Dot writes: autumn makes the neighbours restless. They look up at the swallows on the powerlines (admittedly I haven’t noticed any – it’s mostly magpies round here) and resolve, like them, to flit. Our immediate next door neighbour, a builder in his fifties called Danny, is remarrying and moving to Trim; he left earlier this month, assisted by his sons who would turn up and help him strap beds to the roof of his car. Now the little girl from the end house has gone as well. Indeed her family have done something of a flit, though everyone in the development knew they were planning to move. The little girl’s mum, whom I’ll call Duessa, left her keys with Ken yesterday and cleared off. So when the landlady came to collect them from us we got to hear exactly why she hadn’t wanted to hand them over in person.
I had been into the house so I knew it was pretty awful. Hugh sometimes followed the little girl inside to play and I would pop my head in to check on him. The first time he did it I was struck by the unpleasant smell (which lingered on the little girl’s clothes – poor kid) and I saw that there were cat nibbles strewn on the stained carpet, but while I then tried to discourage Hugh from going in I never had the nerve to forbid it outright when Duessa was so willing to have him – how do you say to someone ‘that’s very kind of you, but I’m afraid your house is just too dirty for my son’? However, the landlady has now soothed her feelings by sharing the full horror. The oven so dirty it wouldn’t close. Empty vodka bottles and discarded food all round the beds. Urine stains, caked dirt, rubbish everywhere. The garden was full of rubbish – no wonder the little girl always played out the front – and apparently Duessa had even broken down part of the fence that separated the garden from what I think is a school playing field next door and was stuffing rubbish through there. There were no lightbulbs in any of the sockets and the cupboard doors were hanging off in the kitchen. This last detail is especially surprising as I did glance into the kitchen perhaps a month ago and I didn’t notice anything wrong with the cupboard doors, though admittedly I wasn’t looking too hard; it sounds almost as though Duessa deliberately trashed the place before leaving. She certainly didn’t bother to move much out. There are men clearing the contents into a skip even as I write, and they are throwing out toys, clothes and books as well as the furniture, the carpet, the pots and pans and pretty much everything else.
Poor little girl. There’s a teenage daughter too for whom it must be even worse in a way, as while she can look after herself she must also feel mortified by the squalor her mother lives in. We knew things were a bit desperate in that house – no money, no husband (he’s dead), two kids, no relatives in Ireland, and my take was that Duessa had just given up – but we hadn’t appreciated just how bad it was. No wonder the little girl always wanted to be in everyone else’s houses. No wonder she seemed awed and mystified when she saw me cooking and always scrounged our fruit – I never saw her eat anything otherwise apart from take-out pizza, tinned pineapple, scrambled egg and sweets; according to the landlady the kitchen was unuseable and Duessa can never have cooked. I hope they manage to make some sort of new start in their new house; but I doubt it.
Ken and I were feeling glum about our parenting yesterday. We were both very tired, and we’d weakly let Hugh eat a whole twix, which is far too much chocolate especially given how fussy he is about proper food at the moment, and he has been watching appalling amounts of television. After hearing about Duessa and the state of her house we felt a whole lot better. Which just shows what a terrible thing is human nature.