Copyright obohobo 2007
Chapter 1: The squatter
"What have you forgotten today Bobby?"
"As if I would."
"What about your sandwiches yesterday?"
"No Ma, I brought something for you that I found in 'Barn House'." I dragged the woman from the utility room into the kitchen where mother was clearing away the breakfast things. "Ma this is Kathryn and I found her sleeping rough in the house this morning. She says her name is Kathryn Bailey and she's from Scotland. Kathryn, this is my mother, Margaret Dawson."
"Call me Meg, everyone else does... except that slob of course. Can I call you Kath?" Kathyn nodded. "Come on in dear, it can't have been very warm in that house last night." As I expected, mother waddled over to the woman and gave her a hug that almost enfolded her within her bosom. A few tears trickled down Kath's cheek, overwhelmed by the greeting. Like me, mother is rather large in stature and, like many large, slightly overweight people, has a genial, friendly disposition. I don't always take after her in that respect. "Sit yourself down and I'll make a pot of tea. Don't suppose you've had any breakfast either." Whilst filling the kettle she turned on me, "Heh, what you been up to with her? If she was there all night and you've been there well over an hour, what you been doing to her that her clothes are in a mess?"
"Nothing much Ma, she just thought she had to right to live there and I should go away. I had to tell her differently."
That perhaps wasn't the whole truth.
I'm Robert Dawson, 'Bob' or 'Bobby' to most people and I'm a maintenance engineer for a large conglomerate of building contractors. The firm builds roads, bridges, office blocks, shopping malls and the like and because at least some of the projects are worked on twenty-four hours a day, we maintenance engineers at the main depot have to work a shift system too. One day on 'earlies' from six in the morning till two in the afternoon, the next on 'lates' from two till ten o'clock at night and then 'nights' from ten till six the following morning. We then get two days off. I'm mainly in the machine shop but I get sent on site when the need arises. I've worked the shift system for a number of years now and am used to it and enjoy having free time during the day which is more than the nine to fivers get.
Uncle Ernie bequeathed the 'Barn House' to me when he died last March. At the time it was built, 1912, the owners wanted much larger rooms and higher ceilings that was normal for domestic housing at the time, hence the nickname, although they never called it that. Uncle was born in it and lived there all his life but for the last ten or more years, he'd been infirm and had done nothing to the house unless it was directly essential to his welfare. "Why should I worry about the paintwork when what's on there will last my time out on this earth," he would remark bitterly, but unfortunately the paintwork needed attention long before he became infirm and rot had set in to the woodwork, which, combined with a lack of cleanliness, meant the place I inherited was in a very dilapidated state. I visited Uncle Ernie fairly frequently and did any necessary repairs but what he allowed me to do was very limited and, because none of the sash windows would open, a musty, somewhat malodorous smell, pervaded the place.
However, the detached two-storey house set in a quarter of an acre of land, was in a good neighbourhood in small village six miles from Ipswich. The garden, if you could call it that, was a wilderness when I took it over and until a few weeks ago, it lay hidden from the road by an overgrown hedge. Word about the property spread quickly and what I came to term 'the vultures' descended on me. Before I had even received the deeds to the place and started paying off the inheritance tax, land developers besieged me with offers that ranged from the downright mean to overgenerous but it gave me some idea of the value of the place. They would get four dwellings, maybe six if they made them three storeys high, on the site. However, I decided I would spend some time doing the place up and then live in it. Ma didn't want to move and I certainly didn't need a place as large as that, but several times she suggested I find a place of my own again and the 'Barn House' seemed the obvious choice. For three years I'd lived with a woman, Karen Childs, but eventually she found someone else who had a more interesting social life and we parted and not very amicably either so I really wasn't looking for another relationship.
I knew that if I sold, I would have more than enough to buy a modern place but being a practical man, I rather fancied doing it up and working in the building industry, I had access to expertise and materials and could even 'borrow' any heavy equipment needed. That's how I was able to clear the wilderness from around the house quickly; I borrowed a bulldozer on one of my free days and levelled everything and on another day enlisted the help of a mate and fork-lifted the rubbish into a lorry and took it to the dump.
Skilled shift workers like me get paid good money so with a regular income, I was easily able to afford the necessary materials and over the late summer, I gutted the interior and replaced the windows, doors and other outside woodwork, now in early October I had one last door at the back to replace and paint before I deemed the place watertight and secure for the winter. The previous day, I fitted the door into its opening but didn't have time to hang it before going to work on 'lates' and wedged the door in place considering the risk of anyone stealing the few building materials stored inside the house, to be very small. Next morning I noticed the door wasn't quite in place and the wedges were not in the same positions so it was with some caution I let myself in through the front door.
"Get out! This is my place now. I have squatters rights and you'll need a court order to evict me." A woman now sitting up on a bed made from a pile of lightweight insulation blocks, screamed at me. I took an instant dislike to her; she had the same dirty blonde hair as my ex partner. Despite her fierce words, I could see she was very frightened and she needed to be. I'm 6 ft 3 inches and big boned and because of the nature of my work, I'm strong and fit.
The scene struck me as being comical. A smallish woman, who had broken into my house and was sitting on a crude bed in the corner of an otherwise almost bare room, was threatening me. "Is that so?" I laughed and before she knew what happened I tossed her over my shoulder and carted her down the garden. She screamed and yelled and thumped my back but I didn't expect anyone to hear or notice. Coming to a patch of tall, damp grass I rolled her off my shoulder into it. "That's my sort of court order," I grinned and was immediately sorry for what I'd done, realising that she must have been pretty desperate to have spent the night in a deserted house with no heating or bedding. She didn't look like a druggy either and I'd seen enough of them hiding away on building sites. "Sorry, that was mean of me," I apologised and bent down to help her up. Immediately she raised her fists. "Don't even think about it," I warned, "Now if you agree the house belongs to me, we'll go back inside and put the kettle on and see what we can sort out. I won't harm you." I doubt she believed that but with my arms around her shoulders, she had little choice but to return to the house. All the way back she pleaded with me to let her go but she didn't actually forcibly free herself and I guessed she was too exhausted to put up much of a fight. Eventually I was able to drag the story from her.
"I originally came from Worcestershire but my parents moved to Scotland for work and I got a job in the office of a shipyard on the Clyde. Six months ago the shipyard closed with the loss of nearly two thousand jobs, dad's and mine included. I've been looking unsuccessfully for work ever since and my benefits payments were not enough to cover the rent on my house or my car, I had to move back in with my parents. Dad was out of work too although he was able to get odd jobs that paid cash and he seemed to think I could too. I sold the car to pay some debts but it wasn't enough to cover everything and the amount it raised was far less than its real worth. Eventually Dad and I had a row and I decided to look for a job here in the south-east where I heard jobs were more plentiful so I thought to try for the docks in Felixstowe or Harwich. Without money for the fare, I had to hitchhike and that went pretty well until the lift I had pulled off the A14 on to a minor road last night and the driver pushed me out of the car and drove off. He kept my rucksack and my handbag. It was nearly dark and there didn't seem to be anyone about and no shops and no pub so when I saw this place obviously empty, I found a way in and spent the night. So what are you going to do with me now?"
Sitting opposite me at the rickety kitchen table, she looked vulnerable and yet she spoke with a certain amount of defiance. It had taken me quite a while to get her to speak at all and then it all came out in a rush.
"What was in your handbag?"
"Not much. About £25 in cash and a few toiletries, not that it is any of your business."
She shook her head. "Dad cut it up after he had to pay the last bill." Suddenly tears started to flow. "What are you going to do with me?" she asked again.
.... There is more of this story ...