Friday 21 February 2020

What are the essentials?

If I was trapped in my bedroom because my ground floor was flooded following ‘Storm Denis’ what would I need?

Do I assume the toilet still flushes and I can have a wash? If the water is still on and the electricity is safe I can boil a kettle, make drinks, cuppa soups, couscous, use a microwave oven and fill hot water bottles. I can make toast and rely on helpful neighbours in boats to replenish my dwindling stocks of bread, milk and butter. 

Presumably I can’t do any washing as the machine is in a flooded kitchen.If the bathroom is functioning it might be possible to wash underwear and shirts but if the heating’s off where do they dry? 

If I have no cooking facilities how long could I last in a bedroom on take aways delivered by another helpful neighbour in another boat? Shouldn’t I be trying to get out into fresh air? What if I can’t find my wellies? And when do I start clearing out the filthy carpets and furnishings downstairs?

At a time like this the mobile phone is a boon, neighbours with boats or similar are life-savers and the emergency services are heroes. But ...

If there is no plumbing, no clean water, no electricity, no heating in my home I don’t think I could stay in a bedroom unable to flush the loo, make myself a drink nor have a wash. I couldn’t recharge my phone and couldn’t listen to a radio unless it’s battery operated. It would be impossible to stay in bed under the duvet with a full bladder and nowhere to relieve myself.

What are the essentials? If you are used to camping presumably you have LED lights, portable loos and gas burners for heat and cooking. But our last camping trip was many years ago and our portable loo is trapped somewhere unmentionable in the back of a shed which itself has seen better days. If the garden’s flooded presumably the shed would be too. 

How to prepare for a flood, then?
Have portable gas-fired heating at the ready? Have a gas camping stove, whistling kettle and camping saucepans and spoons to hand? Have water purification tablets and stocks of tinned foods and bottled water? Have tons of wet wipes to help maintain a modicum of self-cleanliness? Ensure my camping loo has sufficient cleaning solutions to keep it hygienic to use? Have a hot water bottle in a state of readiness? 

And if I could manage to be this prepared how would it affect me psychologically to have to live like this, cramped in one or two bedrooms with the smells of rotting carpets working their way up the stairs? 

My heart goes out to people suffering in the latest floods. But this crisis is going to be more commonplace. What are the essentials? How long could any of us cope - camping out in our bedrooms? 

And what about the victims of coronavirus trapped in their cabins on their cruise ship? This is not what they paid £3K for. They truly will suffer cabin fever. Presumably - although surrounded by water - the ship’s electrics, plumbing and kitchens are functioning. Travellers can wash, eat, use the loo, sleep in warm bunks and watch tv. But stuck in one  cabin with no end date in sight? How does that help their stressed states of mind? 

We are no longer, in the main, the generation that got through the war. We aren’t used to blackouts, hiding in shelters, waking up to a destroyed home or queueing for rations. Climate change and mass cruise travel can damage the environment. The weather is shifting, airplane travel is a pollutant but ferry travel seems greener. 

Time for us all to wake up and readjust to a less indulgent lifestyle. Alter our habits, adapt to wet winters, blazing summers and prepare for floods. Simplify our holidays and hope for the best but plan for the worst. What do we really need to do more than just survive? What are the essentials? 

Monday 17 February 2020

Be independent of marriage, if needs be.

The above homily may sound anti-marriage but it isn’t. It was a phrase my mother said to me several times, and she had a long, happy life married to my father. And she was probably very glad when my brother and I did eventually marry as I’m sure she didn’t truly think living together was the done thing. Nothing was ever said but she approved of marriage, despite the title of this piece.

What mum meant is that women should stand on their own two feet. They should be financially independent and have qualifications so that they can be ‘independent of marriage, if needs be.’ Ironically I have earned more than my husband - since before the year 2000 - thus proving my financial independence - but not independence of marriage - yet he got a better pension settlement than me. Go figure! (Depends which party is in power in number ten and how flush your employers are, it seems.)

So, yes, I’ve been financially independent of marriage. I paid our mortgage from the mid-nineties till the end of its term, while Richard became an impoverished, romantic artist. But he always paid for the car and its maintenance, our utilities, and, until his recent illness all the food & groceries that we consumed. I made sure, however, that we had a roof over our heads, and, when needs be, paid for repairs to it so we were always dry and warm. 

It’s disturbing, then, to read of the plight of homeless women, who, according to the online headline I saw, are escaping violent marriages and have nowhere to go. This is not what my mother foresaw in her quest for independence of marriage - ie squalid homelessness - but this can be the net result for women who have no money of their own and all other avenues are closed to them.

Mum always believed in divorce - no woman should endure unhappiness within a marriage - but also said that many women, especially of her generation (born between the wars) that stayed in the marital home because of the reason cited above: they had nowhere else to go. If, however, they had their own earnings they could at least save to put a deposit down on a flat. If they had qualifications they could take up the remnants of a career and maintain that flat. And not remain in an unhappy, maybe terrifying marriage, nor end up on the streets. Financial independence gives choice.

How desperate must you be to have no bank account, to have to show your violent husband exactly how much money is in your purse and to justify every penny spent on, wait for it, his meals. Just to avoid a broken nose, multiple bruises, and possibly frightened children whose bedclothes you have to wash and dry - through bedwetting - before the vicious man returns and makes his demands or accusations.

It takes a brave woman to leave a home and survive on the streets, in the cold and wet,  only to be jeered at or urinated upon. But perhaps it’s better than staying in a house where whatever you do fault will be found and punishment meted out.

Women, everywhere, should be given opportunities to gain financial independence so that none have to remain in a dangerous relationship nor end up in a shop doorway. 

Be financially independent of marriage (or any relationship), period. Just to know that you are able to live off your own earnings, if needs be, gives immense power to a woman. I know. I am one. 

The Guardian, Weds 5 February

Domestic violence is a major cause of homelessness. Government figures show that in the year to June 2019, 24,000 people were made homeless in England directly because of domestic abuse.

(Abuse) survivors can face homelessness or returning to their abusers when their time is up at a refuge. This is because councils are only required to provide housing for domestic violence survivors if they can prove they are more vulnerable than the average homeless person.