Category Archives: Housing

Homeless

Homelessness is a growing problem. What with refugees and economic migrants escaping into ‘safe’ countries then falling through cracks, ex-military staff, people escaping abuse, drug addicts, the list goes on and so does the list of homeless.

I once thought if I was ever about to become homeless I would use the last of my savings to buy a ticket to somewhere permanently warm and verdant, like the north of Brazil. Where I would require less clothes to sleep on a beach and be able to poach coconuts from neighbouring trees.

Apparently there is a growing list of people who may hold jobs but still not be legally living in sheltered accommodation and paying rent. Difficult conditions, especially in the northern hemisphere where, this weekend for example, the sun shone gloriously and the frost sparkled underfoot as we ran through the park. But sitting freezing in the park overnight… that may be a different story.

This weekend I got on a train and immediately thought, I need to move seats. But unfortunately, have been in Britain just long enough, my blunt SA self would not kick in to allow me to very obviously get up and move half a carriage down from a man passed out face down across two seats. He smelled vaguely of sick and someone who had not properly been (literally) face to face with hot water and soap for awhile.

What was worse was when he finally got up and started scrabbling around in his bag. We all pretended we couldn’t see him. As much as it is no doubt terrible to be stared at, perhaps it is worse when people act like there is an invisible black hole around you.

He was scrabbling for a cigarette and succeeded in lighting up a stub of very ‘fragrant’ tobacco, causing a bunch of us to choke. Still we said nothing although we all stared at each other shifty eyed. None of us looked at the Problem however. You could see us thinking, ‘Maybe he will go away soon? What if he gets violent if I ask him to stop? Is someone else going to do something?’.

In the end the Problem resolved itself in that the stub only had a few drags in it and Mr Man stumbled off the train shortly after.

But I felt embarrassed how I had handled the Condition of Being Alive. The same way I am slightly embarrassed and irritated that, after texting a man to donate to him quite a good oil heater and having someone meet him to hand it on (it’s very hard to donate electrics in the UK, they need to be safety checked and ‘normal’ people have gas/central heating with no need for oil heaters), he, who is on some dodgy verge of being homeless, although has somewhere to plug this heater in, promptly bombarded me with requests if, please, Sister Juliet (that is NOT me but the person who put me in touch with him), I had blankets and warm clothing to help him out. On top of my work place looking for help for Syria.

I have more coats than I really need. And I can say I worked hard to have them, therefore deserve them. I have enough food in my belly. I could drop a few coins a few times into a number of hats that may or may not convert to food or drink. But where does it end?Others would say, there, but for the grace of God, it could be me so should I not be sharing them? As my eyes slide over that space where ‘invisible’ lurks…

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Filed under anecdote, Housing, modern living, social

Camping tents and things

  • A one (wo)man tent does not really sleep one man but a medium sized dog, the only thing that will be able to sit upright (maybe) inside it
  • A two (wo)man tent takes two people of average size and height plus two sleeping bags and a torch and a few scattered bits and bobs. Certainly not all the other things you might need for camping. Like changes of clothes, cooking stuff, toiletries, seats, cooler boxes
  • A three  (wo)man tent will leave a gap the size of an average person to put stuff in if there are two people present. This might or might not be enough for you

Truth is it really assumes you need a car at least for all the camping bit. It is possible you can do it with less. I saw a guy camping who was also biking on a bicycle. But this meant that he was wearing the exact same clothing the next day and everything he had folded down into precise and perfect tiny squares to fit into the saddle bags.

A lot of people these days though seem to enjoy very large tents. That have multiple ‘bedrooms’ and a million guy ropes and bizarre alien footprints on the land. Some of them are, I swear, bigger than the studio flat I rented at one point. In addition to these, they extend their realm on a campsite with windbreakers, fairy lights, artificial turf (no, really, I saw a tent that had fake grass ON the grass…) Of course, I assume these tents are designed for families and there are two people minimum with enough age and dexterity (but not too much age) in order to put these things up. It is not a one man job, especially if you arrive at a site when it’s raining or windy. I would imagine one person trying to set up alone would be a fairly Charlie Chaplain moment.

I’ve been trying to work out how those circus tent things work as a result. Not the real big tops. The ones some people seem to be able to buy just to go on holiday in. I imagine some poor sod holding the central pole to the bigtop inside while another idiot runs around in circles outside pegging down the guyropes. But given these things have to stand in high winds potentially, I don’t think the central ‘mast’ is pinned just by the ropes, it must be anchored in somehow so you have confidence the big pole doesn’t thunk onto your head in the night. I’m sure there is a simple solution but I am, by nature, not a friendly person and couldn’t think of a polite reason to ask someone who owned a tent like this to explain it to me.  (I missed my opportunity with a family who had one who’s little children walked past us with mom saying, ‘no don’t go in there, that’s not our tent.’ ‘But it’s so SMALL’ I heard the child reply, ‘how is it so small?’

Out of the mouths of babes half the size of me and I was meant to fit into that tent…sigh…

 

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Filed under Holidays, Housing, social, travel

Justifications of Colonialism

I did an obscure English module on African literature. One of the books was Heart of Darkness, which was not really ‘African’ but boring as hell and written from a white patriarchal viewpoint. This was followed by Things Fall Apart which I preferred but also detested as the other extreme.

It reinforced how I generally have issues with books written about the ‘dark continent’, especially if the literature moves southwards to places and people I may recognise.

I’m just finishing Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight. I sent an interview she did to a friend of mine who hilariously pointed out how the American interviewer kept referring to her time in ‘Africa’ and she kept going ‘no, just Malawi, Zim and Zaire’. Because, of course, to many abroad, Africa is just one very large country, treating it like the old Soviet Union or China, no discrimination placed on the different tribes and cultures within the large landmass.

The book pulled at my heartstrings because she, like me, will always associate herself with Africa, no matter how long she is away. Ironically so does her father although he only moved there after meeting her mother there on a gap year. This is what the continent does to you.

Near the end of the book is the description of the Zimbabwe I heard about in my childhood, the one where people condescendingly said the country would fall apart as land was repossessed, displacing farmers and their staff, many who had been on the land for decades and knew nowhere else.

It was like Gone with the Wind all over again. The stories of how farm clinics, schools, stores were all shut as the whites had to pull out and fend for themselves leaving behind those in need they had always protected. The argument being freedom has been granted, all men are equal now. The reality that the unequal system also offered protection to those least educated, least able to support themselves. Just as you took care of your property, you took care of the assets on it.

Of course in the long run this is unfair. But so is a blanket land repossession that just displaces everyone there before and offers no protection to the weak.

I’m not sure what the solution is. How does a government manage a slow transition turning farms into cooperatives where people aren’t scared off the places they have lived for years ? How do you educate and be educated in how to manage a large farm rather than a series of sharecropping plots, where people all benefit from the prosperity of good land management and a more equal society?

Oh, there are token examples spread about but these are the exceptions not the rule. In many cases these farmlands were better sustained under their previous owners who’d had decades to learn how to manage large properties.

I worry that my country, my beloved country, could undergo a similar renaissance. And it’s not that I don’t want every man, woman, child, to have equal right to water, housing, education, a place to call home. I just don’t know how you do that fairly.

And how you explain to those receiving that it also means this gift comes with the caveat that ownership also means sacrifice. That when something truly is yours you have to be willing to suffer through the bad times too, there is no government, no baas, no guarantees to social assistance.

Because this is Africa. And these are not first world issues but tangled third world ones with generations of hate, history, oppression only slowly dissipating away.

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Filed under balance, book review, equality, Housing, learning

My Flatpack are Like My Lists

So I mentioned how I have been instructed to make a weekly to do list. To be honest, I have not done it for a fortnight. Once because I forgot and yesterday because I was depressed by the fact that I foresaw already I’m not going to achieve half of what goes on the list.

Because the damned lists go wonky in my life.

Like flatpack.

We bought a load of flatpack furniture at a certain very large store that specialises in such things. This concept does NOT exist in Africa. Where you expect furniture to be solid and arrive preassembled and carried in by three or four strong men, not you, trying to hire a van and stumbling around with a wheeled trolley thing, matching a jumbled series of item codes to random cardboard shapes in a warehouse that are miraculously meant to ‘grow’ into furniture. (Just add labour.)

We had to go to the store on a weekday to try minimise the number of rugrats. This was sort of negated because a certain demographic appeared to be using the store as free childcare while they went shopping across the car park at the supermarket. There was a serious lack of boxes but a lot of pram being pushed around the entrance areas by these people.

The flatpack has made plus one very happy in some ways. There is no space in the flat, it’s like tetris – you have to move a series of boxes to assemble and then move that item out the way to stack the next one. But he feels very male and empowered and the worst part for him and me is that occasionally he does require me to stand there and hold something up so he can drill it into place.

I think I’d be more excited by this if I was the one actually doing the assembly as I do like a good jigsaw puzzle. But he’s put off by the fact that I didn’t read the instructions on how to put the shelf support in and stuck the little metal foot in upside down. (No big deal, you just SWIVEL it the other way before inserting shelf.) He is convinced I show equally little focus when following lists or making them in order to tell him what I’m doing for the week.

Probably.

I just know the flatpack went as wonky as my lists.

Or rather the wall did. I have my suspicion the flat pack is keeping the same dimensions. Unfortunately, plus one only measured the middle of the wall. Then drilled the shelving into the return of a corner where it is now fixed for life. When we tried to fit the very top unit above this, we have found it doesn’t fit into the corner. It’s too wide. Somehow the wall narrows when you get to the top of it. So although the units may line up on the one side, they don’t on the other.

Like life.

Nothing is perfectly symmetrical.

And it doesn’t follow to plan.

 

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Filed under anecdote, balance, Housing, modern living, motivation

Third world paranoia

So we moved house (again) and just before moving there was a last van load I refused to be party to as plus one and I under the tremendous strain of moving had had an epic falling out.

I had offered to move his belongings and he had refused and thereby ended the conversation and also any desire on my side to assist in his madness by playing removals person a day after I had already completed all my moving tasks.

So he trundled off to our cute but tiny studio in the centre of the city. A studio on the ground floor, overlooking the gardens where squirrels frolic with burglar bars that span the big picture window in the bedroom.

The landlord left strict instructions to keep the bars locked (they can be concertina’d back on demand) when out. After assessing the house, I declared we should keep the key around the corner where it wasn’t visible from the window. The side windows should also remain locked and only the tiny one on the top could be left open. Barring that, no valuables were to be in grabbing distance of the side windows.

Plus one ignored me and left lots of valuables next to closed but unlocked windows through our time there.

I also complained the small top window should be open in the bathroom but shut when we leave and DEFINITELY to keep the larger side opening one not just shut but locked at all times. It is possible for a small child to clamber through the small top window or for a long arm to reach to the bigger window latch but it would become slightly more futile for them if they couldn’t open the bigger window or the security gate once inside.

Plus one ignored me and left all the windows open in the bathroom, despite the convenient planter right outside the window.

Anyways. Turns out he laid his coat down on the last trip into the flat for his belongings. He then shut the door behind him and realised his phone, the van keys and his house keys to both places were in the coat.

He was debating how to ask a stranger for the loan of their phone and force me down there to open up.

Then he realised he could reach through the small window in the bathroom which he had left open and open the bigger window and climb through.

He is not the most petite of people bless him. He also fortunately does not look much like a burglar and despite facing a park and a road, apparently noone was about due to the cold.

So he climbed through and retrieved his coat. (And left the window unlocked when he left – AGAIN, although admittedly there was nothing really to steal at this point.)

It took all my energy to not say ‘I told you so.’

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Arrival of Autumn

Footie has been posting pictures of magpies in her garden. Personally we have the squirrels. At least until we move house. I will miss them.

They are invader greys from the States and don’t tend to hibernate. Instead they fluff around outside in the garden making me wonder how many would be required to make nice fur mitts and a hat. They all look the same but I think I’ve started to spot individuals.

There is ‘normal’ squirrel who mostly acts like I have seen other squirrels do in gardens. He hops around bouncily and goes up and down the trees pausing now and again to contemplate life.

In the same bit of garden is ‘dementia’ squirrel. I believe a lot of squirrels are quite forgetful about where they bury things which is how many oak trees are planted. This little guy spent the better part of the summer frantically digging up various parts of the lawn in search of some lost treasure I never saw him find. I’m not sure WHY he was doing this either when there was an abundance of greenery at all other squirrels seemed to think was adequate eating. Now with autumn he’s been scurrying around with his cheeks stuffed full, barely able to keep the contents in place as he madly scrabbles for hiding places. Yet again, unable to settle on a location, he leaps (as far as one CAN leap with a huge mouthful of food practically bigger than one’s head) around seeking places to bury things. It usually takes about seven tries to find somewhere. I’m not sure if he thinks he’s being followed perhaps in some espionage way.

Then there is ‘parking lot’ squirrel and his friend. They tend to hang out the other side of the building where there’s very little green. They run along the top of the fences a lot and I swear I’ve seen this tough guy trying to sharpen his pearlies on the top of the metal chain link. These two seen to enjoy foraging in the bin and live on a diet of junk food and dirty water puddles in the parking area.

Either way the troop (or what is a trible/group/gathering of squirrels called collectively) are trapped in an island of green in a tiny park area. They seem quite happy and although I have seen especially parking lot squirrel try cross tarmac and under cars, natural selection dictates it’s not really wise with all the traffic.

I do wonder what happens when there are too many of them or how they deal with the slightly limited gene pool (I suspect there are at least five others I am seeing that I just THINK are the same four). But honestly, does it matter? They seem happy. Happier than me many mornings as they frolic around using their bushy tails to balance as they leap across the lawn. You can only envy their easygoing lifestyles.

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In the name of charity

So we have to move.

We got evicted over some ruckus over housing standards that someone complained about and some guy (apparently rumoured to have fled to South Africa, what a winner) having drugs in the building when they did inspection.

At least, those are the reasons we were told. What the real reasons may have been I don’t know.

All I know is we were in a guardianship programme and didn’t have actual tenancy rights. And the fool who went to council and complained is an idiot because we all received letters personally signed from a housing officer saying we could go speak to them about tenacy ‘infringements’. The biggest ‘infringement’ being eviction but what do they expect me to say to that? Because the carbuncles that are apparently us will have to move on…out of the housing officer’s path – problem solved!

Regarding the drug addict/dealer, they give regular updates when they will do inspection – it does not take a rocket scientist to HIDE THE ILLEGAL SUBSTANCES IF YOU MUST DEAL IN SUCH THINGS.

I think Peabody Estate and I have no shame in naming them now, have a lot to answer for. I have always respected their housing stock and housing standards but they really gave the 60-100 odd of us ‘protecting’ their property a bum deal. Especially given they only plan on considering development in September.

I didn’t realise how fond I was of the neighbours I try not to talk to til we had to go.

Most people on this particular site, the lady who does the viewings for the guardianship programme said, are ‘hippy professionals’. It was a very eclectic mix of people who mostly ignored each other and lived in almost harmony in, in some instances, very large spaces for pretty cheap.

We counted among that group. Which meant we somehow accumulated furniture.

Lots of furniture.

And stuff.

I am not even sure what stuff  makes up this stuff.

I just know now I need to get rid of a lot of it. And I am not alone. Apparently someone bought a treadmill then discovered he had to move. Treadmills don’t fold down small even in medium size spaces.

The rooms on offer, through no fault of their own, in order to rehouse us by the programme are generally substandard in size and location to what we had before.

So many of us will return to traditional tenancies or have to downsize. Or both.

Mostly both.

I have blogged before how I miss Africa in these instances. Furniture does not actually hit the pavement looking for some random to pick it off the kerb. You always know someone who knows someone who knows someone who needs it. Even the sofa in our house where the slats went spongy and the cushions became like crumbly cheddar cheese so when you sat on it, you sank into the middle and vanished, that found a home. The outer frame was solid wood and for some inexplicable reason our gardener wanted to cart it across a border to a new home.

In this place you can barely give the stuff away. And honestly, you are better charging people a bit for it. Or they don’t take you seriously and don’t turn up.

I live on an island. At this rate though, the landfills we are creating could be used for land reclamation.

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On Neighbourly Love

There is a window to our room that has been sealed shut. Partly because the wood is swollen. Partly because someone painted it shut. Either way, it pretty much faces onto a brick wall about a metre away but it would be nice to crack it open for some cross ventilation.

The result is a protected ledge, untouched by man for years. A small colony of pigeons has taken this area as their mansion. Aside from the cooing and chirping associated with a couple in love, there have also been a few pigeon wars with feather, wings, backsides thrust up against the opaque glass as one or the other seeks leverage.

Worse, when nesting, the bored pigeon incubating eggs tends to tap incessantly on the window for attention at odd hours of the morning.

Once the nest have hatched, you see the babies strutting obscenely as dark grey shadows due to the opacity of the glass. This is annoying but tolerable compared to when they begin to learn to fly. At this point they tend to practice flying to a pipe on the wall a metre away and back. What actually happens is they tend to crash spectacularly into the window on return, having not worked out how the brakes work. I always hope at this moment they will fall to the ground and not return but somehow they do.

The issue with ferral pigeons is they are still homing birds. They keep returning like a bunch of fools to the same area year on year. I’m currently in a war where I rattle the glass at erratic hours of the day and night when I am in, resulting in Plus One complaining I am as annoying as the birds.

My secret hope is with spring coming, I can scare mamma off the ledge long enough her eggs freeze and the dynasty ends. I am not actually sure why I want to achieve this this badly. We will have to move in awhile anyways and our room converted to an amazingly overpriced flat. With pigeons on the window. Because that’s what you want to see when you paid a fortune for  your flat. Or pigeon proofing like spikey barbed wire for leprechauns on your window sill.

Then again, if you do open the window, you are just looking out onto a brick wall so your view are a bit restricted anyhow.

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Creepy stories from the crypt

I bumped into the security guard the other day. I’m not sure how one makes a living out of being a security guard, but in all fairness it has worked for him and he has job security and somehow manages to stay in a fairly good area of town just up the road.

Apparently he was on the site before we came onboard as guardians. He knows it from before it was purchased by developers and was still operating under it’s semi-original guise before someone decided what you need to do is repurpose an old building into a completely unrelated use.

This is sort of where I miss Africa. You would just knock the whole thing down and start again with better foundations, better layout, better construction. Look at the poor Village Walk in Sandton, in many ways the precedent for Montecasino. A colourful little two storey fake ‘village’ of a shopping centre. It was always destined to do not very well or badly due to its proximity to the glowing Sandton City against which it could not compete.

Now it’s being torn down because with all the high rise buildings in the area someone deemed it the squat ugly older sister to be replaced by new and shiny.

This does not happen in England.

We are keeping the buildings where I live. Except when they are converted, I will not be able to live in them. At present they are semi-occupied with dark and dank corners where you could film the best of American style horror movies with zombies and crazed terrorists breaking through red double doors and people flee in chaos across dim lit corridors.

Turns out this is supposedly not that far from the truth. The security guard regaled me with tales of people who had committed suicide on the site. People who said they were pushed from the top of a series of spiral stairs. People who have seen shadowy figures walking up and down where noone was supposed to be. How he feels an atmosphere of pure hate along one of the corridors where a door further on led onto what was once a morgue.

And I thought my biggest problems in life were Not Greek God and the pigeons trying to breed on the window sill outside.

Now I have to worry about invaders from the spirit world…

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The Daily Wail

So I went on holiday and came back to discover that Plus One had somehow succeeded in falling UP a series of stairs, thereby breaking a lot of crockery we own. It is just as well I was feeling cheap and indecisive when I insisted we buy a mediocre but really economical set of plates and bowls because I didn’t have the gumption to make a decision on really nicely designed plates I could live with for years.

Apparently, Not-Greek-God heard Plus One fall and came and said it was his own fault for not leaving the lights on to the top flight of stairs where we live. Now, I do not like that light on. There is enough residual light through the ENORMOUS windows and the floor below without it. On encourages random strangers up the stairs to see what is behind the door at the top of it. (There are only two doors at the top, one to a toilet we keep clean and one to our ‘home’.) The light also disturbs me when I can see it on through the crack at the bottom of the door from my bed. Don’t ask but it is like every American horror movie nightmare seeing the little sliver of light.

Plus One admitted to me he fell mostly because he was shuffling round in slip slops, not because he couldn’t see. He also doesn’t really like the light on because in that building lights that go on never go off and people do just bang into your room without knocking, highly lit areas just encourage them like moths to a flame.

The thing is, he and Not-Greek-God seem to have developed some kind of a placid but intense dislike for each other. This is partly because Not-Greek-God views the kitchen next to his room as his. He doesn’t like me clattering about in it when I do dishes because I am noisy. He doesn’t like Plus One cooking with the door open because he thinks it is a fire hazard. He also resents Plus One turning him down when he tried to borrow some stuff off us.

We are not that fond of Not-Greek-God either. He has been known to leave the stove and oven on and unsupervised for undetermined but extensive lengths of time, with no sign he plans on cooking or returning. He does clean up his dishes but will not fish out anything he drops into the plug hole. He also seems oblivious to food he drops on the stove/counter/floor. When making dolmades for example, you will find scatterings of dried rice grains like shrivelled up maggots for days after on the countertop.

We also suspect he may be the person who sometimes uses the toilet but doesn’t always grasp flushing or not dribbling on the seat.

This has resulted in a rather ridiculous standoff.

Despite the fact that I have taken to leaving on an additional light halfway up the stairs in the evenings only that supplies enough light for anyone of normal eyesight, someone keeps switching on the light to our landing. At all sorts of funny hours of the night.

We switch it off. Someone switches it on. It is tiresome because if we go away for a few days now, it is quite clear we are not there and you can try break in because there is noone playing on/off light games with you.

It’s bizarre but annoying. A sort of silent warfare. I’m just hoping it sticks to just this. Because the next step is where he tries to do us in for breaking some house rule and have us evicted and we try convince the powers that be he smokes in his room (because I have a high suspicion he does).

(PS old letterpress people, I can’t figure out how to put a post on the original converted wordpress account they transferred our work to or how to access it)

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