Today I was going to follow up my Panorama preview with an analysis of what the show had to say. With apologies, that will have to wait.
I was unable to view the episode on transmission because I was having to deal with the sudden flooding of my house by the efforts of workmen who were acting with the blessing of my landlord – and the effect of that on Mrs Mike, who returned from her wrist operation to find her possessions covered in water.
All in all – and I mean this literally – yesterday was a washout.
You may recall I reported to the housing association – let’s put a name to it: Bromford Housing Association – on Friday afternoon a leak in one of the pipes under the bathroom that meant there was no pressure in the boiler and therefore no hot water for the house. They promised to send out someone to repair it within 24 hours and failed.
It turns out that there was no possibility of repair within that time – if a person gets to a house within the 24 hours, all they do is provide two heaters to tide you over until someone can come along to do a proper job. I got this from talking to another workman, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
After repeated phone calls from myself and Mrs Mike, once the 24 hours had elapsed, a man came out on Sunday who was only qualified to look at the pipes around the bath. The boiler was a matter for a heating engineer, and he gave the impression that the underfloor pipes were for the same person. When he called the housing association he was told that someone from the relevant company had already been here. That was a lie.
We had to wait until Monday, the day when Mrs Mike was due to go to Brecon for her carpal tunnel operation. I had to take her there. We waited until midday for the heating engineer, then left the keys with our next-door neighbour and a note on the door to call on her for an explanation of what was wrong.
The operation took a little longer than I expected, but we were home shortly after four – to find the heating engineer was there, working on the boiler. He said he had fixed the problem, but could do nothing about the underfloor pipes. Because the bathroom had been refitted by yet another company, they had to come in and effect repairs to it.
In the meantime he said – supported by the housing association’s representative at the other end of the phone – that we should leave the water on, because the dark patch on our kitchen ceiling (that had alerted us to the problem) was small and it was unlikely to become a serious problem before the OTHER repair people turned up – as promised by the housing association – later in the evening. Let’s just remember that promise, shall we?
He said I would have to repressurise the boiler every 15 minutes or so, as it would keep dropping until the pipe was fixed.
Then he went off to do another job on our estate.
After about an hour, Mrs Mike went out into the kitchen on some errand (I can’t remember all the details). Passing the cupboard under the stairs, she said: “Ew! Why’s the floor wet?”
I looked, and there was a damp patch seeping out from under the door. Guess what I found when I opened it?
That’s right. The whole place was drenched and dripping.
I rushed to switch off the water – the damage had been done but there was no reason to let it get worse.
Mrs Mike – who was under doctors’ orders to get rest and recuperation in a warm, stress-free environment after her operation – was in a hell of a state. Horrified, grief-stricken at the harm to her possessions, apoplectic with fury at the workman and the landlord that let him make such a hideous mess of everything – this was exactly the worst thing that could have happened to her on that day. I’ll come back to that in a while, too.
Of course I got on the phone to the housing association and spoke to some clueless operative who claimed to know nothing about it and asked me to repeat certain details of what had happened several times over, presumably hoping to catch me out in an inconsistency, I don’t know why. She knew that her company was in trouble – and she would be too, if she didn’t act responsibly – I made that perfectly clear. Perhaps she didn’t know how to behave properly. Perhaps they don’t provide that kind of training.
While I was grappling with this slippery customer, Mrs Mike had gone out the front door, found the workman who’d told us to leave the water on, and gave him the kind of talking-to you don’t forget in a hurry. Bearing in mind the fact that these people are told to leave the area if they receive abuse, it is to his credit that he agreed to come into the house and look at the damage. When he did so, I found that water had also got through the kitchen ceiling, dripping down the wall so that, by now, everything on the worktop was swimming.
I handed the phone to him. He had a conversation. Then he told me that he’d been authorised to do whatever he could to get to the offending pipe and sort out the problem. The woman from the housing association had suggested that he could go through the kitchen ceiling, if you can believe that! He couldn’t see the point in ruining the plasterwork and neither could I, so he went up to the landing and got to work on the boards with the tools he had to hand – a hammer and a screwdriver.
All this was while Mrs Mike was screaming that she didn’t want any more liars on the phone or in the house. She was absolutely beside herself and who can blame her?
Now: You remember the housing association had claimed other repair people would show up later in the evening? The boiler repairman let me know they told him the nearest person was five hours’ travel away, and had two jobs to do. He wasn’t going to get to our house that evening! They’d told us another lie, to get us off their back.
While he was going through the floorboards with the hammer and the screwdriver, boiler repair man burst a gas pipe. He got me to switch the gas off, but of course if he had caused a spark I suppose that would have been “Goodnight Vienna” for all of us!
He did, eventually, get the floor up enough to reveal the broken pipes. The broken water pipe had a screw left in it, from when – as he had correctly deduced – the company who had fitted the new bathroom had put down the flooring. I took a photograph.
Fixing the problem took until 10.30pm. We now have multiple other repairs to be done. The housing association sent around a ‘surveyor’ this morning – while I was away covering a council meeting (I am a news reporter, after all). He wandered around, nodding and making “Mm” noises until Mrs Mike shouted at him to stop grunting and do something useful. I’ve got a voicemail message on my mobile – from her – that I daren’t open. It’ll probably sear my ears off.
This is a saga that is far from over.
I promised to come back to the issue of Mrs Mike’s health, and the effect that these events have had on it. She had been to hospital for a (minor) operation during the day. She needed calm, peace and quiet and didn’t get it. I’ve already mentioned those things. She also has mental health problems including serious issues with depression. That means that the full effect of these events on her may not make itself felt for a little while and I have deep concerns about what it may be.
She is also in the middle of what I shall call “aggressive negotiations” with the DWP over her Employment and Support Allowance. She’s in the work-related activity group but – according to a work placement provider, of all people! – shouldn’t be. This will not only affect the state of health that these people will need to record – accurately – but will also affect her state of mind about the assessment process.
Also, it occurs to me that any society that allows organisations with power over individuals – such as, say, employers or landlords – to make decisions that impact harmfully on those individuals’ health – as has clearly happened here, with Mrs Mike – should be very careful when it is asked to judge those people.
If the government has not, or cannot, properly regulate employers and landlords to prevent injury or harm to physical or mental health, then it should not penalise people who exhibit the symptoms of that harm.
In other words, why are employers and landlords allowed to get away with dangerous practices, and why is it that the government’s only response is to label the victims of these situations as “scroungers” when they claim the benefits that cover these situations, for which they have paid their taxes?
Most damning, most dangerous of all, is the fact that our house wasn’t the only one to get a new bathroom last October/November. Who knows how many other pipes these people have hammered holes into? They must have been to dozens of households. That means dozens of little time-bombs (or rather, water-bombs) all over this estate, ticking – or dripping – away.