Monday, August 07, 2017

A Memory

Back in the day, I had a full-time job as an academic and two children under five. It took and hour and a half to get to work and the same back again; because South London was so volatile, there would be fights on the bus (usually someone unable to pay their fare), people would refuse to get off, and the conductor or driver would make all of the passengers disembark while they called the police. You'd have to wait for the next bus, and everyone would try to stuff themselves on to that, another fight would ensue, and so on. I used to be so tired that often I fell asleep standing up on the platform at Kennington tube station staying away from the edge so that if I fell over I wouldn't end up on the tracks.
We lived in a housing association maisonette with a family upstairs who didn't look after their kids. Their little boys would climb on to the roof while the parents were otherwise engaged, and throw knives and forks, their toys, and once a bowlful of dirty washing-up water into the garden below. It was very dangerous- I don't think there was a parapet. When we spoke to the parents, they would tell off the boys, not themselves, and that was difficult to listen to from downstairs. They were so rowdy that when they slammed their front door, things used to jump off our walls- including my old Hofner bass guitar which ended up with a smashed-in jack socket and had to be repaired.
I got back from work one day to find my father-in-law and the housing officer in the street. The child- minder had taken the Offsprogs to her house because the family upstairs had left a bath tap running and gone out for the day, which meant that our maisonette below had completely flooded. Filthy water was pouring into the kitchen from the ceiling and from there down through the kitchen floor into the Offsprogs' bedroom and on to their toys, books, beds and clothes. The central heating had come on to compensate and the cat was running around pleading for someone to stop it from raining inside. It was an absolute downpour of reddish-brown, stinky water: it looked like hell and it was a terrible shock to come back from work and see that home wasn't home any more.
We could only spend one night away because there were so many burglaries in that neighbourhood we knew that if we left the house for any longer, people would just break in and strip out the rest of our belongings that hadn't been ruined by the flood from above. It is the worst thing for a child to have their safe place, their bedroom, destroyed; the children were distraught. The loss adjusters took almost everything away to dry it out (we found it hard to get some of the stuff back from them) and a lot of things were so badly soaked that they just had to be thrown away.
In a day, a flood can do an incredible amount of damage.
We moved back into the wet mess and lived there while the ceilings were re-plastered and the lino replaced on the kitchen floor. Our lives were dusty, gritty and damp for weeks afterwards. Our lovely childminder and her husband repainted the Offsprogs' room for them. There was a huge pile of damaged belongings in the front garden, and each day we tripped around the rescued things drying out in the house.
The people upstairs never apologised or even acknowledged the destruction they had caused.
Funny to think of this now; I'm listening to some old music from back then and it has called the whole experience back into existence.
Now it needs to go back into the cupboard and be covered up by a better memory.

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