Tales Of Half~way House

Background | Basement | Gnd Flr | 1st Flr | 2nd Flr | 3rd Flr


Somewhere in London, near an exhibition centre, a third of a way along a busy main road of terraced Victorian houses, is a property that was originally designated by the Council as a premier home for which prospective tenants had to pass interviews and be known to have clean records in relation to paying of rent and general behaviour. Some years later, when housing stocks fell due to a government’s ‘get greedy rich quick’ scheme that deliberately ignored the whole point of social housing being reusable and so forever took a high percentage of properties out of circulation, and such previous attitudes as matching tenants and lifestyles was deemed ‘classist’ or ‘elitist’ and the unofficial ‘good man, good job’ filter was thrown aside to be replaced with tick-box targets for anyone claiming the status of ‘victim’, this is what happens, and is a perfect example of why so-called ‘mixed housing’ doesn’t work when unemployable stone-deaf anti-social druggies ruin the lives of everyone around them…

In the past there have been periods during which lots of letters arrived from various debt-collecting agencies, yet none of the names belong to any of the actual tenants. It’s highly unlikely that so many agencies have got so many things wrong, so is it too unreasonable to assume that people residing there have applied for goods / money / services with false identities? If so, what’s puzzling is that no one seems to have actually visited the premises, for it would be easy enough to check that a phone line or satellite TV service was installed at a particular address, and surely the services have been blocked at source anyway?

As to how we know all this and can observe many of the strange happenings, Ellen and I live in a small block of flats adjacent to the ‘Half-way House’ (it isn’t really one, but the description is used in a derogatory manner), and the layout of the properties is such that the distance between our windows and the rear bay window of the house is less than half the width of the house itself, so not only do we get to see into part of the lounges, but also the small bathroom windows set one above another, and the large windows that let in light to their main interior staircase. It also means that when the wind is in the wrong direction the full stench of the drugs infects our own home and we have to close our windows, and any loud noise and bass vibration easily carries across. We were also very friendly with the original tenant of the 2nd floor, who was a sometime housekeeper / cook for a nearby Lord, but she had to move a few years ago because of the increasing problems, not helped by the fact she was soon to have trouble with the stairs due to her advancing years.


Little is known about this family as they keep very much to themselves, and their garden is extremely over-grown (though in a natural way, free of litter), with ivy crawling up the pair of angled trees near the back wall. The only indication of their attitudes has been gained from the original inhabitant of the 2nd floor before she was forced to leave by the arrival of the current Gnd & 1st floor tenants.

As the local postman at the time was too lazy to go down the steps to the basement’s front door and actually deliver the letters intended for them, he just left them on the Gnd floor along with everyone else’s, so the 2nd floor used to take them down every day or two; this necessitated opening the front gate that separated the basement’s front door from the bottom of the steps, which also led to cellars beneath the pavement (originally for coal, now just full of general junk from people who refuse to use the Council’s ‘Too Big For The Bin’ scheme because it means paying for a service rather than it being part of their entitlements). Her help went unannounced for years, then during the single time she ever needed to access the basement for her own needs as she had dropped a cloth whilst leaning out to clean the exterior of her windows, the daughter of the basement demanded to know what right she had to enter their property without permission (an impossible conundrum of course as how would one obtain permission without entering to ask for it?) and that she wasn’t to step foot there again. So, she didn’t, and now their post just collects upstairs for many weeks at a time until it mysteriously disappears, and whether or not someone else takes it down or they come up to ask for it or it’s simply thrown away along with all the junk mail from local restaurants and gyms and estate agents, their attitude has ensured no one actually cares one way or the other.

Gnd Floor

A drug-dealer and -user who had previously wreaked her havoc around an area that lay next to a ‘world-famous’ market and a block of flats in which one of us used to live in the middle of the 1970’s carnival riots (where two separate and opposing committees vied for attention and funds from locals who then had to pay extra for the privilege by boarding up their windows and doors and being powerless to protest against the stench and drugs and occasional prostitute from the club known locally as ‘The Swamp’), she was championed by an interfering NIMBY who wanted to make himself feel good by rescuing what he presumably thought of as a deserving case, but rather than look after her himself in a spare room or two he passed her on to the Council who, due to shortages then beyond their control due to the aforementioned sale of properties, placed her in the first available flat.

She has had one of those lurid ‘true life’ books published about her exploits (complete with a cover showing a badly rolled trumpet-like spliff overflowing with smouldering weed), in which she documents in simple sentences how she took advantage of every system that was available to her. It even ends with a predictable thanks to God for helping her, despite his obvious lack of effort in preventing her in getting into trouble in the first place (but then of course such attitudes are entirely consistent with the mind-set of other believers, such as athletes who thank God but not their team-mates and trainers and long-suffering family and friends).

During the course of the first two years and more, she did various things to demonstrate how much she wanted to fit in with the surrounding area, including but not limited to:

Her current activities are now limited to occasionally screaming her head off at various times of the day or night, sometimes at the dogs and hopefully not at the young girl who has gone to live there, mostly at other people for upsetting her (an easy thing to do by all accounts), and playing heavy bass-orientated noise through her newly-acquired Cambridge Audio Topaz amplifier and Mordaunt Short Aviano speakers, which seem wasted as they go above 1kHz and all she really needs is bass, ultra-bass, and infra-bass. She very kindly advertised the availability of these items to prospective burglars by leaving the boxes out at the front of the property near the bins, rather than folding the cardboard and putting it into recycling bags, but that was probably far too much effort for her, and given the number of times she has regaled neighbours and passers-by with their thunderous tones, she’s obviously delighted with their performance. Heaven knows what it’s like inside the house, given the way joists and floorboards transmit vibration, and with a small volume it wouldn’t be surprising if resonance effects manifested.

The sort of people who visit her include a woman who stood outside the main gate and waited for another tenant to arrive, for the tenant to close the gate and reach the steps leading to the door, before calling out and wanting to be let in, claiming she didn’t know how to open the gate, then walking past the tenant and waiting at the door to be let in. How slow-witted or plain drugged-out-of-it can someone be to watch another person open the gate you want to pass through, close it and walk to the main steps, before realising “oh, I want to get in too”?

This final piece of information is all thanks to the local psst-man (as in “psst, want to hear the latest gossip”, not ‘postman’, of course, who needs his job despite (or perhaps because of) all the efficiency savings).

No doubt like everyone else she was glad when the family living above her moved out (see final paragraph of the next section), but rather than relish the lack of noise, what does she do? That’s right, make even more of her own, nearly every day (far more than usual), and sometimes multiple times per day.

The most recent news indicates she is probably house(flat)-bound, as at least one wheelchair (technically a chair on wheels of the collapsible kind found in hospitals for moving patients around) has been seen going in and out of the property. Now, it’s just been left outside near the bins, as it seems far too much effort for anyone to call the hospital from which it came, to come and collect it and thus make it available for someone else to use. So, it will eventually be taken away as rubbish, to end up in a landfill, and thus remove a potentially useful item of public (and publically-funded) equipment from circulation. Still, it doesn’t affect them, so why bother?

1st Floor

A single mother whose various children are all half-brothers by different (and of course absent) sires, whose contribution to fatherhood ended when they ejaculated. This isn’t to blame them entirely, as contraceptives and abortions are always options, but not taken in these instances; plus, think of the benefits of still claiming a single person’s Council Tax rebate (as was recently discovered after they had left). The mother and boys moved in and everyone wondered what might happen. At about 01:00 the following morning, two of the neighbours living above them (who had to work for a living rather than stay at home poncing off everyone else’s taxes) knocked on their door and politely enquired when the party would end, as they knew it was not uncommon for moving-in parties to occur but it was now past midnight and the floors were still shaking to the ultra-bass booming. “What fucking party?” was the instant and aggressive response. “It’s my fucking flat and I’ll fucking well do what I fucking well want to. Fuck off!”

With no choice but to approach the Council, the existing tenants were told to keep daily logs of the disturbances and post them in on a weekly basis; this they duly did, for month after month after month, for they were informed the more evidence they had the better their case would be, as they were signed as sworn statements. So it was, at the end of a year, they discovered the duplicity of their appointed officer, who revealed himself to be a preening peacock interested only in his own advancement within the ranks where all that mattered was being seen to do something rather than actually accomplish anything, for he informed them smugly, “Oh, those letters? They won’t do any good if it ever went to court, for it would simply be your words again theirs. No, what you should have done (and I couldn’t be bothered telling you this at the time) was to get the Environmental Health Officers involved. There’s only two of them, though, for the entire Borough, and they always travel together for safety, so they can only ever be at one call-out at a time.”

Another 2+ years later, and sufficient evidence had finally been gained by the EHOs arriving at any time between 22:00 and 04:00, during which period one of the affected tenants had arranged to move to another property, and the other had teetered on the edge of a nervous breakdown due to lack of sleep and stress (is it worth starting anything in case the noise starts, when it starts will it go on for 5 minutes or 5 hours, how much longer can I get bad reviews at work before they think about getting rid of me, etc.), the EHOs easily succeeded in their prosecution and the noise-makers were duly fined. The amount, however, was a pathetic £1400, which they couldn’t pay anyway, and just to show how pointless the entire process had been (it was getting on for 4 years now), their equipment wasn’t even confiscated.

The place is what might best be described as ‘in a state’, with the bottom of sash windows hanging loose, the wood so rotten it’s virtually falling off and leaving the glass edge exposed; that a simple (and free) phone-call to the Council would have them send out someone to repair any damage means expending effort, so is naturally not considered. Kitchen units are also treated in a cavalier fashion, so that they need replacing every few years; contrast that to neighbours who still have the same units as were originally installed over three decades ago, but because they are in such good condition they are last on the list to be upgraded. Lesson learned: to get the newest and best things from the Council, destroy what they’ve already given you and demand replacements, for you are a victim. Their general attitude is best summed up by the fact that during the last round of Council decorations and upgrades (whose contractors did a very good job according to everyone else), theirs was the only front door which was not repainted as they either refused or simply couldn’t be bothered to leave the door open for a couple of hours to allow any paint to dry (and it’s not as if they had to take any time off from work to stay at home).

They only seem to have one set of keys between them, which has led to some behaviour best described as ‘interesting’:

One of the boys has the curious habit of always switching on the stairs lights whenever he comes in, regardless of how much sunlight is coming in through the stairs’ windows, but he doesn’t put them on when going down, only up. Another entertains himself by shouting out “bad boy, bad boy, ye-ah” and “I!, A!; I!, A!” for up to ten minutes at a time, so he’s obviously pleased by simple things, and is probably the same boy who is unwilling to open the door to callers but speaks to them through the letter-box to learn their identity; this is something that most children grow out of by the time they are five or are sufficiently tall to reach the lock.

Every two to three weeks there will be a screaming argument radiating from an open window, which acts as a sort of television set tuned to the most puerile of soap operas. Usually it’s between the mother and one of her boys, whom she accuses of not doing anything such as tidying his room or helping in the home while she’s out, and that she doesn’t know of anyone who lives like this (yet they are your children so don’t you bear at least some responsibility as to how they turned out? No, of course not, it’s “society’s fault”). Lots of swearing passes back and forth as voices rise (amusingly, they shout at one another to “stop shouting!” whilst slamming doors and perhaps even pounding on the walls), with one of the boys in particular being a proper motormouth who seemingly never pauses for breath as he screams out “What have I done, what do you fucking want from me, what do you want me to do? What have I done? What have I done?” (Well, nothing; that’s the whole point, surely?) Once, a fine argument ensued between two of the boys (“Get him out of here, I’ll kill him, I’ll fucking kill him, I mean it, I fucking mean it! Get him out of here, now!), but after less than 2-3 minutes they ran out of things to say so just kept repeating themselves again and again. Is it strange how things which in a soap opera would be considered by some to be entertainment, is in reality actually very boring? How far can Schadenfreude go before it passes a state of mild enjoyment and just becomes another part of the background noise?

Their visitors include people who are either too stupid to learn where they want to go, or simply don’t care, as the original tenant of the 2nd floor discovered one evening when she was having a bath and her entry-phone buzzer sounded. Not expecting anyone she ignored it, but it kept ringing and ringing and was the old-fashioned kind that couldn’t be switched off (the newer ones there can, apparently), so she got out of the bath, wrapped a thick towel-robe around herself and went down to her inner hallway to answer the phone. The person at the other end either didn’t know how to use the phone or couldn’t be bothered to, which meant the 2nd floor then had to go down to the main front door to see what was going on, only for the guests to sweep past her and go up to the 1st floor where the door was being opened in expectation of their arrival. When the 2nd floor tenant asked the 1st floor tenant what was going on and why she didn’t answer her own entry-phone, and why had she (the 2nd floor) just got out of a bath, the 1st floor merely answered “Ahh, ahh,” as if to say “diddums”.

One of the boys has recently begun to continue the family tradition by having screaming rows, this time with an apparent girlfriend, at the height of which he can be heard yelling (and plainly contradicting himself) “I’M NOT SHOUTING!” Her background remains completely unknown, but the question surely has to be asked: how bad are her circumstances that she returns to him knowing she will be treated that way?

Latest Update: apparently, the Gnd & 1st floor have had a major falling out, and are no longer talking to one another; the 1st floor’s front door also has a new boot-print to decorate it. So, what happened? The general consensus is that after the Tottenham ‘riots’ *, and acting on an anonymous tip either from an insider or someone wishing to foment trouble, the police arrived at the 1st floor and kicked open the door (which was hardly secure to begin with, see above), thus leaving the outline of a large boot in the broken hardboard and another hole in the already-shattered door-frame from earlier forced entries. Being completely innocent of that particular crime, if no others, the 1st floor wondered who might have informed on them, and the Gnd floor was deemed the most suitable candidate. Whether or not this is true, only the instigators know, and would likely not advertise their complicity, simply enjoy the trouble they had caused. Much swearing and shouting of accusations went back and forth, long past the point of boredom for those who had to endure it, and so the break-up was completed, which is strange considering how much they have in common.

A final update regarding this family in that flat: they have left (hooray!), as evidenced by the multiple black rubbish sacks they left overflowing near the gate, and the subsequent pile of so-called furniture that followed. Whether they have, as the saying goes, ‘done a runner’ or their move was arranged officially through the landlord, is not known, though they could always claim the status of victim and argue a case for four bedrooms as all the boys are grown-up (in terms of age rather than behaviour) and so shouldn’t have to share. The former option does however remain the strongest possibility as currently a year’s worth of post has been deposited, being composed entirely of demands from debt-collectors acting on behalf of creditors who have had goods and/or services stolen from them (the return Post Codes are a big giveaway), summonses from Magistrate’s Courts (presumably also related to unpaid debts and various fines), and the CSA in a futiles attempt to gather child support as the boys have obviously carried on the “family” tradition of being absent fathers, with an extra helping from London Transport (unpaid fares?) and the local Borough Council (overdue Council Tax?). These suppositions have recently been confirmed by various people who tried in vain to collect the fines (which in the case of any Court cases are incremented with penalties for non-payment, and ultimately the removal of items from the home), including one for over £2000 from a catalogue company that specialises in clothing for fat people, as well as roughly £1000 each for two of the boys, so they are merely following the excellent example set by their mother, and will no doubt be made welcome in their new surroundings.

* by ‘riots’ we mean wholesale looting, arson, and attempted murder of residents by career criminals who came from all over the city to raze a block of shops and homes to the ground and partake of whatever just happened to fall into their open arms, after they learned of the death of a true local hero, a paragon of virtue and an aspirational role-model: in other words, a thuggish drug-dealer who had just purchased a gun (defenders laughingly claim he was forced into doing so as part of a frame-up). This was also a time for the Police to remind both politicians and plebs of the power they hold, for whilst in any other situation they would advance in formation and lash out at anyone such as newspaper vendors who didn’t run away fast enough (and then be excused by one of their bosses saying it may have been someone in fancy dress), or delight in kettling children and office workers out for a lunch-time stroll, here they stood back and literally let the community burn to the ground, when sending a water-canon would have served a dual purpose in helping disperse the looters and dampening the fires.

2nd Floor

A sequence based on time; and no, this isn’t an exaggeration.

They will also switch on the light even when early morning sunlight is streaming into the rooms, so is it some kind of OCD reaction or a religious imperative that’s even more pathetically ridiculous than the normal ones in that they have to enter a room that’s dark and be the ones to bring it light? Nothing would be more surprising, given that adherents of some of the more cretinous beliefs have to enter a room with one foot and leave with the other (but only after a prayer has been said to get rid of the demons!). Heaven alone knows how they behave with their refrigerator… is there a jinn/genie inside awaiting the opening of the door?

(As an aside: what is it about bathrooms that brings out the crazy in some people? One set of neighbours in our own block used to always hurl open their normally closed bathroom door so hard that it bounced against the wall, only for it to fall shut with a slam on the frame every time they entered or left, and once inside they always managed to either hit the wall multiple times with whatever they were holding, or drop it into the empty bath; the loo seat was also just pushed away from the cistern or wall rather than being lifted so that it fell onto the pan and bounced a couple of times. They also used the taps in a similar fashion to the lights in this example, turning them on for a couple of seconds, then off for one or two, back on for a single second then back off for four or five, then on again for a whole three seconds before a final turning off; anyone else would just leave the tap running for five to ten seconds.)

One of their children (the family arrived with one and another on the way, spat that out then immediately had a third just for good measure) screams his head off at every opportunity, whether on the way in coming up the stairs and screaming outside the door, or on the way out screaming outside the door and going down the stairs, whilst the numerous visitors behave in a similar fashion to the tenants and their bathroom: a handful will come up and go in, then a couple will come out and close the door, but only one will go down leaving the other to turn on the spot and knock on the door to be let back in; then a further one or two will come up and be let in separately. Why did they close the door in the first place – some kind of obsession with entering rooms? Do they have to say another prayer then, too? It’s even been known for one of them to open the door from inside and then just slam it shut, with no one either entering or leaving.

Despite there being a park only 5 minutes away, with both an adventure playground and a fenced-off sand-pit, the children are left to run riot indoors many evenings and most of the weekends, screaming their heads off and stomping on the wooden floors and internal staircases as they burn off their excess energy, but despite any effects on other people this is perfectly acceptable because it is their home; anyone else trying to live there obviously isn’t entitled to have one, naturally.

The children are also unruly in other ways, for when the parents recently threw away some lounge furniture (a large sofa of pale cream leather or thick plastic) it was in a dire state. Why did they allow their offspring to draw over everything with ballpoint pens? This family do at least seem to work so was the expenditure as nothing to them, or is this now considered normal wear-and-tear? If so, then another generation is being brought up with no sense of discipline, who assume they can do whatever they want because the parents couldn’t be bothered to give them any boundaries.

The eldest boy is currently attending a local Comprehensive school (amusingly, next to the same park he won’t go to play in), but he certainly isn’t the sharpest pencil in the box, as was recently demonstrated by the following behaviour: he stood outside the front door to the house and rang their buzzer to be let in; not receiving an immediate reply (ignoring the fact that if anyone was in they may have been elsewhere than standing next to the entry-phone awaiting his arrival), he rang the buzzer again, and again, and again, continually for over five minutes (and if their intercom system is anything like ours then the flats above and below would have known all about this), but even then he was unable to form the necessary thoughts to realise that perhaps, just perhaps, there was no one in to answer him. Eventually, after more than 10 minutes, it finally dawned on him that no one would answer, and he left, but given the following incident this family seems to have inherited the ‘no keys’ attitude of the long-gone and never lamented people from below them.

The father and a child went out for a while, and upon returning demonstrated they either couldn’t be bothered to take any keys with them, or only had a single set that is given the person deemed most worthy, for having pressed the front-door buzzer over and over and over again they remained outside, unable to gain entry to the house and thus their own home, though the fact they were ringing implies they were expecting someone to be in. They remained outside for a further five minutes or so, then spent another few minutes pressing the buzzer, only to be let in. So, there was obviously someone inside the flat, and even if that person was in the loo at the time the buzzer was repeatedly rung it was evidently far too much trouble for them to go down to see who had been calling and if it might be members of their own family returning.

3rd Floor

The woman living here tends to keep her heavy curtains half-closed most of the time, even during the height of summer (then again, with the light pouring into her rooms they may get uncomfortably hot, and in winter the sash windows may be very draughty), but occasionally she can be glimpsed standing at a window and peering out as if to see if the real world still exists (Yes, we do; hello!).

She goes to work every day, and except in the hottest of weathers always wears chunky walking shoes; when indoors she invariably wears an old dressing gown, so seems to favour comfort over fashion, and this impression is confirmed by what she wears when going out, for it’s clear she has no dress-sense at all and wears only dark neutral colours that border on drab (apparently the same things worn day after day unless they are multiple copies of the same item), except for plain white t-shirts in summer, but she always carries a bulky plain grey case of the sort meant for lap-top computers.

She seems to have absolutely no friends or social life, as she never has any visitors, so it’s likely that if she didn’t have a job to go to she would almost be a shut-in. On those occasions when she has been seen in the local High Street or simply walking to or from home, she seems to be permanently depressed or morose, and has even been seen talking to herself (or, very charitably, thinking out aloud).

Despite (or perhaps because of?) this, she sometimes attracts unwanted attention from various people, including a recent and very vociferous incident where someone walking towards her waited until they had passed then turned around and began an extended rant about being ignored, when she had in fact moved to get out of his way; her only reaction was to pause and look back with an understandable “WTF?” expression on her face. Given she is one of the few people left who actually bothers to look where they are going instead of staring at a phone glued to their hand as they read with mounting excitement of a zeleb stuck in a lift or inflating the size of their already voluminous breasts and buttocks to match their continually expanding ego, it’s puzzling why such a reaction occurred, unless the man thought he was sufficiently important that he should be recognised wherever he went (the area is home to many people both rich and famous, but most of them don’t actively seek attention unless it’s to seek planning permission to completely demolish a house, or add unnecessary windows and basements to properties that should have been bought for their existing merits rather than what they might become), so he may have gone home feeling he hadn’t received the adulation he considered he deserved.

A recent and major change has seen her alter her daily routine as if she’s now either working from home or is now self-employed (or possibly even retired, though she looks to be a little young for this unless she has a private pension), as her day is now an hour later than before and she goes out mid-morning for what is presumably a break or to do some shopping.