I decided to set up a “little lockdown library” for our building so that residents could pool reading material while we were stuck at home. I deposited a stack of books by the front entrance and an explanatory sign:
It occurred to me that the people it would most benefit – those who were not going in and out the building – wouldn’t see it, so I posted a message on the block’s Whatsapp group.
Next thing, wouldn’t you know it, Amanda Jones (“Mrs Amanda Jones” to her Whatsapp contacts), self-appointed neighbourhood policeman, reared her head again. (There’s nothing she loves better than telling her neighbours what they can’t do – see this post for another example.)
“Sharing books unfortunately is a complete no no! Hence why libraries have shut and all schools that are still open are not allowed to use books.”
My mother, being my mother, jumped to my defence immediately.
“Libraries have shut so as to avoid being a place where people gather,” she posted in reply. “They haven’t shut so as to prevent people from reading books. “
“Not reading books… but sharing books!”
“Well then, feel free not to share the books that Lara has so kindly put out. “
Another resident chimed in to say that she had looked into the matter and found that coronavirus can survive 24 hours on cardboard.
“Lara put the books out yesterday,” replied my mother. (I didn’t even know she was doing all this advocating for me – I only saw the messages about an hour later.) “So 24 hours has been and gone. The good news, then, is that the books are now good for sharing.”
So Mrs Amanda Jones tried a different tack: “Health & Safety reasons you cannot store anything in the communal areas.”
(She had done a “walkaround” a few days previously with a representative of the building management company, a woman as unpleasant as herself, who she is big buddies with. This woman summoned my mother to the door, stabbed a finger at the potted trees on the landing and snarled “Who put those there? Nothing is to be stored in communal areas! They’re a health and safety hazard!”)
A couple of days later, Mrs Amanda Jones repeated the trick that had served her so well in the previous squabble, of snitching on us to her friend at the building management company and getting the friend to send out an email for her:
Personal items in communal areas
Please note that personal items should not be stored in common areas, including but not limited to: dry risers; meter cupboards; hallways and staircases as this poses a significant Health and Safety Risk. All personal items should be removed with immediate effect or we will arrange the removal and disposal of such items. Please note that the charges will be applied to the relevant flats.
Mrs Amanda Jones promptly screenshotted the email and posted it on the Whatsapp group, followed by a reply to my message about the lockdown library, saying “Lara these need removing. Thank you”
The thing that really got me – apart from Mrs Amanda Jones’s obvious need to get a life – was this: the building management company is appointed by us residents. It is paid by us and its job is to provide us with a service. Mrs Amanda Jones’s friend who sends out these emails ordering us around is effectively in our employ. That’s some crazy mandate-overstepping going on there.
I removed the library because I couldn’t be bothered to have a fight over something so petty (although somebody still has my copy of How To Be A Domestic Goddess, which I’d quite like back). Mrs Amanda Jones lives in the next-door block, which has a separate entrance, so she wouldn’t have even been able to see whether or not I had complied with her order, which must have driven her crazy.
I didn’t reply to her message because I didn’t want to grant her the oxygen of attention, but I vented my irritation by repeatedly composing and deleting messages that I would have loved to send her, like:
“At a time when so many of us are being community-spirited and kind, your pettiness and malice, as you take the opportunity to make yourself feel important by ‘policing’ your neighbours and snitching on them to the management company, is pathetic. I’ve removed the books to humour you, because I’m not so small-minded as to get bogged down in nitpicky arguments or start dragging in my sidekicks at the management company to help me police my neighbours. I care very little about you. In fact, judging by the Whatsapp messages that have been going around between us neighbours,” [This wasn’t true, but I wished it were] “most of us have very little time for you. Now run along and find something else to have a hissy fit about.”
We have several musicians in the block, and I’ve been thinking about organising one of the communal music performances from balconies that people have been holding in Italy and Spain, but I’m absolutely certain that she would find some “Health & Safety” reason why we shouldn’t do that. I’m toying with the idea of organising it anyway and sending out invitations to everyone except her and her husband.