I live on a council estate. My first-floor kitchen window looks out over a car park, and the back of another block of flats. Where I live is also on the very edge of the estate; most people coming home from town will walk past either the front or back of the property.
Being the mother of a toddler, I spend a lot of time either washing up at the kitchen window, or holding a grumpy toddler up to look out of the living room window at people passing by.
These are some of the things I have seen.
- Various people coming out of their back door, walking to the edge of their back yard, and throwing whatever rubbish they happen to have in their hand out of the gate. The bins are about 5 paces away, behind the sheds. Sometimes, if their item is a reasonable size (a nappy in a bag, a bottle) they will throw it over the top of the sheds. Sometimes it lands in the bins.
- People come out of their house with a baby and head for the car. A woman I assume is the mother gets into the front passenger seat and straps herself in, the baby in her lap. They drive away.
- A lad walks down the road, past his friend’s bedroom on the third floor. Rather than walk around the side of the building and up a flight of stairs to the front door, he stands in the middle of the street shouting the friend’s name until he appears at the window. They have a conversation. Both have mobile phones; neither thinks to use them.
- A taxi driver drives past our window at 7:30 am, huffing something out of an aerosol can as he goes.
- Various people walk or drive into the car park and head for a particular door. They go in, then come out a few minutes later. Always the same people; always the same door. If they don’t get an answer that door, the same thing will usually happen at a different door, a few houses along.
- A very posh man in mustard-coloured corduroy trousers walks through the car park to the bins and puts his recycling in. He never looks up or to either side of himself. He looks like a dog crossing a motorway. The people in the cottages just outside this estate share our bins.
- People on the second floor balcony lean over to shout down to people in the car park. They will have a full (shouted) conversation as the people in the car park walk away, towards town.
- A young lad of around 18 clearly loves to ride his scooter. He seems to have altered something on the engine so that it’s particularly loud, and spends hours at a time riding laps around a certain area which includes the front of the flat, the alley at the side, the back of the flat, and cutting through the path at the end. He is basically riding his mum’s hairdryer in a ring around my flat.
- A scruffy-looking man who may or may not be drunk in the middle of the day, walking up the middle of the road, pushing a Sainsbury’s trolley from the wrong end. It looks like he’s using it instead of a walking frame. He’s swearing at everyone he sees.
- A group of young boys who seem to be aged around 7 are having an altercation on the balcony. One of them is calling another a pussyhole. One of them hits another; he begins to cry, and the others run away.
- Around 7pm, a child who seems little more than a toddler runs up and down the balcony, past my kitchen window. He/she is making a lot of noise. Sometimes there is a skateboard involved.
- I didn’t see the dog whose shit spent a day a the top of the steps outside; I didn’t see whoever cleaned most of it up (or had the misfortune to tread in it)
- I never see the dogs (plural) who pee at the top of the stairs, on the stairs, and on the concrete at the bottom of the stairs.
- I have not, for some months now, seen the council worker who used to sweep the balconies and mop the stairs with hot, bleachy water. The communal areas have not been cleaned since the council sold the contract to Balfour Beatty, as far as I am aware.
- I don’t see the woman who seems to be standing in her kitchen, screaming at her young child. When I say screaming, I mean screaming. It’s very loud, but you don’t usually understand what the words are. I couldn’t tell you which kitchen the noise comes from, as the acoustics around here mean it bounces off all the walls and just seems to be coming from the car park.
There are people on this estate who just want to get their head down and raise their children.
A lot of people on this estate get up every morning and go to work. Their job might be menial or low paid, but they still plod away at it, every single day; the same as everyone else. Many are stuck on benefits, with the risk of delays with housing benefit or tax credits (trust me, they are awful) meaning it’s too scary to go out and get a job. Your Jobseeker’s or Income Support will stop the moment you start your job, regardless of how much or often it pays; Tax Credits can take a month to set up. Delays in changing housing benefit payments mean your rent can be under-paid or not paid at all, and you have to find that cash, plus cash to put food on the table and electricity on the meter, until cash starts to flow properly.
Many families keep themselves to themselves. Their kids aren’t playing out in the street at all hours, they don’t come home drunk and loud at 2am, you have no way of knowing what goes on behind their net curtains because you never even know if they’re in there.
When I come home from shopping with a buggy laden with carrier bags, most of the people mentioned above have offered to help me up the stairs.
When Jamie Oliver goes on national TV to mouth off about poor people and their fucking big tellies, I can see why he says it. He sees what everyone else sees when they look at these estates. He sees what I see out of my kitchen window. He sees the fucking big tellies and the smoking and the drinking. He doesn’t see how difficult it can be to get out of that, and how easy it is to get stuck in a daily rut of apathy and despondency.
But he should know that the sort of people who buy his books or watch his TV shows and interviews, are not the sort of people who need to be spoken down to like that. My address already means I am tarred with the same brush as everyone else around here; I don’t need some middle-class, priviledged TV chef rubbing that tar in.