Moje flat: view from the bedroom

Four months ago the view from my bedroom window was of a dilapidated and deserted 19th century house, ditto garden, described locally as a “palac” but which would fit unobtrusively into any better off English Victorian suburb. During Communism it was where the KGB elite sent its kids to be taught. And why not? If architecture makes the man then schools should be quality buildings. Did the molded ceilings do anything to mitigate the damaged done to little Yuri and Vladi’s brains by the hammer blows of the Soviet education system? It seems doubtful in the light of current events. Was it even the intention of the parents to soften up their kids? This we cannot know.

In one corner of the garden the Russians built for themselves a superior block of flats, a fine example of social realism, if you go for that, with lines Corbusier would have liked. Each flat had an enclosed balcony where livestock could be kept to ensure a fresh supply of eggs and goat’s milk when the infallible Soviet supply system faltered. Rectangular windows ensured plenty of light in every room. All modern conveniences were supplied thus proving how far the Soviet people had advanced since its soldiers seized Warsaw in World War II and went on a tap smashing rampage. Taps were unknown to the eastern Russians and the view they took was that if we can’t have them neither should anyone else. They should have known what their masters took for granted.

Height was the problem. It seems that the Soviet people were a short people and ceiling heights were inadequate for modern standards, or perhaps with post-war austerity they simply had a shortage of concrete blocks and built lower. This raises the question of whether the KGB hierarchy walked with a stoop due to postings to Warsaw? You can imagine the sort of conversation at KGB HQ in Moscow. “Yuri, we have not met for years. I remember you taller. You look like a man with the the weight of the world on his shoulders. What has happened to you? Your wife has left you? You have offended the General Secretary?” One word would suffice, “Warsaw.”

The lack of height was enough to condemn the block which, anyway, had stood empty since the last time a KGB agent could walk down a Warsaw street with his head held high.

Once afternoon I came home to find that a wall had been erected around the whole site with a picture of the National Car Park-like building that will replace the Soviet block. Its supposed to be a mixture of shops and offices. The following day a massive hammer appeared. Demolition began and my hell in Szucha entered its second phase.


Moje flat

Within a day of moving in my landlord said I’d made the flat look as if someone lived there. Why else was I paying him rent? I inherited the knack of putting things together from my mother who also had a special gift with colours which I don’t think I share. She had an unfair advantage: a Knightsbridge address and an account at Peter Jones, whereas I’ve had to make do. Anyway, I’ve got better things to do with my mornings, such as doing battle with the builders who act as if the laws of the land were made to be broken. I refer to the ugly face of capitalism.

Despite appearances my flat is a hellhole. The summer was ravaged by a Polish oligarch in the penthouse above me who hired a dodgy threesome of builders to do a total renovation. Even when their hammers and drills had fallen silent, this trio marked its omni-presence in the building with the pungent whiff of sweat and vodka that permeated every nook and cranny. It even accompanied me to bed. Work began without warning early one May morning and continued into the autumn. I’d heard the oligarch had fallen on hard times and was being persued through the courts by the administration whom he owed for a couple of years of missed service charges. The news from the east makes one wonder how any of these poor sods keeps going. However, just before the builders moved in, and much to the general stupification, he made up the shortfall and, to prove the point, shortly after wrote off a top of the range Merc in a show of peek in an argument with a wall in the underground garage. You couldn’t make it up. From May till September, from dawn till dusk power tools pounded every corner of my steel and hardboard domain. The case of champagne I anticipated for my inconvenience failed to materialise. But worse was to follow. Much worse.

I tapped a few of the walls with my knuckles. Tacks would do. The hardboard walls opened like willing virgins. The thinnest of nails penetrated head deep under the lightest taps of the hammer. If only life were so easy. The insights I have gleaned into the matrimonial life of my landlord and his much younger wife through the glazed partition that separates my cooker for theirs would surprise them as much as they have entertain me. It is the one intrusion I don’t resent in the slightest. Joyfulness in middle age.