One of my most horrifying experiences came about when I was called out to a routine job. I was told to replace a cast iron rain water pipe, at Lea View House in the Clapton area of Hackney. I pulled onto the estate, at the central hall, and went looking for the caretaker. When we met, he was agitated. A tenant had reported a horrible smell coming from one of the flats. The caretaker had unsuccessfully tried to make contact. I had a big ladder with me and I offered to look through the flat window. He helped me to erect the ladder, which was a bit of a beast, and so I was grateful for that. I wasn’t grateful for what happened next.
A fan light window was left open in the bedroom, which was unfortunate, as about a billion flies seemed to live in the flat. With an old rag across my face I climbed up to the fanlight window reached over and opened the casement latch. Then I climbed into the flat. The tenant was on his bed. He wasn’t the first dead person I’d seen, but the sight remains with me to this day. He was a mass of maggots, wriggling out of his eyes, nose ears and mouth. I could see that his body fluids had seeped out through the bedding into a large puddle under the bed. It was a horrifying sight. His skin appeared to be black but I don’t think he was actually black. I opened the front door for the caretaker, who was promptly sick.
I told him that all the windows had to be opened, before he went to the telephone box at the entrance to the estate. I told him to call the police. “Fuck the, police,” he said. “I’m going home for a whisky. Do you want to join me?”
He repeated time and time over – ‘Cabbages and Kings’. ‘That smell, that smell’. I’d have happily drunk beer, but he only had whisky and I was driving. Either you know the smell or you don’t, but once you’ve been in a room with a decaying body, you won’t forget it.