“My neighbours blocking the path again, why don’t you lot f***in’ ever do anything about it ? …. If you don’t sort it, I’ll f**in’ sort it myself !!!”
And so began the opening gambit to yet another call to police (on 999 of course !!) regarding neighbourhood disputes.
Don’t get me wrong, in many cases, problems between neighbours have festered for a very long time and evolved into some pretty serious situations, with lives literally being made hell by one person or family who is completely adamant that the general rules of society don’t apply to them …… unless of course they themselves have an issue, which is most days, when the whole goddam universe spins on its axis and for the gazillions time this month, revolves solely around them.
And footpaths, driveways and other such areas being blocked by poor, inconsiderate or downright illegal vehicle parking is the source of a great many calls to police; it fact, in some areas it can be as high as 70-80% of nuisance complaints forthcoming. It’s certainly up around that mark in Chaos Town believe me.
On this occasion however, neither the caller of the offenders address were on our systems, so there was no ‘history’, no ‘known nominal’ and no flagged up ‘system warnings’ and so the Control Room decided to despatch one of our local PCSO’s, Derek, to have a look at what the issue was and see if they could assist / intervene / resolve.
There may of course been a situation on-going for some period of time or another, but it certainly had not been brought to the attention of the local constabulary.
Sending a ‘mere’ PCSO to Mr Angry of leafy suburb street, was just adding fuel to his fire …. “What’s wrong with your lot”, “can’t they even be bothered to send us a proper copper”, “you can’t do nothing, you’re a waste of time anyway” were, apparently, just some of the opening lines of grief Derek encountered. Why he didn’t just walk away at that point instead of standing there taking the grief is beyond me – at the end of the day, whether or not you like or approve of the Community Support Officer role (for my ten penneth they are invaluable to us, because they are actually allowed to get out there and walk the streets and, wait for it …. still talk to people), there is no need or reason to be abusive to anyone who is just trying to help.
Anyway …. my erstwhile colleague did stand there and take the unwarranted flak thrust in his direction, and from the later recollection as he recounted the tale, found it very difficult to remain composed when it transpired the focus of objection, strife and abomination in the street was not in fact the neighbours vehicle, but indeed their overgrown front garden hedge !
“Well” said the by now bemused Derek, still trying to remain fully professional … “have you spoken to your neighbour and asked them to cut their hedge back ?”
“NO” came the instant and balling reply “Not, my problem to sort it, that’s why I called your lot, well the cops anyway …”
“To be quite honest Sir, there’s not a great deal in reality the police can do about an overgrown hedge” Derek continued “but as it’s affecting the footpath, maybe the local council might be able to do some..” but before they could continue any further Mr Over-Angry interjected loudly “That f***in’ lot are more of a bunch of w***ers that you lot, why do I bother paying the f***in’ poll tax just for you lot to swan around doing sod all .. just go, get out of my house“
Remaining still the polite one, Derek simply replied “No problem, I will just pop round next door myself on the way out and have a little word, let them know about the problem, do you know their name by chance ?”
“Haven’t got a clue and I don’t care” was the answer and so our friendly PCSO wandered off down the garden path. Apparently Mr Less-Than-Impressed was still rambling at the top of his foul mouthed voice all the way until the gate at which point he clearly decided he’d ‘shown us what for’ and went back inside his haven of peace and tranquillity.
Passing the protruding privet, Derek then went up the garden path of the property next door, also noting that the front garden, clearly once very well kept and landscaped was now also very overgrown. A multitude of once pristine and sculptured plants and flowers were now succumbed to the green weed a la the red weed from War of The Worlds).
Apparently, peering through the un-curtained front window of the property also revealed a room that had also seen better (and tidier times). For quite an ‘affluent’ part of town to which the forces of law and order rarely have cause to visit, in the space of a few minutes Derek had encountered first of all, the type of ‘regular’ caller we normally have the pleasure of visiting daily on the Meadow Fields estate, and now he found himself at the home of clearly a previously unknown domicile of the Great Unwashed of Society.
How wrong it turned out Derek was going to be … well in relation to the second premises anyway.
Knocking the door at this house resulted in the much as expected no response form inside, even though it could be heard that a TV or radio was on somewhere within the property, albeit at a remarkably lower volume than is the norm at properties we tend to visit.
Having waited a short while for the non-response, Derek was half way back down the weed strewn path when the front door finally opened and Derek turned to see not the overweight, underworked and over Jeremy Kyle’d tracksuit wearing family of miscreants, but rather a very small, frail, polite and elderly gentleman called Ernest.
Ernest is 83.
Ernest lost his wife of 55 years, Dorothy, who passed away in 2010.
Ernest has 2 children and 5 grandchildren.
Ernest now lives alone.
As Derek quickly found out, Ernest does not see much, if anything of his family. He doesn’t drive. In fact on his meagre pension he doesn’t get to do an awful lot.
The family rarely visit. He still religiously sends Birthday and Christmas cards to the grandchildren but never gets a thank you back.
Ernest explains this by telling Derek that its ‘’”alright” how busy his children are with their own lives and problems, and of course that he “doesn’t want to be a burden” to them.
Both of Ernest’s children, as Derek soon found out, live less than a twenty minute drive away. But they still don’t visit.
Ernest does his best to live his life without being a bother to anyone so it seems. Derek, bless him, decided this was time to sit one old guy down, make him a brew, and spend some quality time making someone else life a little better. It that what Derek is paid to do ? Some would say no, but in my books it’s a big fat YES !!! What better example of community engagement could you ask for than making sure one of the more genuinely vulnerable members of our society was being properly cared for ?
As their chat continued, Derek discovered that Ernest grew up in a Northern town, left school, did his National Service, met and married Dorothy and then went to work in a factory when he spent much of his career, paying his taxes, never claiming anything back, only moving to ChaosTown after retirement, strangely enough, to be near the children and grandchildren …..
Ernest’s home wasn’t a ‘mess’ .. but it certainly wasn’t the tidiest of places. To save money, like so many elderly people on the breadline, was basically living in two rooms – his bedroom and the kitchen. the rest of the house appeared to have remained untouched and unchanged since the day Dorothy departed.
“Do you get any help” Derek asked. “Help with what ?” Ernest replied “I manage ok, there’s plenty who need the help more than me you know” . It was a typical make do and mend attitude which kept that generation going through the difficult years after the Second World War.
When Ernest asked Derek what had caused him to visit and Derek mentioned about the hedge, Ernest was mortified, physically upset that, in his mind, he had caused a problem for the neighbours.
“I’m so sorry” he kept repeating, I’ll get out and cut it in the morning I promise”. And he probably would have tried as well bless him, at the crack of dawn probably !!
“No, no” replied Derek “Don’t worry about it, I’ll give a guy I know at the Council a ring, see if he can help us”, knowing he was owed more than a few favours and thought this would be a good time to call one in. “I’ll pop back tomorrow and let you know how I get on” he said, as Derek got up to leave.
Carrying on with his day, and with his patrol, Ernest must have clearly been playing on Derek’s mind. I’d already heard him on the radio asking for a series of checks to be carried out and for a Social Services referral to be put through but didn’t realise just how much luck Derek was about to have along his way.
Heading towards the municipal park in town, Derek bumped into a couple of the local Council Landscape Gardeners tending to the grounds. He took the opportunity to ask them who the best person to contact or harass to try and get Ernest a bit of help would be. It was by now somewhere around 4.45pm on a Friday afternoon– just coming up to their knocking off time for the weekend.
Derek was generally chatting with these guys, recalling what had gone on during the day, his long chat with Ernest, the attitude of the next door neighbour and Ernest’s kids when the two Council employees said “Jump in the van mate. Show us where it is and we’ll have a look see. We’ll have a word with the foreman and see what he thinks”
And with that Derek guided the two chaps to Ernest’s home and let them see for themselves what the problem was.
Apparently, the guys stood there, shaking their heads, and when Mr Angry of this Parish came out to nose at what was going on, they weren’t shy at all with coming forward and telling him exactly what they thought of him and how he should have been first in line to help the old guy out !
Derek and the two Council guys then went and quickly knocked on Ernest’s door. “We’ll speak to our gaffer on Monday Sir” said one of the groundsman, “I’m sure we can fit in trimming your hedge a bit for you, won’t take us long at all”
Ernest was overcome with emotion, and desperately tried to start thrusting money from his wallet at the two workmen which they had a heck of a battle on their hands to get Ernest to keep.
Finally, they all left, Ernest back to his own devices, the council workmen to go home, and Derek to head back to station to book off for the day.
Sometimes, and it is only occasionally, you take your working day home with you. For most of the time, we have to try and leave it behind; to separate our work and home life. It’s a coping mechanism as much as anything – plus a lot of the time we tend not to tell our nearest and dearest war and peace of what’s been going on so as not to worry them any more – ask the partners of anyone in the police family; many of them worry every day about whether they are next for that knock on the door that comes around far too often.
On this day, it was Ernest that Derek took home with him. Not literally, but in his mind. Derek discussed his concerns with his wife who, as wives always seem to manage instantly, came up with a plan … or rather a cake ! Derek now had specific instructions from Moonbase Alpha to return to Ernest’s house the following day, with a gift of a freshly cooked jam and cream filled Victoria Sponge to lift his spirits … (memo to self – must question Derek as to why he never brings these delicacies in for the troops at work …)
And so it was … 10.00am the following day, a Saturday morning, Derek blissfully headed back in the direction of Ernest’s home to deliver a prime example of his good lady’s cooking skills, when on turning the corner into the street he got the absolute shock of his life !
Outside Ernest’s home were not one but two Council vans and beavering away were the two groundsmen Derek had bumped into the day previous, along with a couple other of their colleagues.
Derek headed straight in their direction “Blimey, that was quick” he said “but on a Saturday as well, that’s gonna cost the poor old guy a fortune”
“Not a penny” came the response “I got home last night and said to my missus what you told us. She agreed we needed to do something so I called Manny (his colleague) and then the boss and asked if we could borrow the van and tools this morning to give the old fella a chuck”
“Thing was” he carried on, “the boss insisted in coming along to give us a hand and roped one of the other lads in as well ! We’ll have old Ernie’s placed sorted in no time. Is that cake ?”
“Best I go have a word with Ernest and and stick the kettle on” Derek told them and went off to make himself busy
And there it was; a bunch of complete strangers, giving up their own time to help a guy in genuine need of a bit of a hand.
They didn’t have to but they chose to. They weren’t getting paid but it didn’t matter.
So next time someone slags off PCSO’s or says to you we should be out there doing ‘proper police work’, catching the proverbial muggers thieves and rapists, just remember Ernest … is he any less worthy of our attention that ranting Tracey or Wayne down the flats who can’t sort out their own self-induced mess of a handout dependent lifestyle and ring us constantly, demanding we sort out their issues with the latest ‘other half’ they’ve hooked up with and now want rid of because something better has come along …. until next week when the whole cycle starts again ??
Is Ernest any less worthy than any of the other multitude of demands for service that the police receive every single day ??
His neighbour had failed him; his own family had definitely failed him, the local Adult Social Care Services had failed him. But the policing family and the guys from the Council Maintenance Team didn’t.
I think that’s something to be damn proud of !