From the Windows of Ruby Street – Part II

29 07 2012

 

The Arsonist

This particular incident was viewed, again, from the front windows of our flat in Ruby Street, from whence my prior criminal catching snapshot was taken (see previous post).

At approximately 4.27am on Tuesday, I awoke from my slumber to the wailing sounds of an alarm, which stopped abruptly following a very loud BANG.  As I lay quivering in my bed, my mind spurred into action in an attempt to explain the source of all the noise.  My final version of events was that someone had broken into a house, shot the occupants and then turned off the alarm.  Bollocks to that, I thought, and snuggled into Roger, who was sleeping like an angel on his only day off from the milk round.

Seconds later I heard the incessant honking of a car horn.  That bloody taxi again I thought!  (A regular occurrence at 7.45am every morning).  I leapt out of bed and ripped the curtains back to see a car on the opposite side of the street completely engulfed in flames.  SHIIIIIIT!

After running around in circles a few times in my small kitchen trying to think what the hell the emergency number was in England, I ran to the bedroom and shrieked “Roger!!  Call the fire brigade!”  In a very UN-calm and agitated state, I raced back to the window and threw it wide open just in time to see a second car burst into flames.

Roger drowsily made his way towards the telephone, tripping over shoes and god knows what else I had managed to leave lying in his path.  Upon reaching the phone, and with his eyes adequately adjusted to the blinding light (of the light bulb, not the fire), he placed the call.  Due to his slightly delayed reaction, and my initial instinct to ring 111, we were NOT the first to report the crime this time.

As the two cars burned brightly in the early morning, casting dancing shadows across the facades of terraced houses, an old white Vauxhall Corsa sat inescapably sandwiched between the two infernos.  It was just a matter of time before it too would be consumed by flames.  However, in the midst of all the popping, burning and exploding, the owner of the doomed car suddenly appeared, and leaping valiantly (or stupidly) through the thick black smoke he clambered hastily into his Corsa.  My heart was in my mouth.  “Is this guy crazy?” I jabbered at Roger who had by now joined me at the window.  And of course, true to the script of a dramatically explosive Hollywood movie…the car wouldn’t start.  RRRrrrrrrrrr.  RRRrrrrrrrrrr.

Tension and suspense wracked our bodies as we clung white-knuckled to the window frame listening to the starter motor turning over hopelessly, while flames licked the paint on the Corsa’s back panel.  In a flash, the owner’s balding middle-aged neighbour who had been watching from a safe distance ran heroically (or stupidly) across the road to his aid, his non-fire resistant dressing gown falling open mid-stride to reveal an enormous hairy belly.  More fuel for the fire, I thought.

Together, in what appeared to be slow motion, they pushed the car at a snail’s pace across the road while my hysterical screams of “Are you bleedin crazy?!  The petrol tank’s gunna BLOW!” echoed up and down Ruby Street.  By now, our neighbours had lined the pavement in their sleeping attire, and looking to the left and right of our window I could see bed-hair heads hanging suspended in air above the exciting scenes below.  Having safely navigated the Corsa to the other side of the road, thick black smoke billowed up into our window, choking us and filling our flat with an acrid stench, forcing us to close the windows and peer through a darkened haze at the action below.

After the arrival of Saltburn’s finest, the fires were extinguished and we were able to open the windows once more.  After eavesdropping on the firemen, police and neighbours from above, we were able to deduce that some unsavoury character had just minutes earlier siphoned petrol from most of the cars in the street.  How the cars came to be alight is somewhat of a mystery.

One possibility bandied about by observers was that the criminal must have spilled some fuel in the gutter which had dribbled down the street towards the sea, and then having thrown away his/her cigarette – ‘cos that’s the intelligence of these people, smoking while siphoning fuel from cars – had accidentally (maybe purposely) ignited the spilled fuel.

How the Corsa in between the burning car did not set alight, is a mystery only the eyes of the night know the answer to.

NOTE:  I did make a dash for my trusty camera, however Roger sensibly advised me that it would be bad taste for me to blind the neighbours with my camera flash while photographing people’s misfortune.  My moral radar told me he was probably right, so no photographs to accompany this post sorry.  KP

 

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From the Windows of Ruby Street – Part I

17 07 2012

Date:  August 2003

While in England, my fiancée and I rented a tiny studio flat on the top floor of a three-storied terraced house, each storey containing its own apartment.  We lived in one of the “jewel” streets in the seaside village of Saltburn-by-the-Sea where stories of pirates, sunken ships and smugglers flourished.

Saltburn Pier at the bottom of the town’s furnicular

The street we lived on was called Ruby Street.  Our back window (there was only one) gave us a view out over the rooftops of the other terraced townhouses in the area but we didn’t open it much.  There was a pipe just to the right outside the window that consistently emitted the stench of blocked drains or sewage into our bedroom.

View from our back window

Can you see the offending pipe?

The two white net-covered windows at the front, however, looked down onto Ruby Street, and it is from these very windows that I observed three extraordinary incidences over the period of two months.  It is these tales that I will now retell:

–  The Skip Rats
–  The Arsonist
–  The Car Thieves

Part I – The Skip Rats

When a large blue skip bin appeared outside the house directly across the road from us, it was clear that some big renovations were about to begin.  Well, either that or someone had passed away and they were clearing out the property.  We weren’t entirely sure, and we didn’t really care.  The only difference it made to us was that it put a bit of a squeeze on car parking in the street for a while.

One morning as I leaned against the kitchen bench, gazing out the window and munching on a Bovril slathered piece of toast, a middle-aged man in a green sweatshirt and track pants shuffled slowly past the blue skip bin.  Seconds later, he shuffled back past in the other direction, peering curiously into the skip.  I watched bemused from my elevated vantage point as he shuffled back past a third time.  What is he doing I wondered?  Is there something in there that he wants?

The terraced house where we lived in Ruby Street

I kept my eyes glued on this mysterious character as he turned square on to face the skip bin.  His shifty eyes flicked left down the street.  Flicked right.  And before I could choke on my crust he had hoisted himself up and swung into the skip with the finesse of an Olympic gymnast on a pommel horse.  My mouth fell open, bits of chewed toast tumbling onto the carpeted floor at my feet.  What IS he doing?!

For ten minutes I watched the man shuffling about inside the skip bin, before I finally called Roger into the kitchen.

“You won’t believe it,” I said.  “Look at this guy,” I exclaimed pointing down to the bin.

“Oh yeah.  Skip rat.”

“What?”

“Skip rat.”

“What the hell is a skip rat?” I sniggered.

I listened attentively as Roger told me the customs and behaviours of a skip rat, a name given to a person who rifles through skip bins seeking antiques, treasures or just a little something for the mantelpiece at home.

“I’ve done some skip ratting in my time,” Roger admitted casually.  “You find some good gear in there.”

I threw him a dubious look before returning my attention to the man in the skip.  Our rat’s rummaging had been a success, and he leapt out with an old painting and a box under his arm, scurrying away with his precious trophies.  However, by midday, he was back, and this time he spent three hours in the skip, assembling his discoveries on the footpath before sweeping them up in his arms and scurrying off home again.

I was stunned!  These English are crazy, I thought, but that was just the beginning.  For the next couple of days I watched skip rat after skip rat stroll down the street, leap in, rummage about, leap out with their treasure troves and disappear.  The rats came in all genders, ages and classes.  They even came in pairs, and I snapped my new digital camera gleefully at the spectacle playing out before me.  For two weeks I stood at my kitchen window, camera at the ready, drinking tea and dunking my biscuits with delight every time someone new climbed into the skip.

“Bazz found a gold necklace in here the other day,” I heard one skip rat say to another.

“A gold necklace…” I murmured, my ratting instincts tempting my better judgement.

Skip rats hard at work

A few days later when I glanced out the window and noticed a witchy looking woman had loaded up the boot, back and front seats of her little blue car, I just had to take a photo.  This is ridiculous, I thought.  Her car was so chock full the mudguards were almost touching the tyres and her toddlers in the backseat had been buried under a plethora of what I can only describe as “junk.”

The next day when I arrived home after work, the police were standing outside the house next to the skip bin.  I raced upstairs and took up my viewing posse next to Roger in the kitchen who had been keenly watching events unfold.  He had no idea why the police were there, and since we had carefully logged the comings and goings over the last two weeks, we went downstairs to see if we could be on any assistance.  Or if I’m truthful, to be nosey!

“Excuse me officer,” Roger said in the deepest baritone he could muster, “is there a problem?”

“Good afternoon sir,” the policeman replied.  “It seems the house has been burgled, the workmen’s tools have disappeared.  Have either of you noticed anything unusual?”

Pffffftttt!  Unusual?  UNUSUAL?  My eyes almost popped out of my head.

“I did notice a blue mark III Fiesta parked here this morning when I went to work, but that car was here yesterday loading up stuff out of the skip” replied Roger.

The policeman became very interested.  “I don’t suppose you saw the registration?” he asked hopefully.

“I can do better than that,” he grinned.  “My girlfriend has a photo of the car.”

He stared in disbelief.  “Can I see the photograph?” he asked.

“You betcha officer!” I replied, and I bounded back upstairs as quickly as my slippered feet would carry me to retrieve my digital camera.

While I was fetching, Roger explained that I was a naïve Kiwi from Down Under who had never seen “skip rats” in action before and that was why I had taken a photograph.  He was trying to convince the policeman that I was not a stalking, obsessive curtain-peeping weirdo!

Caught on Camera! I have removed the license plate after consultation with my legal team.

As it turned out, a male relation of the woman we had photographed loading up her little blue car, had returned that morning and broken into the house that was being renovated.  The photograph that we had unwittingly snapped enabled the Cleveland Police to identify the licence plate and catch the culprit.  And if it wasn’t for us pesky kids, he would have got away with it!

Tune in again shortly for Parts II and III





Initial Impressions of England through Kiwi eyes

1 05 2012

In 2002, in a pub in a small town in New Zealand, I proposed to my good friend Shaz that she join me on my OE to England.  I never really expected her to say yes, and when she did, well, I just thought it was the Jim Beam talking!  But when, two weeks later, I received a text from her saying that she had booked her tickets, I couldn’t have been more excited.  And on a summery New Year’s Day in 2003 we boarded Singapore Airlines bound for the wintery streets of Saltburn-by-the-Sea, England.

Shaz and I quickly become "allies" with the English publican, part of our master plan to be "locked in."

The posts that follow over the next while are tales from 2003 and 2004 when I was living and working in England, and of course (like every Kiwi who has gone before me) exploring the European countries.

However, now that I am wiser, older (unfortunately!) and much more sophisticated (ahem, cough), I find my observations and experiences to be a little naive, quite embarrassing and almost always amidst an alcoholic haze.  That said, there were also some bloody funny moments that I just have to share!

If there’s one thing to change a person’s outlook on life and make them grow up fast, it’s travelling!  So with some slight editions to one or two monumentally shameful stories (hindsight really is wonderful isn’t it?!), here goes!

 

March 2003

England is:

  • Pubs closing at 11am unless you’re “in the know” and can get locked in after closing.
  • Kiri and Shaz trying desperately to “get in the know”, but sadly often left outside in the brisk night air.
  • Not receiving a cheery “Hello, how’s your day going?” from the check-out operators at the Supermarket, and being blanked when you try to initiate polite conversation.
  • Having to pack your own groceries and waiting for the 70 year old lady with arthritis in front of you to painstakingly pack hers.
  • Walkabout Pub in Middlesbrough, particularly Steve, the manager, with the dreamy brown eyes.
  • Kiri’s drunken failed attempts at complimenting Steve on his dreamy brown eyes, while Shaz pisses herself (indiscreetly!) at a nearby leaner.
  • Cars parking on both sides of the roads facing any direction they please.
  • Leaping out of the way of cars swerving across the road towards you to park on the other side of the road.
  • No reduced cream for Kiwi dip.
  • Baked bean flavoured crisps (not chips!).
  • Being hit on because of your, quote: “exotic accent.”  What, this old thung?
  • Being called an Antipodean who has come all the way from the Antipodes and having no idea where or what that is.
  • Buses lurching forwards before you’ve had the chance to sit down.
  • Landing face first in people’s crutches on buses.
  • Getting the giggles on the Underground because you don’t know where to look, heaven forbid you should strike up a conversation with someone!
  • Leather skinned old women exiting the numerous Sun Tan shops that line the high street.
  • Women wearing high heels and cargo pants. How are they going to scale a two metre wooden wall in those if the occasion calls for it?
  • Girls wearing hardly any clothes at the pubs, and lots of them wearing fishnet stockings (?!!)
  • Kiri and Shaz staring at fishnet stockings in Debenhams for thirty minutes before shaking heads and leaving the department store empty handed.
  • A bird that sounds like an owl waking us up at 6.30am every morning.
  • Spending Saturday and Sunday mornings at 6.30am in pyjamas looking like Medusa on crack, hunting down an owl-sounding bird.
  • Squirrels scampering around the back lawn and up trees.
  • Kiri and Shaz chasing squirrels around the back lawn to see if they bite or not.




Shopping and Trains in England

20 03 2012

Arriving in England was a bloody big shock to the system weather wise (although they have had the mildest winter in fifty years!) but it was nice to be back in a relatively clean and normal country.

A little different to South East Asia huh?

Since I have been here before, don’t expect a whole lot of posts about my first impressions of England – those little ditties from when I DID live in England have been stored on my computer for a while, and maybe it’s time I pulled them out again for your reading pleasure. *wiggles eyebrows*

Instead this post is about two things I noticed while in England this time. The fashion and the trains. Of course the first thing we did when we arrived was hit the shops! England has the best and cheapest clothes ever – long live Primark!

So what’s the shizzle in fashion in England at the moment? Well, super skinny jeans are definitely “in” and I’m devo (that’s devastated for anyone over the age of 25). I do not suit super skinny jeans. In fact, I’m pretty sure the majority of the female population don’t suit super skinny jeans, yet they seemed to be on every shelf in every shop. When they were only skinny jeans they were bad enough. Were they called stove-pipes in New Zealand? But super skinny. I wonder how many women just fall down in shopping malls due to the absence of blood flow to their lower limbs.  And these jeans aren’t just for the girls, they even have super skinny jeans for the blokes!  (See link at bottom of post)

The men’s jeans were just as awful. The style of the moment has the legs shaped so that they bend outwards in a banana fashion, causing the jeans to have the I-just-got-off-my-horse-after-100-days-of-riding look. But wait, there’s more. They are nicely finished off round the ankle with a tight elastic cuff – just like you’d find on a pair of old school trackie pants. Blurk! I tried to coerce Roger into modelling a pair so I could take a photo but he blatantly refused. Oh but just you wait you lucky, lucky Kiwi blokes. This little hum-dinger piece of fashion should be hitting shops near you soon!

This photo actually makes them look half decent. They're not!

The other thing that shrieked at me from shop windows were the clothing neologisms that my Year 12 students from last year would lap up! The first was “Jeggings.” These were not just a pair of leggings, but leggings that looked like a pair of jeans. Hence, jeggings! Eek, clever!

The second was a little trickier to figure out. “Treggings – two pairs for 10 quid.” Hmmm. On closer examination, I discovered they were leggings that looked like a pair of work trousers. Hence, treggings!

Ahh the British. Always leading the trends in fashion. If you feel you need to know more, check it out here.

So while in England we spent a few days down South and a few days up North, two parts of the country that are totally different worlds. I don’t think I’m identifying anything that someone living in England doesn’t already know, but for those of you who haven’t been there let me try to explain it. And I’m going to do it using trains.

Down south in the county of Surrey, the trains glide soundlessly up to the platform, silently easing to a halt. Their glossy colourfully painted carriages appear sleek and sexy as they warm in the winter sun. The tinted windows suggest a magical mystery tour awaits you inside. You enter into a warm and cosy interior with clean, newly covered velour seats and brightly carpeted carriages. The easy rocking motion and hum of the train makes you feel like you are cradled in the bosom of a loving mother as you glide carefree towards your destination.

Up north in the county of Cleveland, the trains are considerably different. They squeal and groan as they pull up to the platform, screeching to a shuddering halt. Their dull blue flaky carriages are a sorry sight, and the engine revs loudly while they try to muster up the strength to leave the platform, jerking reluctantly into some forward momentum. The faded hard seats offer no comfort, and glum cold Northerners, mouths pulled down at the corners, sit looking at the bleakness through their scratched and graffittied windows. The train click-clacks loudly over the worn joins in the tracks, rocking sideways violently as you jerk uncomfortably towards your destination.

*sigh* “It’s grim up North.”

After a brief consideration whether or not to stay and put some roots down in England, we decided against it. Preferring instead to head to the land of sun, sand and surf. Perth, here we come…again.