Somewhere near a major exhibition centre, approximately half-way along a main road of terraced Victorian houses, is a house that was originally designated by the Council as a premier property for which prospective tenants had to have interviews. Some years later, when housing stocks fell due to the government’s ‘get greedy rich quick’ scheme that forever took public housing out of circulation, and such previous attitudes as matching tenants and lifestyles was deemed ‘classist’, ‘elitist’, ‘whateverist’, and the unofficial ‘good man, good job’ filter was thrown aside and replaced with targets and number-crunching, this is what happens…
In the past there have been periods during which lots of letters have arrived from various debt-collecting agencies, yet none of the names belong to any of the actual tenants. It’s highly unlikely that so many agencies have got so many things wrong, so is it too unreasonable to assume that people have applied for goods/money/services with false identities? If so, what’s puzzling is that no one has actually visited the premises, for it would be easy enough to check that (for example) a phone line or satellite TV service was installed at a particular address, and surely the services have been blocked at source anyway?
As to how we actually know all this, and can observe the strange happenings, Ellen and I live in a small block of flats in a road parallel to that containing the ‘Half-way House’, but such is the layout that our lounge window can see straight into the back of their property, which means we can see not only the small bathroom windows set one above another in old, almost grimy brickwork, but also the large windows that let in light to the main staircase inside. It also means that when the wind is in the wrong direction, the full stench of the drugs infects our own home and we have to close the windows, and any loud noise carries across easily. Also, we were very friendly with the original tenant of the 2nd floor, who was a sometime housekeeper/cook for a nearby Lord, but she had to move because of the increasing problems, not helped by the fact she was having trouble with the stairs.
Latest Update : the Gnd and 1st floor have had a major falling out, and are no longer talking to one another; the 1st floor’s front door also has a new boot-print to decorate it. So, what happened? Apparently, after the Tottenham ‘riots’ *, and acting on an anonymous tip, the police arrived at the 1st floor and kicked open the door (which was hardly secure to begin with), thus leaving the outline of a large boot in the broken hardboard and another hole in the already-shattered doorframe from earlier forced entries. Being completely innocent of that particular crime, if no others, the 1st floor wondered who might have grassed on them, and the Gnd floor was deemed the most suitable candidate. Much swearing and shouting of accusations went back and forth, long past the point of boredom for those who had to endure it, and so the break-up was completed, which is strange considering how much they have in common.
* by ‘riots’ we mean wholesale looting, arson, and attempted murder of residents by career criminals who came from all over the city to raze a block of shops and homes to the ground and partake of whatever just happened to fall into their open arms, after they learned of the death of a true local hero, a paragon of virtue and a aspirational role-model: in other words, a gun-toting drug-dealer.
A drug-dealer and -user who had previously wreaked her havoc around an area that lay in sight of a nearby market, she was championed by an interfering NIMBY who wanted to make himself feel good by ‘rescuing’ a ‘deserving’ case, but rather than look after her himself, he passed her on to the Council who, due to shortages beyond their control, placed her in the first available property, which started out as a controlled house (in terms of the kind of tenants interviewed and accepted rather than the amount of rent paid).
She has had one of those lurid ‘true life’ books published about her exploits (complete with a cover showing a badly rolled cigarette overflowing with smoking weed), in which she documents in simple sentences how she took advantage of every system that was available to her. It even ends with a predictable thanks to God for helping her, despite his obvious lack of effort in preventing her in getting into trouble in the first place (but then of course such attitudes are entirely consistent with the mind-set of other believers, for example athletes who thank God but not their team-mates and trainers and long-suffering family and friends).
During the course of the following two years and more, she did various things to demonstrate how much she wanted to fit in with the surrounding area, including but not limited to :
- Using the account details of the previous tenant (who was old and had died shortly beforehand) and ordering lots of clothing from a home-shopping catalogue; when neighbours contacted the company and informed them of what was happening (otherwise known as fraud and theft) they were threatened with legal action for interfering, despite repeatedly telling the company that the woman who they thought was ordering the goods was actually dead, which fact could easily be confirmed by contacting the Council landlords.
- Running semi-naked into the middle of the main road in the small hours of the morning, screaming her head off in a demented manner.
- Boasting on many occasions of how she was living there completely free: that is, having 100% of her rent and Council Tax (rates) rebated; so basically everyone else who paid their full rent and rates was paying her to be there.
- Threatening to set her attack-dogs (a pair of Dobermans) on anyone who disagreed with whatever her demands were at the time; said dogs were left to bark viciously at everyone who passed outside the (thankfully closed) gate, though their presence lingered long after they had been taken back indoors as the front of the property between the gate and the front steps was used as their lavatory, which then trickled cross the public pavement and collected in the dents, thus attracting the attention of any passing dog who adds to the pooling liquids, for their owners don’t care where they dogs piss as long as it’s not on their own gates.
- Stinking the place out with the cloying stench of drugs to such an extent that it could sometimes be smelled over 20 metres away at the end of the block. The smell is a combination of the fetid odour of decaying organic matter found beside stagnant water, stale sweat soaking into unwashed clothing (think of a crowded tube carriage at the end of a hot day where everyone thinks it’s macho to not use deodorant or antiperspirant), and the acrid tang of old electrical equipment whose waxy components and Bakelite insulators are overheating. How can anyone possible enjoy ingesting this, let alone think it’s all right to raise a young girl in that environment?
- Informing couriers and trades-people that other tenants were not in when they had actually taken the entire day off from work and were expecting deliveries / workmen to arrive.
Her current activities are now limited to occasionally screaming her head off at various times of the day/night, sometimes at the dogs, mostly at other people for upsetting her (an easy thing to do by all accounts).
The latest wheeze in avoiding the creditors’ letters which arrive at the address with monotonous regularity is to pretend to be dead (“To the executor of the estate of the late ~”), though unusually in this instance she’s used her real name instead of an alias. What is surprising about any of this, though, is how and why the creditors and service companies they represent either don’t know or simply don’t care about what is going on, for if having supplied a cable-tv box or telephone line or anything remotely similar to a specific address, and had debts run up against the assumed owner’s (false) name, why don’t they ever send anyone round to check the premises and see where the equipment actually is (and do they even bother to remotely deactivate it)? As with all other such fraud, the people who genuinely pay for their services are paying more, to make up for the losses incurred.
Oh, and as to how we know this, it’s all thanks to the local psst-man (as in “psst, want to hear the latest gossip”, not ‘postman’, of course, who needs his job despite (or perhaps because of) all the efficiency savings.).
A single mother whose various children are all half-brothers by different (and of course absent) sires, whose contribution to fatherhood ended when they ejaculated; this isn’t to blame them entirely, as contraceptives and abortions are always options, but not taken in these instances (plus, have to think of the state benefits! The mother and boys moved in and everyone wondered what might happen. At about 01:00, two of the neighbours living above them (who had to work for a living rather than stay at home poncing off everyone else’s taxes) knocked on their door and politely enquired when the party would end, as they knew it was normal for such things to happen but it was now past midnight and the floors were still shaking to the ultra-bass booming. “What fucking party?” was the instant and aggressive response. “It’s my fucking flat and I’ll fucking well do what I fucking well want to. Fuck off!”
With no choice but to approach the Council, the existing tenants were told to keep daily logs of the disturbances and post them in on a weekly basis; this they duly did, for month after month after month, as they were informed the more evidence they had, the better their case would be, as they were signed as sworn statements. So it was, at the end of 2 years, they discovered the duplicity of their appointed officer, who revealed himself to be a self-serving preening peacock interested only in his own advancement within the ranks, for he informed them smugly, “Oh, those letters? They won’t do any good if it ever went to court, for it would simply be your words again theirs. No, what you should have done (and I couldn’t be bothered telling you this at the time) was to get the Environmental Health Officers involved. There’s only two of them, though, for the entire borough, and they always travel together for safety, so they can only ever be at one call-out at a time.”
Another 2 years later, and sufficient evidence had finally been gained by the EHOs arriving at any time between 10:00 and 04:00, during which time one of the affected tenants had arranged to move to another property, and the other had teetered on the edges of a nervous breakdown due to lack of sleep and stress (is it worth starting anything in case the noise starts, when it starts will it go on for 5 minutes or 5 hours, how much longer can I get bad reviews at work before they think about getting rid of me, etc.), the EHOs easily succeeded in their prosecution and the noise-makers were duly fined. The amount? A pathetic £1400, which they couldn’t pay anyway, and just to show how pointless the entire process had been (it was getting on for 5 years now), the equipment wasn’t even seized.
They only seem to have one set of keys between them, which has led to some ‘interesting’ behaviour :
- When locked out of their own home, the front door (of their flat, not the house) has been kicked in a few times rather than calling a locksmith. The latter option costs money, of course, whereas the former is funded by the other tenants whose rents are raised to pay for any damage.
- Kitchen units are also treated in a cavalier fashion, so that they need replacing every few years; contrast that to neighbours who still have the same units as were originally installed three decades ago, but because they are in such good condition they are last on the list to be upgraded. Lesson learned: to get the newest and best things from the Council, destroy what they’ve already given you.
- When one of the boys wants to enter his home and he knows a step-brother is already in, he naturally presses the entry-phone; however, the brother who is in will likely not respond either because he just doesn’t care, or for reasons known only to himself doesn’t want anyone to know he is in, even going so far as to turn down the stereo which is so loud it’s already been heard, so reducing the volume is pointless. The funniest / most ridiculous manifestation of this was when the mother returned home one day and couldn’t get in (only one set of keys, remember?) so having knocked on the door and met with no response because whoever was in didn’t want anyone to know he was, she had to call him on her mobile phone. A lovely loud argument ensued once she was finally in.
One of the boys has the curious habit of always switching on the stairs lights whenever he comes in, regardless of how much sunlight is coming in through the stairs’ windows, but he doesn’t put them on when going down. Another entertains himself by shouting out “bad boy, bad boy” and “I, A; I, A” for up to ten minutes at a time, so he’s obviously pleased by simple things.
A sequence based on time; and no, this isn’t an exaggeration.
- 20:05:17 = Bathroom Light On
- 20:05:22 = Bathroom Light Off
- 20:10:47 Three times in the same second, which means they can’t even have had time in which to let go of the cord. Yes, the switch works; no, the bathroom doesn’t disappear whenever the light goes out. How on earth do you behave when you open or close the refrigerator door?
They will also put the light on even when the early morning sunlight is streaming into the rooms, so is it an automatic response to entering that room, or some kind of religious imperative that’s even more ridiculous than the normal ones in that they have to enter a room that’s dark and be the ones to bring it light?
One of their children (the family arrived with one and another on the way, spat that out then immediately had a third just for good measure) screams his head off at every opportunity, whether on the way in coming up the stairs and screaming outside the door, or on the way out screaming outside the door and going down the stairs, whilst the numerous visitors behave in a similar fashion to the tenants and their bathroom: a handful will come up and go in, then a couple will come out and close the door, but only one will go downstairs leaving the other to turn on the spot and knock on the door to be let back in. Why did they close the door in the first place – some kind of obsession with entering rooms?
The woman living here tends to keep her lined curtains closed most of the time, even during the height of summer (then again , with the light pouring into her rooms they may get uncomfortably hot, and with her very pale skin she may be sensitive to strong light in general), but occasionally she can be glimpsed standing at a window as if to see if the real world outside still exists. She goes to work every day, and except in the hottest of weathers always wears chunky walking shoes, and when indoors (again, except in the hot weather) wears an old dressing gown, so seems to favour comfort over fashion, which is hardly wrong, as she also dresses in plain clothing of dull colours.
She seems to have absolutely no social life, as she rarely goes out and has no visitors except for tradesmen and a personal trainer whose hands she punches and licks for an hour every week.
Every weekend and her occasional days off from work, at about noon, she sits in the lounge and reads for an hour or so, with a cup of coffee and what may be a handful of chocolates, and from what can be seen of one lounge wall, which is full of bookcases, she certainly has plenty of reading material.