As I sit here in my kitchen, trying to get some work done, the girl upstairs is playing her "music". From where I am sitting it seems as though she only has the one record, which she puts on time and time again over a period of several hours. The record, as far as I can tell, consists of four consecutive beats, followed by a half-second pause, followed by the same four beats again. Right now I feel resigned to having to listen to it for the rest of my life.
My family and I live in a block of flats which was constructed in the mid 1990s, and is "managed" by Notting Hill Housing Trust (NHHT). Soundproofing is non-existent. The building certainly doesn't meet the minimum required standard of insulation that applies today. We believe it doesn't meet the standard that applied at the time of construction, we have the sound readings to prove it, and we intend to pursue action through the criminal court when we have the time to do so, having been told by Brentford County Court after a case which dragged on for nearly a year that there is no civil remedy. It is possible that our own local authority's Building Control section was negligent in approving it.
Of course tenants, when faced with the problem of poor soundproofing, can take one of two approaches. They can try their hardest to lead as quiet a life as possible, as we do - keeping our television low, not playing music and so on. Or else they can satisfy their conscience with the knowledge that the structural defects are no fault of theirs and adopt an "Up Yours!" attitude towards their neighbours and to the discomfort that they suffer. The girl upstairs is very much from the "Up Yours!" school of thought.
As a councillor, of course, my role is to try to tackle the problems of others, not whinge about my own. However noise nuisance is one of the issues that I most frequently encounter at my surgeries and in my casework. It is clear that many people suffer far worse abuse than we do. The girl upstairs is inconsiderate, but probably not in breach of her tenancy agreement. It is the management company, which could have called back the contractor that undertook the work on its behalf and got the defect remedied at no cost to itself had it been inclined to do so a few years back (it was the contractor's obligation to repair any faults that were identified within ten years of construction) rather than needlessly and stupidly arguing with us, that is at fault. But its natural, corporate instinct was to argue with its tenants rather than to support them.
Witnessing these people in action, if action is the right word, provided me with a valuable insight in my former role as Lead Member for Housing, and continues to do so in my duties as a councillor today. The belief that the residents are a nuisance without which the council would run smoothly is undeniably present in some areas. The "say no" culture, in which a councillor or a member of the public will come up with an idea and the task of the officer to whom it is suggested is to find a reason why it cannot be done, is still with us.
The four-beat-and-a-pause song still plays on, and still disturbs me from my work. All because somebody at Notting Hill Housing Trust, several years back when we and other residents first complained, lacked the wit to pick up a telephone and the inclination to listen to his own tenants.