Some South Woodford scribbles from DD, our resident diarist, commentator and observer of all things local
We receive far fewer letters in the post these days, don’t we? But we all had a letter from Professor Sir Ian Diamond. You may not have got as far as his signature before rushing to your computer, or panicking if you don’t have one, given that “you must complete the census by law or you could be fined up to £1,000.” The professor’s name comes further down, along with the slightly grudging fact that “you can request a paper version”. The census form is a very 21st-century document: you have quite a choice of boxes to tick when recording your gender. I suppose I’m a bit of a stick in the mud really, as I still “identify myself with what’s on my birth certificate.” No, I’m not mocking; I find the scientific progress on our understanding of gender intriguing. But while I confidently ticked my female box, I was recalling my grandson’s response to the subject when he was about 10 years old: “I know all about the gender spectrum, Grandma, and I’m absolutely sure I’m right at the male end of it.”
Another box I lingered over – I’ll explain why in a minute – asked you to describe what you did in your main job. My mother often said that “troubles come in threes”. Sure enough, when I broke the cables on the up-and-over garage door last week, and then, shortly afterwards, failed to start my car, I was obviously on the lookout for the sequel. And looking out was what I was doing, admiring one of those recent breathtakingly beautiful red morning skies, when I noticed that someone had stolen my wheelie bin during the night. Presumably just wheelied it away in the early hours. I had only possessed the bin for two days. Part of the Town Hall’s decision to rationalise borough rubbish collections. I hate wheelie bins. But I had managed to accommodate it as discreetly as possible between my two gates. So it had been sort of invisible. It’s certainly invisible now!
All of this meant my locked-down situation was going to be pleasantly (even if distantly) infiltrated by persons with the relevant key skills to sort me out. I found myself wondering what each of them might write in the “main job” box. Not just the garage door repairer, the AA man and the lady in the Town Hall Bin Department. What about the tree surgeon who was to prune my ornamental malus? Or the telephone engineer I paused to chat with in Chelmsford Road? Or the civic amenities operative down on Chigwell Road?
The garage door problem was urgent. It was hanging at an angle and wide open so that any Tom, Dick or burglar could access the garage. (I had quickly emptied the wine rack, but took a chance on the tool box.) Two companies I tried both said: “You’ll need a new door. We could book you in for June.” Two others were too far away. But how different was Keith at Garage Doors Ltd: “Ah, that‘s an old Henderson model. I think we can repair that.” (I had emailed a photograph.) “I’ll send someone on Monday to secure the door and make you safe and give you a quote.” Two days later, job done. “Doors are what we do. Supply ‘em. Fit ‘em. Maintain ‘em”. (His entry in the job box?)
The AA predicted an hour’s wait, but Jack came in half the time. “This battery is still under guarantee. Best we replace it.” Expertise and friendly chat too: I explained how hard I had found it to register my cry for help. Pressing buttons as instructed but in vain. “Oh, well, you need to install the app. You’ve got a smartphone? Give it here; I’ll show you what to do.” Job title? “My knight in bright yellow armour.”
As for the stolen bin, a mix of disbelief and merriment characterised my conversation with the Town Hall lady. “Steps are being taken, and I’ll make sure the men know they must collect your black sack OK on Tuesday.” They did. “A problem-solver par excellence”. Full marks to her. I await a new bin.
The tree surgeon arrived. Wally by name. Ladder in one hand. Heavy-duty cordless electric pruning saw in the other. Soon, what looked like half the tree was splattered on the lawn. The tree stood naked, stark, but beautifully shaped. “Should he take away all the debris?” No: we decided to save the extra pounds (sterling) and add this task to our exercise regime. Hopefully lose some of the other pounds into the bargain. There was no doubt about Wally’s job box. “I’ve been up trees for the past 50 years.”
The telephone engineer sits alone in front of a sort of large Pandora’s box. There’s one at the bottom of Grove Hill. Sometimes, he is sitting on a small stool, not unlike a milking stool. In fact, as he leans with meticulous care, even a touch of tenderness, up close to the jungle of wires, he could well be sensing the warmth and aroma of a milk-heavy cow, except that he’s not in a sheltered barn. He’s usually on a windy corner. How does he manage to explain his job in just 35 words? “Think installing, repairing, unscrambling, upgrading, maintaining. Think fibre optics, Wi-Fi, broadband, new smart technology. Keeping you in touch with the world.” He manages fine. With only 20!
I visited the dump down on Chigwell Road with four enormous green bags of the tree clippings. I usually take a large smile when I head dumpwards. There’s a big notice: “We are here to help.” And they always do when I ask nicely. One ‘operative’ will step up, all muscles and bright orange suit, and toss the bags effortlessly into the yawning space. Sometimes, the massive dampening system is in use and you relish a baptism of ‘Scotch mist’.
What does he write on his form? That’s a no-brainer: “My life is rubbish.”