There was quite a serious incident down my road Friday night/Saturday morning, which has left myself and my neighbours angry, scared, and frustrated. I live in a very nice street. It’s a short, no-through road made up of early Edwardian houses. My neighbours are lovely, kind, law-abiding people who disturb no one and do nothing but contribute to the road and the town I live in. I’ve lived in my house a very long time, I moved in September 1991 so almost thirty years. I love my home, I love the road, and I love my town, and up until a few years ago everything was fine.
Then a large block of very ugly flats was built at the bottom of our road and things started to go wrong. Now I’m sure most of the residents in these flats are perfectly nice, peaceful people who are as sick of the ever escalating situation as we are, but, it only takes one bad apple to rot the whole barrel, and there are individuals who have been placed in social housing accommodation within these flats who – to put it bluntly – do not give a damn about anyone and seem incapable of basic empathy and respect for anyone else but themselves.
These individuals do not work, so don’t mind being awake until the small hours partying in the street with loud music, shouting, and bad language. Why should they care? They can sleep in next day. It’s only people like me who have to be up at 6am for work in the morning – that lay there, wide-eyed and angry, until the party goers decide to go to bed at 4am and switch off their music – who pay the price. Dragging yourself out of bed after a scant two hours of sleep and then having to go and do a full day’s work is no joke.
Then there are the loud arguments conducted at the tops of their voices on their balconies or even in the street. Truly epic encounters worthy of the Jerry Springer Show in which every tiny, sordid detail is shared with one and all. And yes, Britney, I think your mum is right, you can do better than him and he is a prick for sleeping with your best friend, and frankly, my dear, I think you should take a long hard look at your life choices.
There were the catcalls, leers, and inappropriate comments made to my teenage daughter as she walked past in her in her school uniform!
But just lately the episodes have escalated in seriousness. During lockdown, we were all out on our doorsteps in our dressing gowns watching in open-mouthed disbelief as someone in the flats proceeded to throw all of his belongings out of his second floor window to smash on the pavement below, culminating in him throwing half full pots of paint at the house opposite. The police came. He pulled a knife on them and was hurriedly restrained and carted away. Good, we thought, that’s him gone, there’s no way the council will send a clearly deranged individual back to live amongst innocent citizens. We were wrong. Not three days later he was back. To say we were concerned would be an understatement, especially when we were informed, he is a convicted drug dealer.
Then last night happened. We’ve been experiencing a heatwave these last few days, so sleeping is difficult and people are on edge, to say the least. Everyone has their windows wide open and of course sounds travel further at night. At about 11:30pm I heard very loud music, shouting, and laughter coming from the flats. I rolled my eyes and ignored it. To be honest, I’m used to it. There was a lot more shouting, then a very noisy departure in a taxi accompanied by cries of “night babe”, and I assumed that was an end to it. About midnight as I was just about to go to bed there came a knock at my front door. Alarmed, I inquired who it was – “police” – came the reply. I quickly opened the door to find a big burly chap in uniform standing there saying there had been a fight of some kind at the flats and had I seen or heard anything? I told him I’d heard the sounds of a party but hadn’t witnessed a fight of any kind. He thanked me, apologised for disturbing me at such a late hour, and left.
I thought that was an end to it, but the night was still young.
It was too hot to sleep, so I lay on my bed reading and wishing it would cool down. Both my bedroom windows were wide open trying to catch any breeze there was. About 12:30am I heard a strange sound. You know when you’re a child and you run a stick along railings to make that lovely clack, clack, clack sound? Well, it was like that. Then a heard a voice outside my house, in the street below, shouting – “come out to play!”
Seriously freaked out, I put my book down and listened. He said it again – it was proper clown in the sewer time – and I slipped out of bed and peered around the edge of my curtain. There was a young man in the street below, roaming up and down the road, peering into the gardens of the houses opposite. He went to the large gate that leads into the flats and ran something along it, producing that clack, clack sound I’d heard earlier, then he turned and in the glare from the streetlight I saw he had a knife.
I was stunned. Not what you expect to see on a nice street in a sleepy little rural market town. He prowled – there’s no other word for it – up and down the road some more, tossing the knife from hand to hand. I got the feeling he was looking for someone. I quickly hurried downstairs to get a phone, but by the time I got back up to my window and peered out again, I could hear my next door neighbour at her window on her phone talking to someone in a low voice and giving an account of what was happening. Plainly she was talking to the police. I thought there was no point both of us calling, so I watched to see what would happen next.
And what happened next was truly appalling. By the time the police came, he had of course hidden the knife somewhere. The police spoke to him for five minutes telling him to calm down – never, in the history of time, has anyone calmed down by being told to – he got right in their faces, denied having a knife, and kept screaming that he would f*****g kill all the neighbours who kept calling the police on him. He’d kill them all! And what did the police do? Absolutely nothing. They sent him back into his flat and went away.
This has left everyone in the street reeling in shock. We feel vulnerable, let down, and scared. There is a knife wielding, drug dealing, abusive and aggressive individual living mere feet away from where we live with our families. He has threatened to kill us, and the response of the police to our complaints – “he has rights as well”. Of course, he has rights, we all have rights, but surely, he forfeits those rights by behaving this way. Does he have the right to carry a knife in a public street? Does he have the right to sell drugs on our road bringing all kinds of undesirables knocking on our doors trying to find him – I kid you not, this happens frequently – does he have the right to threaten to harm others?
What about our rights? Do we not have the right to undisturbed nights? Do we not have the right to not be subjected to violent behaviour and threats of personal harm? Do we not have the right to be able to live peacefully in our own homes without feeling vulnerable or scared? Do we not have the right to feel our children are safe?
Whose rights are the greater here?
Below is a poem taken from “Eclairs for Tea and other stories”. It was written many years ago, but I feel reflects the mood.
There’s a domestic at number 21.
This is a quiet street, a nice street,
Implacable in its middle-class restraint
Until the raised voices, the slamming doors,
The language, become too much
Even for its normally apathetic residents,
And the lights go on, up and down the street.
There’s a domestic at number 21.
Roused from sleep, windows are raised,
And women peer, clutching nighties to chests.
Their husbands going one step further,
Letting down their individual drawbridges,
They lurk in uncertain belligerence on doorsteps,
And comments are made, up and down the street.
There’s a domestic at number 21.
Like a pebble thrown into a pond its ripples spread,
As for the briefest of moments
The street is shaken from its normal façade,
Its everyday sameness, to bond
In mutual, nightwear-clad outrage,
And residential unrest, up and down the street.
There was a domestic at number 21.
When the police finally arrived,
As usual twenty-three minutes too late,
All had settled into an uneasy peace.
Slowly, reluctantly, people retreated indoors,
The moment over, nothing more to see,
And the kettles went on, up and down the street.
This aside, it has been a strange, stressful, and generally frustrating week. Work has been interesting. I truly thought we wouldn’t be busy, that because we are still in the grip of a pandemic and supposedly having to be sensible and limit trips out to essential ones only, buying a new bed would be the last thing on people’s minds. I couldn’t have been more wrong. They have been crowding into our shop, and sales have been on a par with our busiest periods in the January sales. It is surreal and stressful, having to deal with so many people after three months of being quiet at home with only Miss F for company.
I’d forgotten what it’s like as well, trying to juggle things and fit everything into days off. During lockdown, if I didn’t get something done one day there was always the next, and the next, and the next, there was so much time to be squandered. Now, I’m back to time being a precious and finite commodity.
On Monday I came home to find an official looking letter from H.M. Revenue & Customs. Oh ho, I thought, now what?! But I opened it to find I had a totally unexpected tax refund to come. Not huge, only £195, it is nevertheless a lovely surprise. Eagerly, I read the letter. I had two choices. Do nothing and a cheque would be sent to me in two to three months. Hmm. And the other choice? Apply online using their simple service and have it paid into my account within five days. Okay, no brainer really, I’ll do that.
Only, it wasn’t simple, of course it wasn’t. To start with, I had to log on using my Gateway User ID and password. You what? Yep, apparently just answering a heap of security questions to prove my identity isn’t good enough anymore, you have to be registered to use this service the once to claim the money that they owe you. I went through the whole rigmarole, which involved me running all over the house finding my latest P60, my national insurance number, my bank account details, the exact amount of my last tax credit payment – agghh, just give me my fecking money! Eventually, after over forty-five minutes of hair pulling frustration, I made it through to the final screen and clicked claim. The screen blinked at me, then a message flashed up – “unfortunately, you cannot use the online claim system at the moment”. What?! Do you mean to tell me I went through all of that and I still can’t claim?!
Disgusted with life, I logged out and left it a day. I tried again Wednesday and again Friday. Both times I got through the process quickly – being a pro at it now – but each time got the same message. Finally, I googled it and found that HMRC has a serious technical issue at the moment, meaning that no one can claim their tax refunds. It’s been like that for months apparently. Umm, just a suggestion HMRC, well, a couple of suggestions actually, put a message on the first screen telling people this so we don’t waste our lives going through a process that’s doomed to failure from the outset. And, secondly, pull your finger out and get this fixed!
I have a sneaking suspicion that HMRC have spent all our money on gloves and masks, so the kitty is empty and they’re stalling for time. Oh well, I’ll keep trying to claim and I’m sure I’ll eventually get the money, but sooner rather than later would have been nice.
It’s my dad’s birthday today and I spoke to my mother Wednesday morning trying to establish what he would like for a present, and what, if anything, we would be doing to celebrate it. Something outdoors obviously, because although I’m allowed to spend all day indoors in close proximity to dozens of germ-infested strangers, I’m not able to be indoors with my parents. Although, I guess the fact that I AM spending all day in close proximity to germ-infested strangers is a very good reason why I SHOULDN’T get too close to my parents!
I was informed he needed new jeans. I was given his waist and leg measurements. I was instructed to make sure I bought a pair that “had a bit of stretch in the seating area” – in other words, dad jeans – and we decided a BBQ would be the safest option. I suggested Saturday as that gave me time to prepare for it. One look at the weather forecast made us realise that neither Saturday nor Friday were good choices as it was set to pour down with rain both those days. That left Thursday, the next day!
The rest of Wednesday was spent tidying the garden, cleaning the barbecue, scrubbing the kitchen and downstairs toilet so they could use it if necessary, and writing a shopping list. Next day I hit Tesco at 8:30am. I was lucky, I got straight in and whizzed about the one-way system, only getting it a little bit wrong this time. Flew home, unpacked the shopping, then shot up to Marks & Spencer which is THE place to buy dad jeans from.
I was against the clock. My parents were coming at 3pm but I also had to take Miss F to college for an 11:40am appointment to clear out her locker of all her belongings prior to the summer break. Bearing in mind its contents have been sitting in there for over three months, in a heatwave, and that the contents consisted of goat pee and poop splattered tunic and work boots, the situation was kind of urgent.
I reached Marks & Spencer – a huge queue snaked away from the door. Bugger, I thought. I wasn’t even sure if their clothing department was open yet, and seeing an assistant supervising crowd control, I asked her. Absolutely, she replied, and if you only want the clothing department you don’t have to join this queue, which is for the food hall, but can go straight in the side door and up the stairs. I thanked her and bypassed all those patiently queuing, feeling the eyes and the suppressed mutters as I apparently queue-jumped.
Upstairs in the men’s department it was like the Marie Celeste, not a soul in sight, which suited me just fine. Rummaging through the piles of jeans on display I found a pair in classic pale blue denim, the right size, and with stretch easy-fit which meant they wouldn’t be too snug where you didn’t want them to be. I’d also been told that he needed more talc, which was downstairs in the ladieswear department – of course it was, after all it would be too sensible to have gents toiletries with menswear – so down the stairs I trotted. Found his talc and went to pay. The queue for the tills was enormous, stretching back past the shoe department. Ah ha, I thought, let’s be clever and quickly pop back upstairs and pay there, because I really don’t have the time to waste. Mindful of the clock ticking, and Miss F’s five-minute appointment that she couldn’t, under any circumstances, miss.
I dashed back up the stairs. But you know what it’s like, sometimes you can be too clever for your own good. There wasn’t a single till open in menswear. Instead signs helpfully informed me I would have to go downstairs to ladieswear to pay. Gritting my teeth against a sudden, inexplicable urge to scream and bang my forehead on the counter, I rushed back downstairs. Only to find in the two minutes I’d been gone, the queue had grown from enormous to ginormous and now stretched all the way to the escalators! Damn, I really should tell myself to shut up sometimes.
Leaving Marks & Spencer, I had a few minutes left on the clock and a few pennies left in the birthday budget so popped into a little artisan beer shop that has just re-opened. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a shopkeeper so happy to see me. The shop was deserted, and he practically fell on me as I rushed in and explained I needed a couple of bottles of birthday beer for my dad who loves mild beer. He had two bottles of mild left in the whole shop and explained they’d been having problems getting supplies in.
Presents all bought, I dashed home and threw them at Miss F with terse orders to quickly wrap them whilst I put steaks into marinade, then we jumped in the car and made the two minute drive to college so she could collect her stuff. I waited outside as instructed, and when she came out with the bag, I could smell her belongings before she even got in the car.
“Where shall I put these?” she asked.
“In the garden,” I growled, trying to breathe through my mouth and winding down the window.
Why do people think barbecues are an easy meal? They’re not. The amount of food prepping involved makes them very labour intensive, but everything was done in time, and the afternoon went well – apart from the barbecue filling the garden with smoke! Dad loved his presents and drank both the bottles of beer.
So now it’s Saturday morning and another week has rolled around. After a very fraught night when I’ll be honest, I didn’t get much sleep, I dragged myself out of bed and came downstairs to find a pile of cat puke in the middle of the dining room carpet, and not one, but two, cat turds on the kitchen floor complete with a garnish of cat litter and a belligerent cat glaring at me.
That was it! I’d had enough. I cleaned everything up, took the recovery vest off her, put her collar back on, and unlocked the cat flap. The wound is more-or-less healed, and I simply can’t tolerate it anymore. I know some people keep their cats in by choice and my question to them is how do you bear it? The stink of cat shit and piss, the disgusting job of cleaning out litter boxes, of having to keep doors and windows shut fast in a heatwave, and the whole having to deal with an angry cat who is extremely frustrated at being a prisoner and gets claw happy with the furniture (and us) by way of protest.
We opened the door. She was free after four weeks of lockdown! Out she bounded. Prowled around the garden twice, then promptly came back inside and went to sleep on the floor. I think there was a principle involved.
And now, I just want to have a precious, few hours of my days off to actually rest. Although the kitchen needs cleaning, again, there’s a week’s worth of ironing to do, and dinner needs sorting. Sigh. A woman’s work is never, ever done!
That’s all my news for the week, so wherever you are – stay safe, stay healthy, and stay happy.