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A not entirely fruitless London Friday

November 6th, 2004 (11:32 am)

Grabbing time away from the TGW office at the moment is difficult - particularly as I'm one of the small group going to Ireland for the launch parties there on Monday. In addition, the fact that I'm giving a weekly tutorial on Thursdays prevents me from running off in the middle of the week - I need Wednesday nights to attempt to mark the essay. However, I needed to check some information in London, and thought that yesterday would be the best time.

I dawdled after getting up for a few minutes, eating breakfast slowly while looking at LJ and a couple of bulletin boards. (Strangely, I've been posting more on a Star Trek board recently. Strange, because I know little of Trek, and lots about Doctor Who - but with the latter I feel I have a reputation for scholarship to maintain, and with the former I can just potter around making observations on issues marginal to that forum.) Though I rebuked myself for not leaving earlier, it didn't make much difference, as when I got to London I found scatterings of trade unionists in front of the British Library, and, after crossing what I suppose must have been picket lines, learned that the library's reading rooms were closed as a result of the civil service strike. It wasn't that great a problem, but I'd have liked to have done the research I need to do yesterday, and written it up this weekend. Also, reading the strikers' note, I felt sympathetic to their charges - that the government are planning redundancies and changes to terms and conditions that will lead to increased work loads for staff and inadequate maintenance for buildings. I remember a dispute within the British Library about five years ago where all reports suggested the changes management wanted would have made it a far less healthy place to work, with staff members not being circulated between the stacks and the above-ground floors as at present, effectively creating a division between Eloi and Morlocks.

So, I went away in a liberal frame of mind, nodding at the strikers' right to strike, and deciding they probably had some justification. I had lunch with pennypaperbrain, this time at the a Moroccan cafe, and then looked something up at the Institute of Historical Research - except that after a lengthy search for the book I needed on open shelves in the basement, it turned out that the information I expected to find there wasn't available. The only other book that might have the information is in German, and doesn't seem to be in a library in this country.

So, off to Kew and the National Archives. On arriving in London I'd asked for a two-zone travelcard and not a four-zone one, so I was already annoyed with myself for not having the right ticket to get to Kew, where the NA is based, and having to spend £2 more than I would have done if I'd bought the correct ticket in the first place. It was already 4pm as I walked through the suburban semis from Kew Gardens station to the National Archives, but that should have given me an hour in which to look up a couple of entries in open shelf catalogues of regional repositories. It hadn't struck me that the National Archives staff were civil servants as well, like their counterparts at the British Library - and so they were on strike as well. There were no picket lines, just security guards refusing to let anyone inside the building without a pass.

It was late afternoon, I'd trekked out from central London, and had gone into a reactionary phase, so I mentally took out my frustrations on the strikers. Now I remembered why I'd never joined a trade union... inconveniencing other people... employees should be good serfs and obey their employers and masters... forelocks should always be tugged... Then, in my neo-feudal reverie, I recalled that if an employer is not exercising good lordship over his villeins then their fealty should surely be forfeit. I took some deep breaths, remembered that this was the twenty-first century, and reached the station.

I then met my sister, who is still battling her property managers over the leak in the pipe behind her flat, which is damaging her kitchen and also her downstairs neighbour's. The property managers are reluctant to replace the pipe, and are now looking for an 'old plumber' who might know more about how to patch up lead pipes than younger ones. In addition, the stop tap that serves the block of flats is broken, and Thames Water apparently can't repair it for another two weeks, further delaying the prospect of repair. At least the neighbour downstairs admits the business isn't my sister's fault. My sister also has a running problem of mice in her flat. The council inspector has done what she is allowed to do, and the problem has been alleviated by poison, but there is believed to be an extensive colony under the building, and my sister has been told that it's doubtful that any company would do themselves out of work by permanently sealing off the holes in the basement which let the mice roam at will.


Posted by: Pellegrina (pellegrina)
Posted at: November 6th, 2004 05:42 am (UTC)

My historical bibliography lecturer is former Director of Collections and Preservation at the BL, and during the lecture she gave to the collection management class about preservation, she had some choice words to say about having the purse-strings held by government, with specific reference to their interference in the great move from the BM.

Are you saying BL staff are civil servants? Darn. I'd better get cracking with looking into naturalization. According to my Japanese-class colleague who works for the IND, there is no reason to wait until I'm once more gainfully employed. Though with the current timing, they may suspect my application of being politically motivated!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 6th, 2004 07:00 am (UTC)

The union who were stiking were the Public and Commercial Services Union, so I don't think librarians were among them. I suspect, though, that BL staff will count as civil servants.

The BL at St Pancras was notorously hobbled by government indecision and Treasury parsimony - thus the empty space at the back which I think was designated as the site for the repositories to replace Boston Spa and Woolwich, and so centralize everything on one site. The Treasury refused to authorise the spending on this building, even though it would pay for itself in the medium term, with the savings on shipping books back and forth between London and Yorkshire. Hence the forest of temporary offices which were on the site last time I looked.

Posted by: Evil Asian Genius (eag)
Posted at: November 6th, 2004 12:15 pm (UTC)

The flat nightmare sounds nightmarish. Colonies of mice?! Broken pipes for weeks?!

Whoever owns the building is a moron. They'll save more money fixing the water than fixing the building when it rots out from the inside.

Time to move! >.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 6th, 2004 05:53 pm (UTC)

I don't think moving is an option - she only bought the flat a few months ago, and it's unsaleable until the problem is sorted out. You are absolutely right about the dimwitted short-termism of the property managers. I'm not sure if they are actually the owners as well, but it seems likely.

Posted by: Evil Asian Genius (eag)
Posted at: November 7th, 2004 01:55 am (UTC)

She should sue them. That's insane - this is stuff that should be maintained prior to buying. Check the contracts? Maybe there's something that can be done. Here, we have homeowner's associations that govern condos (flats that you own, as opposed to rent). You'd think something can be done. -_-

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 7th, 2004 11:21 am (UTC)

Most privately-owned flats in the UK are leasehold; the buyer is buying a 99-year lease from the previous owner. The intention is to safeguard the interests of the person who owns the land on which the flats are built. There's now provision in English law for leaseholders to form commonhold associations and buy the property, but this is only feasible with a small development, as co-ordinating 30+ flats and leaseholders (some of whom might be non-resident leaseholders letting the flats to their own tenants) would be a full-time job.

You're right in saying that the previous leaseholders should have disclosed the problems; the surveyor didn't spot it either. Strictly speaking, though, it's a fault in the common parts (the pipe is plastered into the wall behind the kitchen; it's not part of the network of pipes for which my sister is responsible) and so is the responsibility of the property manager. Unfortunately, this means that there is little my sister can do - it's up to the property manager to decide when and what they are going to do to the pipe. Legal action may well be on the cards.

Posted by: Evil Asian Genius (eag)
Posted at: November 7th, 2004 12:30 pm (UTC)

Interesting. Well, I suppose it's probably best to think that maybe the previous leaseholders didn't know about it. I'm amazed though, that the property manager hasn't taken action yet. Here, if I even mention to my building owner that there might be a drippy faucet, someone comes out within a half-week and fixes it. Though I think the difference here is that water is paid for by the building management, it's their property that they're renting out, and as water is scarce here, the bill for leaky taps adds up quickly.

I hope it gets resolved quickly and painlessly. :\