Thursday, October 22, 2009

miss flite

Lloyd House, an architect’s scale model in clean white card, a meticulously detailed blank, rising up above a line of model trees with municipal functionality.

Lloyd House, a simple, well-disposed block set back from the road, ramps for access, balconies for fresh air and views, an accommodating lobby with twin lifts and a generous allocation of stairs.

Take fifty years. Pan slowly down towards the main entrance. For every centimetre you travel, watch the card acquire colour, texture, definition, a wash of reality rippling out into courses of brick, squares of dirty glass, a notice: no ball games. As you descend and become smaller the ramp roughens beneath your feet, the trees crack and spread up into life, dark green and grey and black, leaning over - real trees now, filling the air with a resinous tang.

You’re at the front door. A WKD bottle, a scrunched Coke can, a scattering of fag butts.

Look at your clipboard, read a number.

Punch it in and wait.


When we make it up to Miss Flite’s flat, the front door is on the latch. I knock and push it open in one movement.
‘Hello. Ambulance.’
A muted hello from somewhere inside. We walk in.

We find ourselves on a fetid black carpet, tacky beneath our boots. Corners of spotted wallpaper loll out from the walls; a fan heater whirrs somewhere, stirring up sweetly malodorous currents. The room has a sofa and an easy chair, a coffee table and a sideboard, but the surface of each of these - and everything else - is covered with a tumbling crust of old newspapers, grimy faced dolls, a plastic rose in a dusty bell jar, a desiccated sandwich, a family portrait in a cracked black frame, a fish tank whose stones can just be made out pressed up against the mouldy green glass, a dirty telephone with plate sized numbers, a bronze eagle, and a thousand other pieces of junk which have lain so long they would leave an outline if they were ever lifted. Clusters of tiny white feathers drift here and there across the scene, catching on corners and surfaces. They have come from three rusting bird cages, each containing a spindly yellow and green budgerigar. The birds chip and squawk as we move further into the room, gagging and pulling our gloves on.

‘Over here.’
Miss Flite is lying on her side between a chair and one of the bird cages. She is propping herself up on her left arm, struggling to get a better look at us.
‘I just need a hand back up,’ she says. ‘I’ve been rather stupid.’

Miss Flite is only seventy but she could pass for ninety, so deeply have the marks of physical and social neglect been etched into her face. She has a full goatee beard that with her square face and hooked nose makes her look like a mischievous old man in drag; her nails are yellowed and ingrained with dirt. She wears an emergency call button around her wrist on a padded cream strap.

‘Help us up, there’s a fellow,’ she says.


Miss Flite sits nicely upright in her favourite chair with a hand placed neatly either side on the armrests, frowning, looking slightly bemused, like a High Court Judge challenged to live a life of destitution for the day. Behind her through the window, the sky is a deep and resonant blue.
‘I must say you came very quickly,’ she says, her smile revealing a spread of waxy yellow teeth. ‘Very quickly indeed. Most impressive.’
‘Miss Flite, what we’ll do is refer you to our Falls Team. They’ll give you a ring to arrange a time when they can come and have a chat. I’m sure there’s lots that they can do to make things better for you here.’
‘Oh I don’t doubt it. I know I’ve let things go a little.’
‘And then maybe they could get some other help started. You really need your damp problem sorting out, for one. What have the council said about it?’
‘The council? My dear – they’re not the least bit interested in me.’
I finish writing up the paperwork, aware that Miss Flite is staring at me, her head tipped slightly to one side, like one of her birds.
‘Do you have children?’ she says quietly.
‘Two girls, four and eight.’
‘What a charming age. Just coming into their own.’
Then she looks at the cages, and the three birds all hop up onto their perches.
‘They think I’m going to let them out,’ she says, extending a claw to the nearest of the cages and rapping gently on the bars. ‘I do indulge them from time to time. Maybe when you’ve gone I’ll let them fly about a bit, poor things.’
Then she turns back to offer her thanks again, and waves to us, as we pick our way back out towards the door.


lulu's missives said...

Hey Spence,
I like Ms. Flite. She comes across as being ever so polite and not wanting to bother anyone. Visually, there was a lady like her on the bus the other day. She was standing close to some teenagers on the way to school. They kept moving away, as she reeked a bit, but they were so rude about it.
Anyway, hope all is well.
x jo

Spence Kennedy said...

She was a lovely woman - but living in absolute squalor. Amazing that people still end up living in such awful conditions. I hope the Falls Team put some weight behind a significant change in her circumstances.

But yeah - everything's good with me! xx

cogidubnus said...

I suspect, behind closed doors, there are thousands of Miss Flites... all fiercely independent... disinclined to take a penny from the state if they felt they hadn't earned it... and I bet they wouldn't dream of calling you unless they were in dire straits...

Sad the obvious contrasts with the undeserving and relentlessly unpleasant thieving little chavs on some of our sink estates...

Andy said...

It's disheartening just how many people are left, alone, without anyone to offer them any support. Hopefully her situation, and need for improved living conditions can be brought before someone who will strive to improve them.

Excellent stuff as usual btw.

As a side note, The National have left the YouTube links! You're the only other person I've seen who knew about / liked them apart from me...

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Cogi
I reckon you're right about the numbers. It is a sad contrast, and all part of the same problem, I suppose - a widespread and deep rooted disenfranchisement of one kind or another.

Hi Andy
I find these situations worse than anything. One of the things people will often say to you is "I bet you see some things" or similar. What they're thinking about is gross trauma - but what I think about are those cases like Miss Flite, buried alive in the kind of deprivation you'd think would've been done away with in this society fifty years ago. All you can do is report it and hope something gets done.

I checked out The National on YouTube and it looks like they're still on?! So to celebrate I've put up one of my out and out favourites - The Geese of Beverly Road. :)

Thanks for your comments!

lulu's missives said...

I sliced my thumb on a tin this morning, lots of blood and running commentary from my daughter. She was very helpful but I could have done with your services today!!

Spence Kennedy said...

Ouch! I sliced the side/tip of my index finger off when I was demonstrating kitchen safety to my 5 yo. I couldn't find the bit (I'm guessing the dog had that).

:0/ xx

loveinvienna said...

Hi Spence!

Am desperately catching my tail here, trying to catch up with the posts I've missed (Uni + no internet = cut off from world!).

I know a few people like Miss Flite, they just need a bit of help to get them going but once they're going, they'll be alright. I hope she gets the help she needs and you're not called back at some later date to find her head first in a pile of discarded sweet wrappers and newspapers!

Hope everything is ok with family etc. Happy Halloween! >:[
Liv xxx

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Liv
No internet? Argh!

Mind you - we've just been away for a week to a remote cottage on the Suffolk coast. No internet, but after a day or so of cold turkey finger tremors, I got used to it (nice to be home / connected again, tho.)

I hope Miss Flite does get help to straighten her flat out. It's a difficult balance to strike - personal freedom to live how you like, or a sensible living space that won't trip you up all the time or make you ill. I think with her it was a case of a gentle slide into chaos because she didn't have much contact with people.

Happy Halloween to you, too! We went round to a friend's house for a party last night. It was great. I think the haunted cabin at the bottom of the garden scared me more than the kids. By torchlight, coming across a giant barbie head with many hands at the heart of a ton of webs. Er. Okay. Shiver. xx