About a year ago, my late husband lost his fight with cancer, and I moved to cheaper accommodation.
Coincidentally, the place I moved to had been one of the houses we had looked at when we first came to Harrogate. A typical, old-fashioned, beautiful Harrogate house, near to the centre of town, close by the International Conference Centre. Just arrived from London, we had been wowed at the view from the back, overlooking gardens with mature trees, in a valley – the effect was like living in woodland. My hotel-sized room (not a London broom cupboard) was en-suite, but sharing a kitchen, which suits me fine, as I am old, don’t eat much, and now I am on my own, don’t need to cook.
The Estate Agent was relieved that I did not have a car, as the parking was limited, but told me they had a shed where I could park my bike. The residents were what you would expect for low-rent accommodation. A mix of low wage working people, many who had lived in the house for years. Indeed, why would anyone move. This is the best bed-sit accommodation I have seen anywhere.
The house was fully occupied, with 14 rooms. Parking was over-flowing as the yard at the back, also over-looked by my room only had space for a max of about 6 cars. I had to wait two weeks for my room to become vacant, but in the event the room did not become available for three weeks, causing me to lose an extra month’s rent and bills at my previous address.
But when I finally moved in most of the previous residents had moved out. The house seemed nearly empty except for the rooms above, below and beside me. Also top of the range cars were now parked at the back. When I started to take photos of these, the cars were instead parked in the street, and the car park remained empty to half-empty most of the time.
Then the magic roundabout of tenants started. The new tenants initially were young and office smart – very office smart. They not only did not dress like locals, they did not speak like locals – unusual for a remotish country town where most residents were born here or retired from elsewhere. Now the accents were Southern English and foreign. But at about three- monthly intervals the tenants would change, and I started to recognise the pattern for a gang stalker-infested house from my experience in London. Each time the tenants changed, their profile changed. Some Irish people moved in. (I have an Irish accent). Unusual for this area. Then people who dressed like gypsies moved in, but their accents were Southern English. Someone moved in to a room close to me who appeared to be concealing a child. I commented to the Housekeeper that my neighbour had the peculiar habit of having a shower, then immediately after, having another shower. -Oh, he’s OCD, he remarked casually. Someone started to leave the communal front door open on a regular basis. When I mentioned this to the Housekeeper, he said, – oh, I know who it is. He has Asperger’s, but he’s moving out. I can’t wait to see what he is replaced with. Someone pulls the front off the washing machine downstairs – like you do. The Housekeeper tells me he is getting noise nuisance from tenants immediately adjacent. When the Estate Agent visits for any reason he just walks in to the Housekeeper’s flat without knocking. When the Housekeeper does his job and passes on information about things that need doing around the house, both the Estate Agents and owner ignore him.
Roald Dahl, or the script writers for “The Avengers” would struggle to come up with a more surreal script.
Meanwhile, out on the street, Spring Grove is metamorphosing. When I moved in it was a quiet cul-de-sac, mainly of bed-sit houses for working people, with some family homes. Since I have moved in the street and surrounding streets have become a building site. Initially quiet, just bird song from the woodland, and distant light traffic, the first change was people digging up the road in adjacent streets. Then a house at the back underwent extensive building improvements. Several houses in the street either changed from bed-sit to guest house or have applications in process. More building work on offices in the next street. Top of the range cars parked in most of the neighbouring drives.
When I moved to Harrogate, for the first time in years I was able to consign my ear plugs, which I virtually lived-in in London, to a drawer. For the first few months in Spring Grove I relished the peace and quiet – normality. Then the “hum” started. At first it only happened at night. A high pitched tone, continuous, unmodulated. Not particularly loud, but it came through everything and was impossible to ignore. It would start at about ten past midnight, then stop around 6 am. Alongwith this, from a lifetime of falling asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, I started to have difficulty getting to sleep. Then the tone started to go continuously, round the clock. I got my ear plugs out. This happened for about a year, then stopped completely.
About two months ago I was watching tv when I felt my heart flutter. This was followed by nausea and extreme vertigo. I could hardly stand. I made it to the loo and vomited, then managed to crawl back into bed and slept solidly for 8 hours. This was at 10 am in the morning. Over the next two weeks my weight suddenly shot up and I virtually stopped peeing. I went to the hospital who ran a range of tests and told me everything was completely normal. (What? An egg-shell of pee, the colour of coka-cola?). I am in my sixties. Apart from arthritis which afflicted me from the age of 55, I have had virtually no illnesses throughout my life, and have always been active physically and mentally. In the last few weeks, I have developed tinnitus. A quite loud whooshing/hissing sound. And a frequent intermittent hissing sound, like the sound of a bee buzzing, but cut short. And since I moved to Spring Grove, red eyes, which I have been unable to cure.
What would Steed, or Emma Peel make of it. Or Number 6?
Both my parents died, healthy nearly up to the last in mind and body, at age 94.
But never mind. I read my books, look out at the woodland, the sound of birds swamped by ongoing building works and a neighbour’s compulsive noisy gardening disorder, admire the amazing cars parked in my street – if my late husband were here he would be drooling over them – and consider the brief historical window of order, civilisation and sanity, which the Western democracies enjoyed in the post-war years.