I worked for fifty years in Hackney and Havering on Council estates as a plumber. Like everybody else Council tenants are of all kinds of people: loud, selfish, helpful, timid, stupid and clever and I nearly forgot the rich and poor. Some have disgusted me when they were screaming abuse at their partners or children. Others made me laugh and even a couple have reduced me to tears. All of which makes up the rich pageantry of life. Here are a few anecdotes.
The unseen effects of poverty A few years ago, a tenant’s child blocked their toilet with a toilet roll. But rather than call me, she waited until the pan was brim full then, came up with a cunning plan She decided to scoop out the contents with an old saucepan. She carried the contents through her flat, across lobby area into the chute room, and chucked the contents down the communal rubbish chute. The first I knew of this was when a neighbour came to the office and complained vociferously about her. I took both caretakers with me. As we approached the third floor the stench told me the complaint was genuine. I knocked and knocked at her flat door until she finally opened it. I asked for some explanation and she openly admitted to her action. Going on to say she was frightened that she would have to pay to get her toilet cleared. The pan took me minutes to clear. We didn’t charge for the steam cleaning of the chute which was very expensive. The price of ignorance!
Mental health A new tenant came to live on the estate and as usual I knocked at his door to welcome him and give him our welcome pack. This consisted of a broom, mop, bucket and various cleaning products etc.
“What’s that for?” He asked.
“It’s to help you keep your flat clean,” I suggested. He was a single man in his mid-fifties, so I wondered why the Council had placed him in one of our two bedroomed flats.
“I won’t be needing that rubbish,” he said, “as I don’t do any cleaning.” Then he volunteered, “I’m a paranoid schizophrenic, and you can’t make me clean.” Social services provided him with a cleaner, but he frightened her so much that within weeks she refused to clean for him.
The evils of drugs A young mum with two daughters of nine and thirteen came to the office to complain. She accused the eighteen year old son of another single parent that he was supplying drugs to her thirteen year old in exchange for sex. When I advised her to report the matter to the police, she astonished me with her reply. “Well if she gets pregnant can she have a flat here on this estate?”
Aspirational In stark contrast a very respectable family took up residence. The father went to work five a.m. He didn’t return until seven or, eight at night. His wife worked part time. Their teenage son, who attended our local senior school, is very bright and did well in his ‘A’ levels. He’s currently attending a top class university.
Comradery Following years of the so-called Austerity programme by this Tory Government poverty is rife on the estate. The bedroom tax is a huge financial burden. Many single parent families are in the same boat. Ironically we have noticed a some of the war time comradery return, with friends helping out those in desperate need. A few years ago, one young mum came into the office to complain that she had bed bugs. I contacted our pest control people, who came back to me saying the woman’s flat was filthy and he would not work there until the place was cleaned up. Since the woman herself was telling everyone, how the contractor had judged her skills at housekeeping, I was surprised, when three or four of the other young mum’s got together and cleaned the flat for her.