I had a strange welcome to London recently. In a city of this size, one could say that people don’t look after each other. They don’t look at each other on the tube. They ignore others. It’s easy to keep walking past someone who looks like they’re having a rough time.
I was at home alone, and there was a knock at the door. When I opened it, I met my elderly neighbour. Her TV had stopped working. She was distressed; the TV is her main pastime, and what could she do instead? After asking her questions, I eventually had to ask if she wanted me to come over and look at it (‘Yes , deary’). I went next door. She had two old TVs and a digital box. She was using the remote for the TV, but had hidden the remote for the digital box. Once she pulled it out, I was able to set up the TV to rescan the channels, and left her with a working TV. She was lovely, and I was happy to help. She asked about the Indian who lived there before me (‘No, he’s still here. He’s my flatmate.’), saying he is a lovely man. [Actually he’s Sri Lankan]. She told me about her daughter and grandkids, and being in the war, and her dead husband. I said that the TVs were all changing to digital, so maybe that was why her TV wasn’t working.
When I got back, I told my flatmate that I met our neighbour. He said ‘she owns you now’. Oh dear.
A week later (last Monday), bangs on the door again. I get up. Her TV isn’t working again. Okay. Would you like me to have a look? (‘Yes, deary’). Okay, I go next door.
She was telling me she thought she had seen someone in her house, a woman who took a cable. Just a cable? Yes, she was in my house. That’s worrying. Did you call the Police? No. Well, not a lucid ‘no’ as a response. Someone was in your house and took a cable but nothing else? Um. I decided to focus on getting the TV to work.
I tried to rescan. It wasn’t working. I eventually reached the end of my knowledge, and said I needed to call the company. (‘I need to call the company, because I can’t fix it. There’s a number here. Do you want me to call them?’, ‘Yes’).
I call the number. I explain the situation: that I’m helping my elderly neighbour, and I can’t get it to work, and need their help. They needed to know whether the box was installed during the roll-out. I tried to find out when the box was installed. I couldn’t get an answer (well, I got ‘long time’). To help you picture it, imagine trying to get a response to a question from someone who rambles and changes subjects; angling the phone so the rep on the other end can hear that you’re trying your best here, and that having you as an intermediary is the best option for all concerned. The rep needed her name (Mrs. surname wasn’t working). I couldn’t get it. She was getting irate (‘I call, they come, I never had an issue before’). The rep needed her date of birth. She was quite offended that I had to ask that, and couldn’t see why I had to. Begrudgingly, she provided her age. I told the guy ‘she’s 85. If you have a calculator, you can work out the year.’ He was not impressed (rude even). ‘I don’t have a calculator’. I worked it out (while she was stomping and getting annoyed) and told him. No, that didn’t work.
‘Okay, can I talk to your Manager, please?’
I finally get through to the Manager (after some more impoliteness from a Customer Service Rep). Can you help please? I’m trying to help, and we can’t get the information, (and you can hear her in the background), and I can’t keep coming over to fix the TV. Can you add a note to her account that this is likely to happen whenever someone calls on her behalf? She pulled the phone from my ear, and started ripping into the guy. ‘I’ve never had a problem, you send someone, you send someone.’ I get the phone, calm her down. See, this is why you need me talking to you, rather than her. Thankfully the Manager managed to talk me through some troubleshooting, based on the type of box. I was doing it. It didn’t quite work.
The Manager asked for my details. I pointed out that I’m just the neighbour trying to help, so they didn’t need my details. He said someone had helped my neighbour set up her account, and could I name who that was. She couldn’t remember anyone helping her, so, no. The Manager (taking the initiative, thankfully), said he would call the person whose name is on the account to discuss the situation, then would call my neighbour to arrange a time to send someone. Great.
She was happy, but I pointed out I didn’t fix it. I headed home, sorry I couldn’t fix the TV, but explaining someone will call her and then send someone out.
20 minutes later. Bangs on the door. It was her. Her grandson had called and had yelled at her. He had been called by the company. The grandson yelled at her for not calling him to fix the TV, and for letting a random person into the house. Yes, but is he coming to fix it? No, he works two jobs, and isn’t available. Okay. Has the company called yet? No. Okay. They will call you. Just wait.
20 minutes later again. No news. She just wanted someone to talk to. I’m sorry, I can’t help. I tried. She thanked me again, apologised for interrupting, and I went back inside.
10 mins later. A banging on the door. My flatmate was not impressed. (‘I told you she’s mad.’) This is where it gets crazy.
She tells me that she remembered waking up at 4am and seeing someone in her room. [What?] And she thought it was my flatmate. And that I had been in her house to get information so I could rob her. [WHAT?!] And her daughter had called her and told her off for letting someone in the house, and her daughter is calling a lawyer and she had called the Police. [WHAT?!??!?!?].
‘No,’ I said emphatically. ‘No. You’re wrong.’ No. I had to leave her there and go inside. What just happened?? What?!?!
And then I had to tell my flatmate. ‘You’re not going to like this.’ So, the elderly neighbour I was helping thinks that you were in her house, and that I was casing her house to rob her. And she’s called the Police.
Needless to say, he was unimpressed.
Let’s just say it was a fitful night, waiting for the Police to knock on the door, so I could explain the situation to them. And apologising to my flatmate.
The police didn’t turn up.
I completely understand the daughter being upset though. She lives in another city and can’t easily get to her mother to help her. So hearing that a strange woman was in her mother’s house, would be worrisome. This elderly woman lives by herself and has no one nearby to help her. But still!
Apparently this is why people don’t help each other in London. Because the person they try to help could be a nutter.
I told this story to my colleagues, and a couple of them had similar ones – elderly neighbours being left to their own devices, and doing crazy things. Like the colleague who had an elderly neighbour banging on the doors of their apartment block at 2, 3am, nightly, demanding they stop sending microwave lasers into her brain. (Apparently nothing can be done by the police unless the person causing the disturbance outside their own house, and is caught outside).
Here’s the thing though. I was expecting the Police. An elderly woman saying she was robbed (even if she was delusional). Surely they had to come out and ask questions. But, as far as we know, they didn’t. It’s good to know that they would have worked out that she was delusional – but still, wouldn’t you expect a police officer to at least see the woman and ask us what it was? Maybe she didn’t call them. If she did, is it more worrying that they didn’t turn up??
I’m under strict orders to never go into this woman’s house again – even if she asks me to – because it opens me up to liabilities. And to not answer the door when she knocks.
Hopefully someone else can help her.