About Me

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I'm 57 years old, working full time, wife, mother and grand mother, wishing that I wasn't working full time! I love and enjoy our children and grandchildren, our dogs and cat, our garden and allotment. I love crafts - knitting, sewing, crocheting, patchwork and restoring old furniture. I love to go to country auctions and love thinking that I've got my self a bargain!

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Like a herd of elephants!

Hello All,

Gosh it's cold here today - the suns out but it is bitterly cold. But no snow yet thank goodness. I've put a stew in the slow oven today - it's 'stew' type of weather isn't it?.

The kitchen is 3/4's of the way done now - I shall be so glad to get back straight and all back to normal and hopefully then I can start to think about going out in the garden and getting work done out there once more.

Work around the house and home is never ending isn't it?

Now the next instalment of my working life - I moved on to Customer Service but only for a short while - probably only 18 months. The council that I worked for by this time were flat broke and had no money for repairs to our properties. it was quite demoralising having to keep telling customers that they couldn't have their repairs undertaken or that we weren't letting properties because we couldn't afford to do the repairs on them to bring them up to a decent state for someone to move into.

It was the time that this country seriously started taking asylum seekers in the 1990's  and this council saw the asylum seekers as another form of income from the government so they turned over as much high rise flatted accommodation as they could for asylum seekers only.

Personally I would say that the first asylum seekers were genuinely unable to return to their own country but as we took more and more of them - it was obvious that they saw this country as a easy touch.

When they came to us, we provided them with a flat which was carpeted throughout, with curtains and then they had their own bedroom with bed, wardrobe and chest of drawers along with all bedding provided - in the lounge we provided a 3 piece suite and coffee table and in the kitchen there was a cooker, fridge and washer along with all the cooking implements that they needed. Then they got money on top of all this for food and energy  - they were unable to work as until they had been given 'leave to stay' by the Home Office, as they didn't have an N.I. number.

Once they were accepted as genuinely seeking asylum here by the home office then we stopped all the special payments and they had to claim job seekers allowance and we threw them out of the properties and made them homeless! The properties were specifically for asylum seekers - once accepted, they were out of the properties and had to wait for a normal property the same as everyone else did. Mind it could take the government up to 5 years to decide if they were genuine or not, so some were sitting pretty all that time.

One day I was on front desk and an asylum seeker came in - he said 'I vant anuk' I must have looked at him a little puzzled because he said 'anuk, anuk' I thought oh we've got one here!. So I said to him 'What do you want anuk for?' He walked over to the wall and said 'I vant anuk for tea towel' and proceeded to show me how he was going to hook his tea towel onto a hook.

I thought you cheeky blighter, haven't we given you enough and now you want a hook fitting for your tea towel!

So I said to him - you know that big shop down the road that's called Wilkinsons and he nodded yes, I continued 'Well, if you go down there, you'll be able to find a stick-on hook that you can buy and put up yourself' ( I put a lot of emphasise on the word 'you') You'd have thought that I'd hit him with a big stick, for the look on his face and he said in a high pitched voice  'Me, Me buy' and I said Yes the council hasn't got the money to run round and stick a hook up for you! I got an 'Oh' in response and off he trot.

If I had a pound for every time that I had a customer come in for a new toilet seat to be fitted by the council then I would have been able to retire even earlier. They would come in and say I need a new toilet seat fitted and I would say that's your responsibility and you'd get 'But it's a council house and I would say it's quite clearly stated in your tenancy agreement that toilet seats are the responsibility of the tenant. You'd get again 'But it's a council house! and I'd think yes and it's your backside that's going to sit on it! then you'd get 'Don't the council fit them' and I would smile sweetly and say' No we don't - Wilkinsons is down the road though and they sell them' ( I must have directed so many to Wilkinsons that I should have had a share in the profits!)

One day Ian and I were standing in reception as a woman walked in and from a few feet away shouted 'Here, an you can ave that!' as a dead rat came flying through the air, it landed on the front desk and skidded to a thud against the computer keyboard. It turned out that she'd got rats which of course was the councils fault! Ian removed the offending animal and I got my disinfectant spray out and cleaned everything down.

The best of it was that we were working in little wooden huts so that we were local to the area, the huts had been put up 20 years earlier and we'd been told then that they were for a couple of years whilst the council found other local offices - it never happened and 20 years on we were still offering a council service from these huts. The huts were dire as a working environment - you froze in the winter and roasted in the summer. We already had rats under the office that the disinfestation team couldn't clear, no matter how much poison they put down. If I was first in on a morning I would turn the alarm off and then jump my way up and down the office like a kangaroo to scare off any rats that may have got in over night. I've always been a 'big' girl so it used to sound like a heard of elephants was passing through. Ian caught me one morning and said 'What the bloody hell are you doing' and I said 'scarring any rats off' Ian replied 'I should think you've done that and deafened them in the process!'

I used to complain that I had an upset stomach each Monday evening and that it must have been something in the office that was upsetting me  - I went on leave one week and when I came back the office was all closed up - I found out that they'd finally listened to my moaning and had the water tested and the water pipes were contaminated and they'd had to shut the office until the works were completed as it was detrimental to health. We all had to go and work from another office.

I used to keep a can of air freshener and a bottle of disinfectant spray in my desk as they both came in handy - some people could whiff a little. My Nan used to say that cleanliness was next to godliness - some people have never heard of that saying and must have problems realising what you actually have soap for.

We had a middle aged gentleman who was disabled and his carers would come in each morning, get him out of bed and into his wheelchair and then come back at 7 o'clock and put him back into bed. He had a young man who was supposed to be his 'carer' but was only around when he picked his benefits up. Now the problem this gentleman had was that if he needed the toilet during the day he had problems with getting his trousers up and down and keeping himself clean after he'd 'been'. He has come in to the office so many times with his hands and trousers covered in his own excrement - that the bottle of disinfectant spray and air freshener would have to come out after most of his visits. We spoke to Social Services but they didn't care less about him as far as they were concerned he was getting his 20 minutes of care in the morning and again the same in the evening and that was all he was entitled too.

One summer this gentleman came to the conclusion that he'd had enough of his smelly trousers and took to going to sit out with just a hand towel covering his 'bits'. We told him that he couldn't sit in the communal garden with just a hand towel on his 'bits' because he was upsetting the old ladies who lived in that block of flats and didn't want to see goodness what if the wind blew his towel up. He just laughed at us.

Didn't laugh when he was arrested for exposing himself in the middle of Asda when the towel slipped  again though! Mind, Social Services had to get involved then and they found him sheltered accommodation where there was someone around to check that he was ok and not going out with just a towel to cover his 'bits'.

The one thing that amazed me on Customer Service was the amount of young women who deliberately set out to be single parents - I was a single parent but not by choice and not until my children was older. But these young girls of 16 or 17 would come in to register for a council property, they'd be pregnant but there never was a young man with them. They'd register as a single applicant. I used to think well there all not the virgin Mary so where are the chaps that have done the deed - honestly they were nowhere to be seen and then 12 months after the first child was born they'd be back pregnant again and when the second was born you could guarantee that that child would have a different surname to the first and they were all on income support. Filling in a housing application form for someone could get difficult because you could never assume that all the children had the same surname!

I know I'm old fashioned but I believe its important that a child has 2 parents to bring them up and care for them (preferably with the same surname) sorry but that was the way I was brought up and the morals that I brought my children up with and which they've consequently followed. Believe me, there is a section of society out there that hasn't got a clue what a Daddy does.

After this period I moved onto dealing with anti-social behaviour - tell you about that another time

Keep safe and warm


Monday, 2 February 2015

Not such good days

Still carrying on about my working life ( I'm sure you must be thinking 'will she ever give up!' - I still have Customer service and anti social behaviour  to tell you about yet)

The following story happened before I left arrears, but has nothing to do with arrears. It's quite sad, so if you've had a bereavement recently then please don't read any further - I wouldn't want to upset anyone.

At the beginning of December, 1999 - I took a phone call from a locksmith who had been changing the communal locks at a block of low rise flats but couldn't get hold of one elderly gentleman to give him his new key and he was a little concerned -  so I went a walk down to the flats and had the key off the locksmith and went and hammered on the gentleman's door. I peered through the letterbox and there was a funny smell coming from the flat but no sign of life in there, so I went and knocked on the neighbours doors to see if they'd seen the gentleman recently. The gentleman who lived directly underneath said that he hadn't seen him but he'd heard him flushing the loo, and walking about the flat each evening, so I thought that the elderly gentleman must be ok and  went and put a note through the door asking him to contact the office to let us know that he was ok and to collect his new key.

The next day I still hadn't heard from him, so I went back down to the flats and still there was no answer and my note hadn't been picked up off the floor where I'd posted it through, the smell was still there so I now started to get a bit uneasy. I went back to the office and took the decision to break in and check that everything was ok. I had to wait for a police officer to come out but they eventually turned up.

Whilst the locksmith was trying to gain entry a blonde lady (I use the term 'lady' loosely here) came out, cigarette in mouth, (Jeremy Kyle watcher - I'm sure you get the picture!) and said 'oh I hope he's ok' and then kept trying to push in front of the police and get right behind the locksmith. Twice one of the coppers moved her out of the way - suddenly the door opened and she made a move again, this time the copper was having none of it and he bodily picked her up and plonked her down away from the door and then grabbed me by the shoulders and I was manhandled into the doorway and sternly told to stand there whilst they went in and to not let any one in.

After a minute or so the coppers came back out and said there was nothing to see and that the blonde lady should go back into her own flat - she did so with a disappointed look on her face. I was taken into the flat and quietly told that the old gentleman had passed away some time ago (I was told afterwards that he'd been dead 2 weeks hence the smell) and was dead in the  bedroom. Did I want to go in and see him - the answer was a resounding No, I waited in the lounge whilst they made the relevant calls and arranged for a doctor to come out and pronounce him dead and for an undertaker to call out.

They asked me to search the lounge for anything that would give them the next of kin, but I couldn't find anything - they searched the bedroom - they didn't find anything for the next of kin, but did find over £3.000 in cash - they brought it through to the lounge and I had to count it and sign the one coppers pocket book to say that was the amount found - they said that it would go into the police safe. I've always wondered if the blonde lady knew that there was money in the flat and had been why she was so  desperate to get in there that day.

They then said that they would stay with the body and that they would shut the door to the flat after the body had been removed. I left with the keys to the flat and I've often wondered whether they found any more money that didn't go in the police safe that day. (I am cynical aren't I)

The day that I went out there I was wearing a new wax jacket - I never wore it again and it went in the bin - I swear that the smell from that flat was on that coat - every time that I went near the coat I could smell death.

A couple of weeks later, just before Christmas, I had a call from the coroners office to say that they couldn't keep the body any longer, no next of kin had been located and that the Council were going to give him a paupers funeral at the local crematorium  the next morning - would I ask if any of the neighbours would like to attend otherwise there would be no one in attendance. I went and asked the neighbours but no one was prepared to go and even the blonde lady didn't want to attend (suppose because she didn't get her hands on his money).

I went back to then office and it was decided that we couldn't let him go with no one there so I would attend along with a Housing Benefit Officer. N. had always worked out the gentleman's housing benefit.

The next day I picked N up and on our way to the crem - I stopped and picked up a bunch of white lilies. We followed the car into the crem and it looked terrible - just the bare coffin. As we got out of the car, the undertaker came running up to me and snatched the lilies out of my hands and then ran back and put them on the coffin, the vicar was just behind him and he said 'Did you know him, what can I say about him?' I said 'No, I never met him, I was just there when we broke in to find his body' N said 'No I just worked his Housing Benefit out for him' The vicar conducted a nice service and me and N. sat there and said a few prayers for someone neither of us had never met, but at least we hadn't let him go without someone there.

After the millennium celebrations, the coroners office contacted me again, would I go into the flat and assist with a search to try and find something that would identify the next of kin. I went but refused to go into the bedroom where he'd died. Strangely the coroners assistant found an old address book in the bedroom that the police officers had searched. Later in the day I heard that contact had been made with a nephew who lived just 2 miles away - when he came into the office he said that he thought it was strange that he hadn't received a Christmas card from the old gent - I thought yes and it didn't cross your mind to take a card to him and check that he was ok did it.

I told the nephew about the money - it took him 2 attempts to get the police to admit that they'd taken money from the property - on the first attempt they absolutely denied taking any money from the flat and on the second attempt after he told them that I'd signed the pocket book - they then 'found' it in the police bank account (stashed away for the next Christmas party?!).

I was lucky - my old gentleman had only been gone 2 weeks in the cold weather - Ian went out to a break-in where the chap had been gone at least 6 weeks in the middle of a hot summer - there was a swarm of flies in the flat and the flies had done what flies and maggots do - Ian said it wasn't pleasant.

I was once called to a murder scene 20 minutes after the body had been found - the police wanted to see our CCTV footage and who'd been in and out of the flats - it turned out that the gentleman was gay and had been out the night before and had picked up a tramp and had took him back to the flat - when he made advances to the tramp - the tramp retaliated by cutting the young man open from his chin to his groin and then from one side of his waist to the other so in a large cross - then to add insult to injury he threw a full tin of gloss paint over the body. I was trying to show the police the CCTV tapes whilst some of the coppers were throwing up outside the block of flats on the cameras - it was that bad. It took them nearly 24 hours to move the body as it was a murder scene.

I think most experienced housing officers  will have a story to tell like mine above - it's a sad fact that people live on their own and die on their own - I suppose with the demise of 'good neighbours' it is something that won't change.

I'll move onto the wonderful world of Customer Service and 'anuks' and dead rats next

Speak again soon


Never again.......

Hello All,

Well, that's the bathroom gutted and put back together again and all I can say is never again! The floor was taken up and re-laid and the dust from it all has been awful. Now we've moved onto the kitchen and the smell of fresh paint is everywhere and nothing is in the right place - Well I suppose we'll get there in the end.

Returning to my last days as an Housing Team Leader on arrears. I once had a young man who never paid a penny in rent he ignored all the warning letters - didn't bother turning up to court and then defaulted on his court order, so I requested an eviction through the courts and the date was set - still he failed to make contact or come in and see us.

On the day of the eviction at about 10 o'clock he finally came into the office - he was being evicted at 12 noon. I took him into a private room - he was het up and aggressive and kept yelling at me that he wasn't going to be evicted, that we couldn't evict him - I tried to explain that it was too late in the day and that the eviction would now go ahead regardless. I had him wagging his finger in my face and yelling into my face that he wasn't going to be evicted. Then he turned around and walked out of the interview room and headed towards the office door - I followed and started to walk down the office towards our desks - When suddenly I heard him yell 'You ain't evicting me' I turned back just as a chair that he had picked up came flying down the office - I was younger, slimmer and quicker in those days and just managed to dodge the chair in time. He then left the office, thank goodness.

I rang the police to see if they would be able to accompany me to the eviction but got the usual 'we haven't got enough resources' (normal response, if there's likely to be someone kicking off - don't want to end up arresting someone and having too much paper work to do!). So I rang the bailiffs office to let them know that we were in for a bumpy ride on this eviction and that the police weren't interested. The bailiff just said 'Ok love, don't worry about it'. I then rang the manager of the safety tec's and locksmiths who accompany us on evictions and warned him. I got another 'no problem'

I went out to the eviction about 11.50am and when I got there couldn't find anywhere to park, and ended up a few hundred yards away from the flat in question because every bailiff in the borough had turned up, plus every gas and electric safety technician along with their manager - there must have been about 8 bailiffs and about the same amount of gas and electric tecs.

The young man was frantically running up and down the stairs throwing his belongings into his car - and the bailiff said to me - 'I think there's a few too many of us for him to start again don't you' . We stood to the side of the young mans car, in a group and he finally got in it, revved it up and then shot off and aimed the damn thing as us! we scattered like skittles, to get out of the way then he headed for the road and was gone.

I did another eviction with the same bailiff at a high rise block of flats, the locksmith finally got the door open and as we walked in - 3 steps in and on each step, we'd stepped onto needles - it had obviously been a drug den and the place was covered in used sharps. we back tracked and I had to get a specialist firm into sweep the place of all the used syringes. Over the years I've had needles cleared away from all sorts of places, from the canopies of high rise blocks, backs of baths, communal entrance doorways, flatted stairwells, sheds, all places - we went through a period where the druggies where pushing the sharps into the sides of the lift buttons in the flats so as you pushed the floor number you wanted then you could end up with a needle prick injury - another favourite place was to tape a used needle to the underside of the banisters in the high rise flats so as you held onto the bannister, you'd get caught on the finger. Some druggies don't give a damn whether a young child picks up a used needle and of course if you do sustain a needle prick injury it would result in a worrying 3 months whilst tests were undertaken for Hepatitis and HIV.

I never evicted any one that was ill or disabled - I had one lady come in one day who hadn't paid a penny against her court order - I explained that as she was so far behind that eviction was inevitable. At this she keeled over! I ran out to Ian and said 'Hit the 9's - she's keeled over in there we need an ambulance' Ian said - You haven't killed her have you?' I replied I don't think I have!.

It turned out that she'd just been diagnosed with Angina, the paramedics came out, gave her a little pill and she was as right as rain after she'd had that. She wasn't bad enough to go to hospital so I bundled her in the car and took her home afterwards. But she came in every week after that and paid something - sometimes it was just a £1 - she always came into see me after she'd paid to show me that she had paid and she'd say I can only afford a pound this week and I'd say no matter it's a pound less that you owe. We got to know each other by first name terms in the end.......not bad considering I thought I'd killed her off at one point!

That's pretty much it for the 9 years on arrears - after all those years I realised that it was all changing and that it was all going to be automated - it was time to move on so I did a short stint on Customer  Services. I'll tell you about the fun and games on that section another time.

It's still bitterly cold isn't it? too cold here for snow - keep safe and warm.


Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Hi-jacked! !

Afternoon All

I feel like a spare part at a funeral today - we have the builders in taking out the bath and putting a shower cubicle in for us along with an extractor fan, new tiles and a new floor. So I'm relegated to a different part of the house and can't really do much.

Returning to my ramblings from being a Housing officer - I left it where I moved on into a temporary team leaders position - I did these temporary posts at different offices for 4 years - I enjoyed it because different areas have different issues and I learnt a lot from moving round.

The first office that I moved to was in a poorer part of the borough and had had a manager that had been dictated to by the councillors for the area. As I moved there a new Manager was brought in, same as me on a temporary basis. We hit it off immediately - she was forthright, up front and didn't suffer fools - her language in those days could be....lets say colourful - shes still a good friend even now but not so 'colourfull' now that she is a Head of Housing for a large authority. T. introduced specialisms within the teams and I was given the arrears team, we did well in reducing the arrears and then from then on for the next 9 years I was given arrears to lead in different offices.

I enjoyed arrears - I enjoyed the methodical way of working and keeping files correct for court and then there was the challenge of  getting people to pay their rent - you would be amazed at how many people do not prioritise the roof over their heads - over the years I must have done hundreds of arrears evictions.

Evicting somebody for arrears has never bothered me - when I started doing this role, I was a single Mom with 3 teenagers still at school , a mortgage and a car loan. I did this job from 9 til 5 then on 3 nights of the week, I worked from 7 till 10 as a bar maid at a local golf club and for 2 months of the year, the council staged a nightly event and I worked on that as well as a cashier and then a team leader so on the nights that I wasn't at the golf club, I was at the local park - I worked Monday to Friday in the office and then every night including Saturday and Sunday either on the bar or at the park.

The tenants that I evicted were all the same as me - healthy (never evicted anyone that was ill or disabled) 2 arms, 2 legs and 1 head - I didn't have a university education - just the local comprehensive the same as them - if I could work and pay my way, (day and night) when I had to then they could get off their backsides, go into the CAB see a money mentor (who would have helped them with it all) and then turned up to court to tell the judge why they hadn't kept to the terms of their court order - the best of it was that the judges were so 'for' the tenants and so against the landlords - they could have told the judge that they preferred to spend their income in the bingo/pub etc., and the judge would have probable turned round and said 'of course you should spend your money on bingo my dear'!
The majority of them weren't working and the rent was being paid by housing benefits and all they were expected to pay was less than 10 cigarettes to maintain their court orders

As far as I'm concerned life's tough,  get over it and get on with it! So tears didn't sway me either - I've heard every reason why someone couldn't pay their rent - every sob story going.

When T and myself started looking at the arrears at that first office - there was a number of accounts which had court orders that were behind or non existent with the scheduled payments - so they were all processed and put forward for eviction - we had 9 evictions come through for one day and we did everyone one of them - me and the bailiff ran round them with two teams of locksmiths and safety technicians and wiped thousands of our 'live' arrears figures.

The day before one of the tenants came in and T. went in to interview her first to see if they were going to cough up the arrears - I used to follow T into the interview if nothing was forthcoming to explain what would happen on the day of the eviction.

That day T. came out of the interview room and said cheerily, she's all yours - we're going ahead with the eviction tomorrow.

I went in to the interview room and this woman was sitting there and she kept saying oh! oh! oh! in a high pitched tone - I looked at her and she said ' Oh! I've just been told I'm on shit street tomorrow! Obviously T. had been in full flow and told her a few home truths - all I could say to her was 'Well you are - aren't you my dear because we're evicting you tomorrow' How I didn't laugh out loud I don't know.

Early in 2001 T. poached me from another office she'd taken on an office in the worst area of the borough (the previous manager and some of the staff had been told that if they didn't get out the area, that they wouldn't be going home one of the nights - management took the threat seriously and moved them out!) T. said that the arrears were in a right mess and she needed someone to sort them out - she was a good friend so off I went to help her.

At the end of my first day I went into T's office and said to her do you know that you've got one that owes 5k and the arrears are still going up - she said something to the tune off 'Flippin hell!........only it weren't flippin!!!

It turned out that Mr A had had all his benefits stopped because he'd been caught importing cars and then selling them on for profit and not disclosing the profit to the benefits agency - each time the office had taken him to court for an eviction, he'd turned up with a new solicitor - the solicitor would say that they had only just been instructed by their client and as his English was so poor that they would need to instruct an interpreter to take his instructions on the case - the judge would then adjourn the case - by the time the case was back in court Mr A had changed his solicitor again - this had happened three times.

I called Mr A into the office to explain to him that we were going forward and would be undertaking an eviction in the near future. Mr A. (the one with such poor English) kept talking over me, telling me that he wasn't going to be evicted, how benefits had got him all wrong - he'd only brought one car into the country to help a friend and to add insult to injury kept calling me 'Darlin'. After 20 minutes of being talked over and been called Darlin - I yelled at him 'Don't call me Darlin - I am not your Darlin!' - Ian said that I yelled that loud that they must have heard me on the bridge' (it's a black country saying!)

So we proceeded to request an eviction - we were advised by the legal and fraud team to not attend court - they were concerned for our safety - they believed Mr A to have links to some not so nice people and that the solicitors would deal with it. On the morning of the hearing T.  and myself were pacing the floor not knowing what was going on in court. Half way through the morning a caretaker dropped into the office, T. saw him, jumped up and said to him 'have you got your car with you' and he said yes - T. turned to me and said 'come on we're going to court' She grabbed the caretaker and said 'come on you're taking us to the courts and we'll need you to fetch us back too and promptly when we ring as we won't be able to hang about' the poor bloke didn't have any say in the matter as T. hijacked his car and time!

We raced into court and T. told the legal team that we weren't prepared to sit in the office not knowing what was happening when it was our case. It turned out that we'd got there in the nick of time - Mr A. was doing his usual trick of making out that he couldn't speak good English.  I was able to go into the court and tell the judge about the conversation that I'd had with Mr A. and that he had conversed with me with no difficulties at all. Judges don't like being made a fool of and we walked out with an eviction to be undertaken in 7 days time (normally 28 days - he had upset the judge!) We rang the caretaker to come and fetch us and stayed with the security guard of the court until we saw the caretaker pull up and then me and T. legged it out of the court as quickly as we could.

On the day of the eviction I had the police come out with me to do the eviction but Mr A had disappeared,  he owed approx 6k in rent arrears - he would never be given council accommodation again until the debt was cleared plus he had a court order round his neck and was known to benefits as a benefits cheat. But we got that 3 bed roomed house back for a family to reside in, who would pay their rent and not see the council as a free hand out.

Tell you more about some other evictions another time

Have a good afternoon, keep safe and warm

Byeee xx

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Grey winters day

Hello All,

What a grey horrible winters day it has been - I've been busy making leek and potato soup for my daughters lunch today and stretching a chicken even further by making a chicken and leek pie with the left-overs from Sunday. We were hoping to go to Oswestry to have a look around the market and to see if the fabric shop is still there tomorrow but snow is forecast so it depends on the weather now.

Going back to the start of my working life with the council, as I said before, my first office was considered to be in a reasonable area but it was like a village - everyone was related to everyone else - if you were dealing with someone on front desk - you'd learn that their neighbour was their sister's husbands mother- in- law or their Uncle twice removed!

 Everyone knew each other but it wasn't a little village it was a quite large area probably covering 3/4 square miles - I think that the locals just didn't move out of the area, at all whereas I lived in the same borough but in different areas of the borough.

One day I must have been feeling quite bored (unusual) and as a fire engine went by I said - it's so quiet here, nothing ever happens!...........big mistake! the phones all suddenly started ringing with customers reporting that a house had blew up on our patch.

It turned out that the house had been purchased from the council and was the end one in a row of terraced houses. The owners were a gentleman in his 60's and his wife in her 40's. Mr K had always lived in the area and even though he was in his 60's both him and his brother were and had always been known as the bully boys of the area. He was always obnoxious when he came in the office and as his wife was so nice we used to wonder what on earth she'd ever seen in him.

Well, it turned out that his pretty young wife had found herself an even younger than her, new lover and she had the day before told him that she wanted a divorce and also wanted the house sold as she wanted her half of the capital and had then promptly packed her bags and had left him.

Next day, the gas board were due to change the gas meter, which was done during the morning, the gas fitter left and then just after lunch Mr K went to deliver some Christmas cards, and whilst he was out the house went up with a bang! He blamed the gas board but we always thought that it was a case of him tinkering with the gas meter after the gas board man had left (a case of I'll destroy the house before you'll get your hands on the money from it?)

The explosion had completely taken out the side end of their house and as such our property next door  was then starting to lean and split, in two,  as there was no supporting gable end wall. We all knew the lady that lived there so it was all hands to the pump, we had within an hour arranged storage for their possessions  and whilst our repair teams were trying to shore up the house and stop it from splitting in two - we all worked till 7 o'clock on the night packing up their home into boxes for their possessions to go into storage, the removal firm were brilliant and worked with us and we emptied that property that night  - when I think back, none of us wore hard hats or PPE - we just knew that we'd got to get their possessions and home out of that building and we did it. Our tenant spent Christmas with her daughter and then we had to put her into a temporary property after Christmas until all the repairs were undertaken and it was safe for her to move back in. Mr K wanted the house re-built, his wife didn't, she just wanted the money for the house and to sell the land - it took 4 years for it all to be settled and the house was re built and  put up for sale as soon as it was finished. He never moved back in there. So it looked like she got what she wanted in the end.

I was warned next day to never use the q (quiet) word again!

We had another family who lived in the area, they had a lad of about 14 years of age and two daughters aged 17 and 18. If there was any graffiti or trouble in the area you could guarantee that the son would be involved. But the two daughters both got pregnant by the same young gentleman (share and share alike?!) They had got their name down on the housing waiting list for a flat above some shops in our area, where we were reliably informed the young gentleman wanted to set them up in the oldest 'business' around.......do you get my drift? It was a nice area, we didn't have any problems, with any nuisance from the shops and they were nice flats with good tenants, so for a while every time someone came into the office and wanted to complete an application form to go on the waiting list, we would point out this area, what nice roomy flats they were, what brilliant customers we had living in these flats etc., and then we sat back and hoped that that person would  put that area down as one of their choices.

We were lucky -  there was always a number of applicants on the waiting list above them when a flat came empty. They eventually opted for another flat in another area, where it soon got back to us, that they'd caused havoc with the neighbours with the gentleman visitors at all hours and we gave such a sigh of relief that we always had such a healthy waiting list for our area.

Whilst I worked in that office, we had a shooting, so the police decided to empty all the bins in 2 streets to see if the gun had been thrown in a bin - guess who had to get a street cleaning team out to clean up after the police had emptied all the bins. (Couldn't expect the police to clean up after themselves could we?!) We also had a gentleman who was beaten up in his own home and left for dead, and then the property was set on fire, as a cover up, however the gentleman was found, in the nick of time and did live but was seriously disabled afterwards - it turned out it was one of our tenants - she'd been his girlfriend  and had borrowed money from him then the relationship finished, so he asked for his money back - she didn't want to pay it back, so one night made out that she wanted to get back with him and when they went back to his house and went to bed - she left the rear door open for her new boyfriend to get in and then they battered him and set fire to the house. They didn't count on him living and so they were arrested and eventually sent to prison - she'd got young children too.

At the council you could apply to move upwards on secondment opportunities and not long after I applied and was successful and never returned to this area again. That office was just a wooden shed in the middle of a patch of green but we had some good times there - it's gone now along with the local knowledge we had of the community and the properties.......but that's progress for you.

I moved into arrears and evictions afterwards for 9 years  - will tell you about those days another time.

Byeee xx

Monday, 12 January 2015

Clean and tidy.......

Hello All,

We've had a quiet day today and have spent the day clearing clutter out of some of the kitchen cupboards - I found 12 rolls of cooking foil! Back in the days when I was working and I used to run into Morrisons or Asda for my weekly shopping after a day at work, my half frazzled brain must have thought I needed foil each week to have that many sitting in the cupboards - they were all in different places, so I blame my hubby completely as he always puts the shopping away and must have been putting them away wherever he could get them in! Oh well they'll keep and means that I don't need to buy any foil this year!

Moving on from where I left off last time - I spent 4 happy years as a Housing Assistant in that original office. That was back in the days when we were 'generic' in other words you had your own 'patch' area and you did everything within that area, so you let the properties, you did the arrears, you did your own evictions, you checked out repairs, everything.

I also covered front desk and you would end up dealing with anything 'council' related like bin collections, benefits and claiming benefits, road repairs and housing related repairs - in those days we used write out a job ticket, when a customer reported a repair and then passed it onto the carpenter/plumber/plasterer etc., when they came into the office to have their lunch - there was no waiting months to get a repair done in those days  - the job was enjoyable and no two days were ever the same.

In those days, it was all about knowing your area, knowing your customers - the good ones and the bad ones, knowing what the issues there were both with the properties and in the area and you got to know the people on the waiting lists for your area. It was all about the people and the properties then, nowadays it's all about key performance indicators and how many awards that the business has won this month. I loved it then. It was also my introduction to how people lived - at first it used to shock me then eventually nothing shocks you any more.

Each Monday morning I'd wait for the keys to come in from the properties that had got to be let that week and whilst I was waiting I'd print off the arrears list and look at who'd paid their rent and their rent arrears and who hadn't during the week before, I'd then get the arrears letters out to the worst offenders on a Monday  and the rest of the letters would go out during the week - Monday afternoon was spent allocating the properties, (once the keys were in) looking at who was top of the list and whether the property suited their needs and then sending out the offer letters. I'd arrange the gas and electric safety checks and then make arrangements to visit the properties with a surveyor in tow, I'd then have some idea on how long it would take to get the keys back from the repairs teams and could tell the prospective tenant how long they'd have to wait till they could book the removal van.

You could guarantee that if you were offering a house out to a couple that had been in a flat or living with parents that they would be in the office twice a week asking if the keys had come back in. It was a lovely part of the job when you handed those keys over to someone who had probably been waiting a few years for a home with a garden.

It was single applicants who had the longest wait for properties, I always remember that there was a nice young man who used to come into the office, he was profoundly deaf and was only 17 years of age, his Mother had taken up with a new man, and the proposed new step-father didn't want him living with them so had thrown him out. He used to go to a friends house to keep himself clean and his clothes tidy, but he was sleeping on park benches and shop doorways - he was good at lip reading which was a good thing because although I tried to learn signing - I never mastered it.

I just couldn't understand how his Mother could allow him to be thrown out of his home and when I interviewed her about his homelessness - she said that her boyfriend didn't want her son there and it was her life that was important now - she'd brought the young man up - he had to make his own way in life now.

Now I know that there are young people out there that are utter and absolute idiots that would push the patience of a saint, and perhaps in some cases deserve to thrown out - I don't know - don't get me wrong my children weren't angels and boy did we have some arguments whilst they were growing up - but I would never have thrown any of them out in favour of another man moving into the home (I was a single parent at this time) this young man had never been in any trouble, she admitted that he was a good lad and hadn't brought her any trouble to the door, but she wouldn't have him back in the house in case her boyfriend left her - there have been times when I have sat in an interview and have had to either bit my lip or my tongue so that I didn't say the wrong thing and I had to do it when I interviewed her - I just thought you selfish self centred cow.

I left the office and moved to a different area before we found him a place of his own - I have always hoped that he was ok and that he found a home and someone to genuinely care about him before too long.

That office had a pool close by, with a road running straight through the middle  and it used to be my job to run down there if we had a report of a swan or a duck being hit by a car - I've been hissed at a few times by a wounded swan - I used to have to run back to the office and call out the Ranger service, then run back down to make sure that no one else hit the poor animal and all the time the damn thing would be hissing away at me.(This was in the days before mobile phones) I used to be so glad when the Rangers turned up and I could leg it back to the office!

I could do a whole blog post on Housing Officers and animals, both the four legged variety and the creepy crawly kind!

That's enough for now - speak again later,


Sunday, 11 January 2015

Thanks Maggie.......

Afternoon All,

Weathers a little bit windy today isn't it? Has anyone ventured out to the sales? I went last Monday thinking that it would be quieter once the children were back at school - I was wrong, it was still busy. I have come to the conclusion that I really don't like big town shopping - give me a little town with small shops and I'm fine somewhere like Ludlow that's not far from us but I hate being in the  shopping malls of the bigger towns now.

Back in the winter of 1989/90 I was working as a merchandiser for Rowntrees Mackintosh - I used to spend my days driving around the little paper shops and small supermarkets and move all the Rowntrees items, on the counters, as close to the till as I could - this is supposed to be the best selling position to catch the customers eye when they're paying for their shopping - the problem was I'd do that on a Monday and then a Mars lady would go in on a Wednesday and move all the Mars products into the best positions and move the Rowntrees into the worst. One weekend I saw a job advert for a Poll Tax Cashier with the local council - B.C. (before children) I'd worked as a cash office under manager for Boots the Chemist so I knew that I'd be capable of doing the job advertised.

I applied, got an interview and then had to go into to do a maths test, finally I heard that I had got a position and thought that was it I had a job for life! That's what you thought if you worked for the council in those days - it was full time which meant arranging child care but we managed. We had 2 days training and then were told which offices we were going to be working in. The office I was to go to was in a reasonable area in between the best area of the borough and the 2nd best area so I thought I'd totally landed on my feet.

The poll tax was a miserable affair - no one liked it and I had my share of moaners and groaners about it, I didn't take any notice I used to agree with them and remind them that I was paying the tax just the same as them - mind, the times that I've had customers say to me 'Well, it's alright for you - you're alright' - I don't think that it occurred to some people that I was there working 5 days a week to pay my bills, just the same as some of them.

There was one elderly gentleman Mr C. who used to come in to pay his rent and his poll tax each week and I have never known such a nasty piece of work as he was. He always came in telling us that we were idle b######s sitting on our fat behinds doing nothing all day - that what we were doing wasn't work, that we were nothing but idle so and so's. In those days we had no choice but to take the abuse from customers although it certainly wouldn't be tolerated nowadays. We  had bullet proof glass screens between us with the little sliding hatch that customers could put their cards and rent books and cash into we'd then slide the hatch and take it out (like they have at the post office) He would stand as far away as he could and he would throw his money and cards into the little hatch with such flourish shouting 'Ere you idle B######d' - I wouldn't even acknowledge him, but used to just put the transaction through the computer and the printer and throw his cards back into the hatch with as much flourish as I could muster and then get up and walk out of the cash office shutting the door behind me - he'd be left there standing on his own with no one to have a go at - you could hear him standing there muttering to himself before walking out of the door.

This had been his second marriage and there was always talk from the residents of his area that he used to be, shall I say a bit rough with his second wife  - she was one of these little women who had to have a husband to look after her and she'd married him in haste and must have certainly repented afterwards! One day his Daughter In Law came in with her Mother in tow and said that he had died suddenly and wanted his name took of her Mum's tenancy - being polite I said Oh I am sorry to hear your sad news - she looked at me, raised an eyebrow and said 'Really - because if you are sorry, then you're the only one - he was nasty bugger and everyone is glad he's dead!'

Wasn't a lot I could say to that , so I did the forms and said if you can sign there and that was the end of Mr C.! But what a statement  of a life lived - when people and especially family was glad that he'd gone.

We used to have a pen that scanned the poll tax cards reference number and then we were supposed to manually put into the computer the amount that the customer was paying - the customers reference numbers were 13 digits long - one day I managed to scan a customers card twice and I put the amount into the computer as 13 digits long so it looked like the customer had paid billions against their poll tax account and at the end of the day I was slightly under when I came to balance the money taken against the computer. Payments could be reversed off the system but only by £999.99 at a time - I think I could safely say that my name was mud for a while to the back office girls who had to sit reversing the amount off £999.99 at a time.

It used to be the elderly ladies and gents (apart from Mr C) who used to be my favourite customers - we could have 2ft of snow on the ground but they'd be there dead on 9 o'clock on a Monday morning ready to pay their rent - I used to say to them what have you come out in this weather for? and they were all the same - 'Oh No it's the rent and it's got to be paid, can't get into debt' - Pity people are like that nowadays I remember one old lady coming into the office with her whole financial  life in a bag - her husband had died and he'd always managed the money, she hadn't got a clue where to start - we sat her down, made her a cup of tea and sorted it all out for her - we even wrote the letters to the different agencies for her and she signed them and sent them off - it taught me never to be the little wife at home, leaving everything financial to the hubby. She was in such a state - poor dear.

The poll tax only lasted for 2 years and after 2 years we were no longer required, so I was moved into a Housing Officers position within the same office.

From that position as Poll Tax Clerk, I worked solidly for nearly 25 years - That job opportunity  enabled me to pay for the divorce from the first prat of a husband, totally purchase and own my own house, help my children with their weddings and cars and help them when times have been tough for them recently, It's kept me with a car on the road and I've been able to retire early with a pension - it's not brilliant but it's better than nothing at all.

So thank you Maggie Thatcher - the poll tax was a hated tax but really it did me no harm and started me off on a long career.

Will be back with more another day -  do you remember the dreaded poll tax?

Byeee xx