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!

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

Saturday, 10 January 2015


Afternoon All,

Hope you all had a good Christmas and a Brilliant New Year, we did, most of it spent with family and Grandchildren, lots of fun and laughs.

In the middle of last year I lost a very good friend and colleague- I had worked with Ian for a number of years - he was always a jolly, happy sort of person, he was a preacher with the Methodist Church, loved people and history - just a jolly good sort. He even read a reading at our wedding for us and he always used to sing 'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire' in the middle of June!! I used to say to him why are you singing that? and he'd reply why not!

He'd been retired a year, and was just 60 when he died. He'd been pushed into retirement by the newbies at work although I don't think that he was mentally ready for retirement. He sat down one day, to write his sermon for the following Sunday and had a massive heart attack - it was so quick that he didn't have chance to use the phone that was right by his side to call for help.

Ian's passing helped me to make my decision to retire early a little easier - it made me realise that life is so precious and none of us know how long we have left so why waste it working any longer, when I didn't need to.

The thing is, me and Ian always said that we could write a book about our experiences at work, as Housing Officers and the situations that we'd dealt with. I also think that it would be good to write it down somewhere so that my Grandchildren may read it one day and realise what I dealt with and what I did in my working life for nearly 25 years, so as I think of things  that I've done and dealt with I shall write it down here. So bear with me please whilst I remember and write it all down. It was never a boring career and I've met all sorts.

I'm having a go at growing some really large onions this year - you're supposed to start the seeds off on Boxing Day - I'm afraid that I didn't get chance to start them until last week but they're already starting to poke their heads through. We sat and went through all the seeds we have and wrote down what we need to get for the allotment this year - just got to order them now. I like D.T. Brown's seed but can't find any in the shops - I thought that I'd look to try and save  the postage but no luck so I will have to send off for them.

Its bitterly cold today - there's  a really cold wind blowing but at least we're passed the longest day and the nights will start to draw out now. I'm sitting out in the conservatory whilst British Gas service the boiler and it's rather chilly in here, so I'll make a move now.

Take care all

Byeee xx