Tuesday, 3 June 2014


My landlady died in January. This came as a huge surprise, not least to her, because everyone, including she, thought her indestructible. Mrs Jane Brooks. I knew her not-so-well, because she didn't let casual people like me get very close, but she was a jolly good sort. There are not many people it would be at all appropriate to label so these days, but Jane was one of them. I feel slightly guilty, calling her , 'Jane' because she never allowed it, and I was always, firmly, politely, MRS FRANCIS. In capitals, like Terry Pratchett's Death character, because Jane was no shrinking violet.

I called her after her first operation for a brain tumour last Spring. 'I'M STILL HERE, DEAR!' She trumpeted, and I was glad. 

Do you know ANYONE who watches 'Ready Steady Cook!' and then makes the  dishes? Mrs Brooks did. She was, as it happens, a jolly good cook, along with being a jolly good sort. Once upon a time Mrs B was a midwife and District Nurse in the less salubrious suburbs of Gloucester. "I COULD TELL YOU A FEW THINGS DEAR! Give her her due, she never did. What happened in the birthing room, stayed in the birthing room. 

She was very old-fashioned, and I loved her for it. After her husband died, she came to play in Assembly (Collective Worship you have to call it now. Funny, the less like worship it became, the more you had to say it.). All my kids would be able to belt out the old hymns at weddings and funerals, thanks to Mrs Brooks. And many other beautiful works besides. 

In an act of utter vendetta, she was sacked as Music Director at her beloved Parish Church, in Ledbury, where she led one of the few real Choirs (besides the cathedral of course)  left in the county. I knew it, but never spoke of it. Mrs Brooks would not have wanted me too, she carried her emotions very close to her chest. 

Church people can be very cruel. 

It would never have been appropriate to tell Jane how fond I was of her, and how I admired her courage, especially as death approached. I'm doing it now for no other reason than that it's true. 

I wasn't going to write about Mrs B, but she came to mind because there are men in, replacing the windows, and the cottage echoes to hammering, sawing and -worse - the builders' radio. Mike and Brian, are good guys, hard-working and conscientious. Mrs Brooks would never be doing with new windows. She held her pennies in like-vein to her emotions, though she wasn't mean. We pay way under market-rate for our home even now.

That's going to change, and  I'm not complaining. There's a lot of work needs doing to weather-proof the house, and it'll have to be paid for. But it did start us thinking we ought to be looking around in case the lovely Mr Brooks (Jane's step-son) decides that at 75, he's too old for landlording. 

What a shock! Pokey little hen-houses 'For Seniors' (I'm NOT a bloody 'Senior'! Call me a Senior and you'll regret it!) which would make cat-swinging laughable, ARE available if you want to pay £550 pcm for them. Computer designed too - which means you can have French Windows that give you three feet of vista before a 10 ft high brick wall! No wonder they don't sell. 

Don't worry about me, I'll manage, and well, but, I was thinking, as I looked at pages of over-priced apartments, how do people on low incomes, or worse, none, ever get housed? There's the high rent for starters, rising ahead of wages, for sure, then the month-and-half deposit, PLUs estate agents' fees, and then the fee to have you 'checked' ... What a bloody cheek! £75 for accessing information about ME that I never agreed anyone could hold in the first place! More on this later, I feel. 

'NO DSS' appeared on every single letting advertisement. Which means the unemployed, no matter what their circumstances, needn't bother to apply. A whole swathe of society indiscriminately discriminated against... . 

I wonder why this is even legal. I do not wish to be the tenant of anyone so mean-spirited. But. I doubt I'll have any choice. 

Good old Mrs B. You didn't ask for references, and didn't do a credit check, and I'm certain we'll get our deposit back when we have to leave. We thought you'd live for ever, Jane, and we sure wish you had! 

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