Wednesday, 24 October 2012


Usual start to a day when you just want to stay in bed because of the pain ... window cleaners and a phone call.  Probably lamb chops at the weekend followed by some rather old red kidney beans were not quite the right thing for my delicate intestinal system.

I hate window cleaners - you have no way of knowing if they are doing it right and whilst they are doing the windows you can't do anything or move around the house because you know they'll be looking into whichever room you want to be in.  And you can hear out of place banging and knocking as they move their ladders from wall to wall, I just want them to go away.

You might be thinking that the above sounds a little paranoid, but when we (the children and I) lived on the estate in Sheffield odd bangs and knocks usually meant that something was being stolen from the garden or that one of our windows was about to have a brick come though it.  When I left my first husband the Council initially housed me on the 11th floor of a tower block on Norfolk Park.  The views through those windows were wonderful, across Sheffield towards the Hallamshire Hospital and Derbyshire beyond.  You could always see when it was going to rain as the cloud came down the valley first and then spread out over the city. On Bonfire Night we got the advantage of everyone else's fireworks.  Once you had reached the flat, through the grotty entrance halls and up the smelly lift, it did feel safe.  I had lots of locks on the door and of course all the windows were hundreds of feet up and facing outwards so no-one could look into them or damage them. 

Unfortunately the Court Welfare Officer decided that the flat was not a suitable place to bring up two small children (four going on five and seven at the time).  She did support my appeal to the Council for a house, but the rules were that someone in my position was only given one offer and if you didn't accept it you went to the bottom of the list.  Of course I wanted to have the children living with me full time instead of with their grandparents so I couldn't be picky about where we lived.  They offered me a three bedroom semi on the Manor.  I used to say if the house had been just half a mile further towards Intake things would have been so much better.  It wasn't the distance we had to walk to school, that was actually quite a nice steady walk even in the winter, although when the children moved up to secondary school it was a long drag when it rained.  We had some lovely snow a couple of winters and when the schools were closed we went sledging on Netto carrier bags on the field between our estate and the Woodthorpe.  It was the people in the surrounding houses, especially the children.  My two didn't go to the same primary school as the other kids on the estate, they were able to continue at the one in Intake that they had started when they lived at their grandparents, that was one of the non-negotiable bits of my housing request.  It was a decent school and fed to the City Secondary School, one of the better ones in that part of Sheffield. 

It didn't take long to realise that the family next door was one of those notorious "Families from Hell", they were even going to feature them on Panorama but the local priest couldn't get anyone else to appear on the programme with him to condemn them - we were all too worried about our safety.  Small things to start with, kids running though the hedges under my windows banging on them, graffiti on the side of the house, name calling and stone throwing in the streets.  Later it ramped up to a constant stream of broken windows, plants going missing from garden or just being pulled up, thrown around and trampled, and actual assaults on myself and the kids.  When I started seeing my current OH he fitted perspex to all the downstairs windows so that the bricks would bounce off.  We lived there for ten years.  There was no-where else to go with no savings and only a part time job.  The old Manor estate is flat now, they demolished it around us in 2003/4.  At one point the thieves took the slates from the empty house adjoining ours - it was only a matter of time until the rain started coming in.  I was holding out for the cash pay off - it helped pay my share of the deposit on the house in Barnsley.  The day we moved out the thieves broke in and stripped out the copper pipes and the hot water tank while we were between one van load and the next.  The police did nothing.

Oddly I remember the old residents differently, I had some decent conversations at the bus stop with local elderly people.  One lady told me how she'd met her late husband whilst serving in the Land Army in the Second World War, she wasn't from Sheffield, she'd married him and moved to his home town.  An old chap told me how he'd lived on the Manor since it was built and his family was moved there from Attercliffe.  How the houses were palaces compared to the dirty terraces near the steel works, but how there were no nearby shops or schools for years and how the men had to travel long distances back to work in Attercliffe which cost money they hardly could afford. 

How did decent people like that manage to have such delinquent grandchildren? The mass unemployment of the 1980s maybe, fathers and young men who lost self respect, who had nothing to do, nowhere to go, who were no longer good role models to their children.  The benefits culture, which meant that getting temporary work was worse than none at all after you'd filled in all the forms, worked the waiting days finally got some money, only to discover you had now lost your rent rebate, your free prescriptions, glasses and dental treatment, and were actually worse off. Only to lose the job after a couple of months when there was no work left and have to fill all the forms in again, serve the waiting days, wait for anxious weeks for the rent rebate to catch up again and watch the bills mounting up.  My first husband was sent on a scheme when my son was small.  They trained him for six months to be a joiner.  It took my second husband two years apprenticeship and City and Guilds training to become a joiner.  No wonder the only people who would employ my first husband afterwards were fly by night shopfitters and firms with short term rush jobs on.  While he was on the scheme we were £10 a week worse off after travel expenses and with the loss of benefits - that's a lot when your income is only £80 - I wrote to my MP about it.  All he could say was that the effort was worth making as my husband would have a trade afterwards - try telling that to the electric board or the housing association wanting their rent.  We were actually saved by my second child, my daughter, arriving part way through the time period of the scheme.  The extra child benefits made a huge difference.  So although I don't agree with people with large families living on the state I can see that you have to be really stubborn, proactive and knowledgeable about your rights and benefits to fight your way out of the rut. 

Feeling a bit better now, the pain killers must be working.  I'll give getting up a shot ...

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