I finished school in 1971, then spent months searching for a job. Finally I found one but failed to ask about the wages. My first pay packet was the shock of my life. £14 a week, £2 deducted for tax. My bus fares were £3, and bus journeys to work of an hour each way. I paid my parents £6 for my board feeling totally ashamed that after dependency on my parents for 18 years, and not having a legitimate excuse for failing to be self-supporting I was still being subsidised. Moreover, my working week meant getting up at 7 to travel, and often meant I returned home after 6pm – all for £3.
I packed up and went to Australia where overnight my wages were double and my living costs were half, combined with a much higher quality of life. But it was a huge culture shock. I had gone from crime-free rural Northern Ireland to a crime-saturated cosmopolitan centre – Sydney, and I never got my mind round it. Friends in the next street told me that I was their only neighbour who had not been burgled, supposedly because I had nothing worth taking. They explained that the burglars sat in cars and watched the houses, working out which houses were worth targeting and when the occupants were out at work.
But financially it seemed that my problems were solved. I could easily support myself. But it turned out that I am a cold climate person and after 3 years I had still failed to acclimatize to the heat. The prospect of enduring another summer made me feel I was heading for a breakdown. So I came back to Northern Ireland in 1975.
But just before I left the burglars had developed a new strand on their criminality. In observing which houses were empty during the day they had also identified which houses were occupied by a lone housewife, and there were a spate of rapes carried out by the simple process of knocking on the door and then attacking the housewife when she opened it. The radio was warning women and telling them not to open their doors to strangers.
I thought about this and realised that none of my friends turned up without a prior arrangement, and officials always give advance notice. So from 1975 I have never opened my door unless I knew who was calling.
1975 to 2017. I wonder how many women have been raped for simply opening their door?
Roll on to 2017. Now I am a pensioner, a widow, and I live alone at a multiple-occupancy address. I am unlikely to be visited by any friends I made in my 20 years working in London, and all my relatives live in other countries. And the practice of officials notifying you if they are planning to call is unchanged.
Yesterday afternoon, at about 4.30 (after dark) my door opened and 3 men let themselves into my room where I was watching a DVD. They were total strangers, and looked like they had dressed out of a skip and were auditioning for Wurzel Gummidge. They looked at me, mumbled at each other, walked across the room, and then left.
I had had a vague notice from the housekeeper that the owner, a lady, and not one of the men, was going to call by to check the rooms, something she does about once a year, as she lives in Australia.
At about 2.30 two men had already called, supposedly a “room inspection”, who were also total strangers, but dressed office smart.
I need to clarify “room inspections”. Oddly, in all my time living in London I never once had a “room inspection”. When I first moved to this address in Harrogate, 5 years ago, the owner called in once in the first two years. In the third year, a “room inspection” was added, but in the last two years “room inspections” have multiplied, reaching a dozen in one year if you include all the times arrangements for a “room inspection” was made, then cancelled, then put back to another date. The first “room inspections” were carried out either by a known staff member of the letting agency, or if a stranger, accompanied by the housekeeper, but in the last year the room “inspectors” have been total strangers, the only indication I have that they are who they say they are being the advance notice that a “room inspection” is going to take place.
Which culminated yesterday with 3 total strangers, dressed like tramps, just walking in.
Is this normal? Does this seem acceptable to you? Am I being reasonable in asking – what is going on?
Is this just another twist on the modern phenomenon of men invading women’s space as if by right?
I have rarely gambled with my safety,but it seems I have been put into a situation by the letting agency which could be setting me up for attack. I don’t answer my door to strangers, but what can you do when letting agents give total strangers the key to your apartment and they can walk in at any time. How do I know if the strangers are there for a legitimate purpose – a “room inspection” or for some other reason and I need to defend myself.