LETTERS FROM THE HOUSING COMMITTEE, read by Louisa Gummer
Dear Lorna Fullingham,
It is our pleasure to welcome you to Starling House as its newest resident. All of us in the building were delighted to receive your submission. We’re a jolly community here in the block, always living in a neighbourly spirit and ready to band together for the common good. We do hope you find apartment 11B to your liking. We’re afraid the previous resident was something of a slob, but we were thorough with the clean up. Let us know of any residual offensiveness and we’ll tackle it together.
You’ll find a community of like-minded neighbours here in Starling House. Our values are tolerance, inclusion, and togetherness. Learn those words, friend, because here they are ideas by which to live and die.
You’ll notice that every other apartment with a balcony on the southern wall has a planter of flowers. There’s a pattern of geraniums, chrysanthemums and marigolds alternating with a bouquet of nasturtiums and crocum – the latter of which your balcony falls into, being on the 11th floor. The effect when seen from the retail courtyard is quite something. Let us know if you need any help getting the flowers to bloom. Rubbish collection is on Wednesdays. Recycling Thursdays. Welcome again,
The Housing Committee
Dear Ms Fullingham,
We do hope that you’re settling in and getting to grips with our odd little ways here in Starling House.
We notice that your planter has not taken bloom just yet, but that is understandable given the snap of cold weather this past month. That is one thing that is out of the committee’s control – for now! But seriously, do be sure to nurture the flowers properly, to maintain the effect when seen from the retail courtyard.
Now, to address the small situation last week. We had heard from 11C some odd noises coming from your apartment – something a bit like laughter, or goodness knows what. So that was why we decided to enter the apartment to check what was happening. It’s part of our community mindset here at Starling House to make sure we know where we all are and what we are all doing. All in the name of inclusion, of course. Naturally, we have and will use keys to every door in the building to ensure this happy little regime through thick and thin!
At the time, you may have been taken aback by us interrupting your personal entertainment or somesuch thing, but take it as a demonstration of how we do not recognise barriers to the sacred alliance of neighbourhood. In the future, just a small effort to notify the building of your activities would go a very long way indeed to preventing any upset.
By the way, as the festive season approaches you’ll notice wreaths going up on the front door of every apartment. This is a cherished tradition that brings a little non-denominational magic to the building. You’ll find a list of recommended decoration shops enclosed.
Dear Ms Fullingham in 11B,
What a wonderful time the holidays can be! A time for coming together and celebrating what we share in common. Singing carols, cooking meals, playing games – truly it is a season built to eradicate all differences between us.
So what a shame it is for us to pass through the building and see the barren, empty door of 11B still absent one wreath! Every other door, you will have noticed, has a wreath, and some we have even ornamented with tinsel and winter bunting.
Loneliness is an epidemic in this country. A killer. We guard against it at all turns, and this means bringing each and every individual into the collective. Small things like a wreath on every door – well, they just make all the difference, that’s what we believe.
To another matter, we have noticed that you keep unusual hours in your coming and going around the building. Now, while we have not yet found the need to declare an official curfew, and while there does exist a theoretical right to freely move at all times, we would like to gently remind you that as a resident of Starling House you now exist as one part of a whole, and there are responsibilities entailed therein.
We point again to our core values: tolerance, inclusion, and togetherness. If a community is to embody the spirit of tolerance, then it is necessary for its members to behave in a way that is tolerable. If it is to be inclusive, then members must include themselves. And, if Starling House is to continue to live in the spirit of togetherness, it is crucial to eliminate discord.
Please bear this in mind the next time you feel like staying out doing goodness-knows-what with goodness-knows-who until goodness-knows-when-o’clock, and making a fractious din with the elevators that disturbs the rest of us.
Dear our neighbour in 11B,
Bees making honey, ants collecting food, wolves hunting prey: how glorious the miracle of collective action. Yet how fragile too! It’s never easy when a single agent undermines the efforts of the group. Just one faulty screw can made the whole machine collapse, as we in Starling House know all too well.
Without wanting to be indelicate, we feel compelled to address the recent visits of a certain gentleman caller. Now, to an extent, the company you keep is your own business, but this building is our home and its peaceful happiness is the business of all of us. To be frank, the din made by you and this man was disruptive, obnoxious, and quite offensive. Copulating in a manner that is not only audible but deafening is hardly done in the spirit of community. We refer you again the neighbourhood values, and insist upon applying a level of rigour when it comes to this particular moral turpitude. The rest of us manage our lovemaking without such a cacophony, and you would do well to do the same.
We were dismayed to receive your letter complaining about stains uncovered beneath the carpet in your apartment. As you know, we take cleanliness and order very seriously here in Starling House, so such an oversight is unfortunate. Your letter made reference to the stains resembling ‘blood or something like blood’, but we would like to put to rest any concerns you have on that score. Yes, the previous tenant was quite a slob, but after he was expelled from the community we were very thorough with the clean-up.
We do hope that we’ll have no such problems with you joining us. Your recycling has, so far, been neat enough – though perhaps a little packed with ready meals for our general style!
By the way, your work on the balcony planter has really been lacklustre. We remind you that you were accepted into this community on the understanding that you would be joining us in mind and not just body.
Dear resident 11B,
The world outside can be a difficult place sometimes. We understand that. Indeed, this is why we work so hard to cultivate such a thriving community within the walls of Starling House. This is life as we see it: there is the world outside, and then there is our home, which means the entire building. To put it simply, 11B, there is no need whatsoever to add additional locks to the front door of your apartment, as we discovered you had done last week.
All residents should feel free to move around the building as they wish, knowing that their neighbours are happily working with them towards the same goals and within the same ideas. If we all locked our doors, well, who knows what we’d all be up to, separated and segregated into our own little boxes? Such a scenario is quite literally unthinkable.
An important part of keeping a community secure is surrendering the inane desire to deviate from the group. It’s the reason we agree to all speak the same language and use the same currency. Why, behave as a lone agent in that regard and you’ll simply provoke chaos, and that is good for nobody!
Additional locks are not necessary. They are a security risk and an unfriendly blight on the landscape of friendship that is Starling House. Locks or no locks, we will be paying you a visit soon enough to discuss this and reiterate the community values in intimate terms. We are confident that with a little persuasion you will appreciate our way of seeing things. The joys of conformity are subtle but many, as your happiness becomes our happiness.
We must congratulate you – or rather, congratulate ourselves – on the splendid job we’ve done with the flowers on the southern wall. From the retail courtyard, the effect is quite splendid. How lovely to witness the impeccable pattern of texture and colour, the unruly natural tendency of chance corralled into a much more agreeable uniformity.
Despite the bumps on the road toward this destination, it is a pleasure to have you at last joining the group in spirit and accepting our common values towards a common good. But of course, there’s no need for us to tell you that, is there?
We have a bright future ahead of us in Starling House. Moving forward, as one, without complaint and without deviation. All of us in the building are delighted to receive your submission.
(c) Joel Blackledge, 2016
Louisa Gummer is a Liars' League regular. Her recent voiceover work includes the "Vine in 1914" strand on BBC Radio 2, seducing Harry Enfield on a radio ad, guiding visitors around Stockholm's Moderna Museet, and giving instructions inside an MRI scanner.