Plague House

After The Ex-Husband, and before The Boy, I had a major life changing relationship. It was with my house.

At the start of May 2014, Miss Rose and I moved out of our family home in the countryside into our little terrace house in Stafford. It is small, quite dark, and not perfect for everyone but it gave us everything we needed and we loved that house as much as anyone could. That house represented a lot for us.

Moving into that house was the start of our new life. That house gave us freedoms. We could walk everywhere, and did daily, and were able to socialise with ease. I started dating again and experienced a new world in relationships as an adult, a mother, and someone who had been wounded but come through stronger than ever.

In that house Miss Rose turned from a baby into a little girl. In that house I learned just how capable I actually am. In that house I finished writing two books. In that house I felt love, pain, joy, passion, fear. In that house I was hurt and I was cared for. In that house I fell in love with The Boy and felt my life change course forever. That house was not the cause for these changes, these experiences, but it was the base for them. It was our home.

It changed.

We moved in the Spring. The Summer had some seriously hot weather. For 6 months we didn’t have a working oven, despite constantly asking for help, but we coped just fine. For 3 days we didn’t have any hot water, but it was Summer and we just showered at the gym. We got by. We were told not to use the fireplace because it was dangerous, but it was Summer so we didn’t worry about it.

Then the weather changed. The rain came. The mould started.

Water ran down the bedroom walls. As fast as I cleaned the mould off the walls it grew again. I asked for more help.

I was told that if I didn’t clean the mould off I would be charged and it was my fault. I panicked. I couldn’t understand what I was doing but I believed them. I kept trying to clean it, it kept growing. It grew high up on the ceiling over the stairs and I would have needed to get up ladders over the stairwell and I was scared. I was told to bleach it. I was told the damp was because of my lifestyle. Because I shower, because I cook, because I breathe.

Then the central heating failed. It was December, it was cold, and we had no heating. It was so cold. No heating, mould, and damp.

My little dog got so sick the vets predicted she would be dead in a couple of months. The doctor checked out Miss Rose and I and assessed us as pre-asthmatic. Exposure to the mould spores was causing irrevocable damage to our health and if we didn’t get it fixed soon as would both come down with asthma.

I called my dad for help.

I am stubborn, I am pigheaded, and I am proud. I wanted to be able to handle everything on my own and I wanted to prove that I didn’t need a man to fix things for me. I gave up.

Help me, daddy!

Understandably he was furious. The dog was shipped off to his house, where she made an immediate recovery and is now a happy and healthy little mutt who charges around like normal. He got environmental health in, a very nice man who checked out all the causes of the problems and ascertained it was actually the holes in the roof (literal holes you can see sunlight through), the missing tiles, the gaps in the render, and the cracks in the flashing that caused the damp. He called a surveyor who found rising damp in the plaster which had previously been painted over and gradually seeped through. He called an electrician who classed the electrics in the house as Category 1 dangerous due to bad installation and maintenance. He called a plumber who classed the boiler, which was not working since before Christmas, as irrepairable and in dire need of replacement.

It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t because I cooked, lived, breathed. It wasn’t my fault. It was the house. It was the landlord. Faults which I wasn’t to blame for and were genuine problems with the property which I couldn’t control.

They continued to blame me. It was my fault. They argued with the environmental health officer (which may I just say pissed him off no end), and they argued with my father (which quite honestly is like spraying a bull in the face with red coloured acid spray and not expecting to get gouged in the face).

I have been evicted.

Goodbye house. Goodbye place where memories were made, lives were restarted, strength was discovered, and love was found. Goodbye my first home as a single mother. Goodbye.

It dawned on me that I was seen as weak. A single mother on benefits. I was easy to take advantage of, I wouldn’t fight, I wounldn’t argue. I would be too scared, perhaps too unintelligent. They could send me up ladders over the stairs with bleach and make me feel like it was my duty or I would be in trouble and have me do their dirty work. They could make me and my baby suffer through no heating because it was cheaper than actually resolving the problem. They could let me raise my child amongst dangerous electrics because it was easier than having them made safe. Weak. Vulnerable. Easy to take advantage of.

I wish I hadn’t had to go to my father for help. I wish I had been able to stand up for myself. I wish I was stronger.

But what I do have is support, and I have help. I have my dad fighting for me, my mum comforting me. I have The Boy loving me, and I have The Boy’s mum helping me. I have Miss Rose.

And I have anger. I have shock. My property was destroyed by mould; books, clothes, pictures, furniture. My dog was nearly killed. My baby was nearly made dangerously ill. And because somebody thought they didn’t have to bother with me because I am a single mum on benefits. Because I am weak and immaterial. Because I am just one a dozen lining up to be walked all over by people who think they are better than me.

Screw you, Mr Landlord. I am not weak and I do matter. You didn’t just take advantage of me,  you took advantage of my innocent little girl who asked for none of this. Screw you.


About J.J. Barnes

Author of The Lilly Prospero Series Writer and Podcaster at Blogger at Rose And Mum And More Contributor to The Huffington Post
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