Sunday, October 18, 2020

Kind Friends

A long time ago, when our children were small, we had a fantastic childminder called Valeria. We were so lucky to find her; she was like a second Mum to our two little girls, and we were really delighted when she met her husband-to-be, Gyuri, who we called George. George worked as a carpenter, builder, painter and decorator: he could do any of those things. 

Valeria is Hungarian, and was brave enough to come to England on her own to work as a nanny. Gyuri came from a part of Slovakia where Hungarian was spoken, and things were difficult there for people like him. London should have been a haven for them both but British people (particularly the authorities) can be very cruel. Not everything was easy for them.

I was working full time, and so was my ex husband. For the first time, it looked as though we might be able to have some sort of future. Our daughters had just started school, and we could both work to support our family. 

We were social housing tenants, and some very odd people lived above us. They allowed their children to play on the roof, from where they showered knives, forks, toys, rubbish and at one point a washing up bowl full of soapy water into our garden. Their boys were very young, and there was no safety barrier. We could hear the man watching TV while the boys were playing up there, or we could hear the two adults chanting (they were Buddhists), while their young children caused mayhem upstairs.

One day I came home from work and my father-in-law was standing in the street. The Housing Officer was hanging about, looking anxious. Valeria had taken our daughters to her house. My father-in-law was shaking his head in despair: they were carting stuff from the inside of our house into the front garden.

Upstairs had gone out and left their bath tap running; the bath had overflowed all day long and completely flooded our house. I went inside: there was foul brownish rain pouring through the ceilings, both up stairs and basement. Most of it was pooling on our daughters' beds. The previous upstairs tenants had had a little dog that messed on their floors, and that was all added to the mix of water, plaster dust, years of dirt and whatever else. 

Our cat was running around, shocked. 'Make it stop!', she miaowed.

Valeria brought the girls round. 'Call the police!" shouted the oldest one. We picked up some night clothes and went to stay with their grandparents, for one night only, because this was Camberwell and any disaster was always compounded by thieves who prowled round looking for opportunities like flooded houses from where they might steal people's belongings and basically, hit them when they were down.

So we lived in all that muck. We had to explain to our girls what had happened. Up till then, we had been able to make everything all right for them, regardless of what went on around us. We didn't have a lot of money but we had a lot of love for them; we had books, good family, and optimism. The girls could not understand how such a horrible thing could have happened when we tried as a family so hard to be positive and happy. It was the first time that they had seen something happen that was utterly out of control in the heart of our home.

The wind had left our sails. We could see our upstairs neighbours swaggering around in the street; they gave no apology, though they must have know exactly the destruction that they had wreaked on our household: the front garden was piled with ruined wood, torn-up kitchen lino and stained, wet things from our house. Lots of things were taken away to be dried out. A loss adjustor came round and calculated that we had lost only £500 worth of stuff (though we challenged that successfully later on). The kitchen ceiling had collapsed and had to be repaired by the housing association; the kitchen table and chairs had absorbed a day's worth of hot water, and are still green with mould under their new varnish to this day. 

But most of the water had ended up in the girls' bedroom, their safe place, soaking into their mattresses and the big rug we had bought to cover up the beige lino as soon as we had enough money. Water streaked up the walls where torrents had poured down into their basement room via the kitchen. Duvets, bedding, my granny's bed from America (one of the few bits of furniture we had that had any sort of meaning), all soaked through to its core.

Valeria and Gyuri are loving people and they felt our pain, especially because of what had happened to our children. They offered to repaint the girls' room, and soon it was renewed and glowing a bright and happy yellow. Something proactive and positive like that changed the mood of despair that we had been feeling. By that one act of kindness, they overrode the sheer unfairness of what had happened. More importantly, they taught our girls that the world outside the family does not consist of unkind and heartless people, but also good and kind people to.

Gyuri died suddenly a few weeks ago, and I know how much Valeria and he loved each other. I have written this as a memorial to him and to say to Valeria just how much we love her, and how we feel the pain of the loss to her and her sons, just a much as she and Gyuri felt our pain all those years ago. Life can bring us so many cruel things, but kindness is priceless. 

Thank you so much Valeria and Gyuri for being such loving people.

No comments: