the other neighbours envy her immensely. All comments aimed at her started with ‘Well, we don’t all have 120m sq to live in…..’ She had brought one matter to everyone’s attention- that she was paying proportionately to the size of her flat for communal services like cleaning in the stairways, patio, maintenance to the front door and so on, facilities which we all use, and she no more than others. She was prepared to pay more for services that corresponded to the size of her flat but not for these ones. While some people pay €7.90 a month for these things, she pays €88. Everyone shouted mostly irrelevant comments at her for about half an hour. ‘We don’t all have 120 sq metres to live in, you know-‘ ‘My flat’s only 40 sq m,-‘ ‘some of us have to live in less space than you-‘ and then when the vote was taken, everyone democratically and selflessly voted to share the costs out among us all, each of us paying approximately another 2 euros a month so that she wasn’t saddled with that huge and unfair bill.

Luis was possibly the most vocal participant. He hovered over the brink of his seat and quivered with excitement like a malfunctioning Mr Whippy, never quite sure whether to sit down or jump to his feet so he could yell triumphantly at the Presidenta again. As he piped up for the umpteenth time I could hear half of the gay couple mutter under his breath ‘Pero bueno, joder…’ (‘Oh for fuck’s sake…’) Clearly, Luis has little to occupy his time, and eagerly looks forward to these meetings and the opportunity for a jolly good row.

The other matter was soon raised for discussion. And it turned out that this matter was the puticlub. The neighbours all agreed they were sick to death of getting up in the middle of the night to answer the buzzer and let drunks into the patio so they could illegally go through to the bar.

‘Yes! And the same happens to this Señora! And she lives right next door! They’re waking her up in the middle of the night, and it’s all the time-‘ shouted Luis, gleefully indignant on my behalf. The Presidenta shouted ‘Yes! And they broke her plant pots! How many times have they broken her plant pots? And they have the cheek to say-‘

My feeble Anglo-saxon ‘Ah, but they don’t really bother me, and they offered to replace it, and it was only once…’ was drowned out by the noise. The matter was discussed at length. The back door is only officially to be used for deliveries and by staff, not for constant to-ing and fro-ing of pissheads in the middle of the night. The front door lock is continually breaking with all the traffic, there are always fag butts in the patio, people smoking spilffs on the stairs, and sometimes they talk loudly as they leave. I’d say on the whole these are minor offences, but that didn’t seem to be the general consensus. One young woman explained.

Well, I’ve really had enough of it. What do they think the patio is? Their unlicenced terrace? I’m not joking, I came home one Saturday night about a month ago and there were about 30 people in the patio all smoking and talking. It was like some kind of botellon (street party), I mean he’s really taking the piss now-‘

I prayed the ground would swallow me up, but it didn’t. Instead the Presidenta pointed at me and informed everyone,

‘Oh no, that was her birthday party!’ Luckily they could see the funny side. The Presidenta knew it was my birthday party (and the Incredible Ponce’s) because we both took her up a portion of space cake and then dragged her into the flat after the party at about 7 am when she was putting the bins out and we were cleaning up. It had been one hell of a night.

The final decision was a hearty ‘Denuncia!’ although I abstained, and no-one even noticed. A police report which leads to an investigation, which could lead to him being closed down. I thought this was a bit harsh but then I haven’t lived with it for years. I am fond of the afters bar next door. To me it’s another quirky feature of the building. I enjoy the Alice in Wonderland set up. Looking now at my smooth, slate grey kitchen tiling it seems absurd that behind that wall and a little to the right in the back bar there are people snorting themselves stupid and staggering round the pool table beneath tatty Keith Richards posters. They may be slightly inconvenient at times, but I would miss them if they weren’t there.

I left the meeting with the girl who had spoken out about my street party. I apologised and she laughed it off and said she was embarrassed to have pointed the finger at me, she´d just assumed it was the bar. So all mates, then. I really have the best neighbours in Spain. She said as we made our way down the stairs,

‘You should see what the meetings are usually like. That was a relatively quiet one. All that shouting and we all agree in the end anyway.’ and she grinned. I arrived home with a request for English classes from another neighbour, and a thumping headache. Yet strangely, I felt elated and exilerated by the meeting, all that shouting, but also all that energy and all those opinions vocalised enthusiatically.

Two days later as I was coming back from visiting the Ponce at about midnight, the shutter was open on the street and the afters bar was up and running. I glanced round to make sure there weren’t any neighbours then ducked under the shutter. I had a quick chat with the owner, feeling as though I were passing some kind of resistance message across enemy lines. I merely wanted to warn him that there was trouble at t’ mill, and to keep his nose clean (well, his punters’ noses) as they were filing a denuncia and he may get a visit from our friends in blue. Perhaps if he is forewarned and cleans up his act we can all come to some kind of civil arrangement. After all, as the Ponce pointed out, the owner is getting on a bit, and it would be a tragedy for him to lose his business, or for there to be a raid and for him to be fined several thousand euros and face financial ruin. Call me a hypocrite, call me sneaky, I’ve been called worse. I’m just doing my bit to ensure that we all get on well in this happy little community. We all do it our own way- the Spanish by shouting and denouncing, me, in my British way by diplomacy and two-facedness. As long as we get the same result I’d say we’re onto a winner.


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