Apologies for the lack of blog activity, things have become a little hectic lately, what with the new baby, the court case, and my imminent move to Canada.

All right, not really.

I’ve been denying myself a 6,000ft colonial penthouse with aquarium and retractably-roofed private pool for too long, so I’ve been spending all my evenings of late on moonlit balconies in the oily company of Madrid’s least trustworthy estate agents.

A few nights ago I was hustled around a set of apartments on the upper floors of Torre de Madrid, which must contain some of the highest apartments in Madrid since all the taller buildings seem to be offices or hotels. It might sound glamorous, but in fact it was a stark lesson in what is wrong with modern “penthouse” apartments. The word “penthouse” is bandied about far too often. Let’s be clear, what the estate agent is likely to be hawking is an atic, perhaps with a terrace if you’re lucky. A penthouse is where Bruce Wayne resides (in The Dark Knight, 2008) with helipads, 40ft-high ceilings and 360-degree views of Gotham City.

Torre de Madrid

The “exclusive” floors of Torre de Madrid (made so by key-only lift access and a snooty sense of superiority) have their own Wellness Centre (Guantanamo Bay gym) and a bar where you can have a pint of bitter with some other lonely yuppie whilst vibrant Madrid parties 100m below. Great.

What immediately put me off this horizontal gated community was the abundance of unnecessary technology. Computer controlled blinds, lighting, heating, air conditioning, alarms… you just know it’ll go haywire at some point leaving you imprisoned in your own blacked-out apartment waiting on hold at 3€ a minute to get a man in Mumbai to press reset.

A.A. Gill’s question (in Condos of the Living Dead, Vanity Fair magazine), whilst written about New York loft apartments applies just as easily to most new apartments I’ve seen, ‘…there’s hardly anywhere to hang a picture, let alone your hat. The basement swimming pool I saw looked so dystopianly depressing that I expected to see an inflatable fund manager floating facedown. Who’s going to live here? Who are the new, insecure, design-anemic rich?’

Not me that’s for sure. The apartments were utterly devoid of character. Vapid and suffocating, like a business hotel. What saddened me most, amongst all the flat-screens, uplights and sticks-in-jars, was that I couldn’t see a single bookshelf. I know you’re supposed to add a few furnishings yourself but it sort of made a statement about the kind of person expected to live there.

The view was dramatic. Made more so by Madrid being, on average, only 6 storeys high. But there’s a view, and there’s a view. And I’m not sure I could pull back the curtains – OK, buzz back the blind – every day to be confronted with a giddying vista of all of Madrid and Middle Earth akin to that of Sauron’s Tower. I haven’t the stomach for it and I certainly don’t want to live in anywhere that might be besieged by the Last Alliance of Elves and Men of a morning. So dramatic was the view that on stepping out onto the terrace my stomach somersaulted, my knees gave out a notch and I had to grasp the railing, trying as I did so to conceal the panic under an air of casual diffidence. It worked! The estate agent lady, she of killer-heels and hatchet face, thought I was playing it cool and hounded me round a further three similar apartments before typing a 13 digit code into the lift keypad, swiping a card, scanning her retinas and descending us to freedom.

If anyone knows of a comfortably appointed 2-bed between the 2nd and 6th floors in a quaint old part of Madrid, do give me a heads up.

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