Manic Mother of Five recently mentioned the fact that she made a conscious decision after the death of Jamie Bulger to go with her instinct and if she felt that something was wrong or not right she would speak up. This got me thinking.
As soon as my children became toddlers and in light also of little Jamie I taught my children a very important phrase and we still stick with it. What made me really ill when Jamie was taken was the fact that he was apparently crying for his mum and people assumed he was with brothers and nobody stopped to ask, this must have ripped his mother apart, knowing people had seen her son and could perhaps have saved his life. Realising if children scream and cry for help people may automatically assume it was 'just a tantrum' I wondered if I would challenge an adult with a tantruming child, the answer is NO, what gives me the right to interfere with someone else's life? With this in mind I taught my children they should indeed scream and shout but they should shout 'This is not my mum/dad!' hoping this would make someone challenge the situation.
I have found myself in 2 situations with my neighbours where I had to decide would it be nosey to see if they were ok or was I just concerned. The first incident was during the night, the hubby was on night shift - surprise, surprise and I wakened to hear next doors smoke detector going off, there was screaming and shouting for water. I immediately worried for my own family, should I wake the kids and get out, we are in a row of terraced houses, should I phone the fire brigade, should I get the ladder to help rescue them? I went out of the front door to see if there were flames raging from the building, there weren't. I went out the back door and checked, no sign of flames. Should I go to the door? I didn't know what to do. Had there been flames raging I would have instinctively known what to do, it would have been more straight forward as they would have clearly needed help, but in this situation it was unclear as to what, if any help, they may have needed . My daughter had wakened, which left me thinking, if I do need to get out, at least I've only got one more child to waken. After a few minutes there was activity in their kitchen, the back door open and I felt it appropriate at that stage to go and ask if they were ok. They were, thankfully. A cd player in their sons bedroom had been on a small table next to the bed and he had fallen asleep with it playing, his quilt had covered it, causing it to overheat, catch fire and with it set the quilt and the rubbish in his bin alight. He had screamed for his mother, huddled in the corner of his bedroom - he was 16 - when his mother in the panic told him 'you should have got out!' his reply was 'I was frightened to open the door, in case it made the fire worse' we think perhaps he had watched to many films! They called the fire brigade anyway to be on the safe side and 2 fire engines came within 20 minutes and removed the offending cd player. I was comforted by the fact I could hear their smoke detector, knowing if I found myself in the same situation that surely my neighbour on the other side would hear mine. I told her this the next day. Her words to me made it clear I had done the right thing 'you were the only person who came to check we were ok' Her neighbour on the other side hadn't appeared and there was a lot of commotion with the smoke detector, shouting and 2 fire engines, you really would have had to have been deaf or not home not to have heard something. Were the other neighbours afraid of being nosey perhaps.
The second incident involved the same neighbours, it was holiday Monday, 12th Feb 2007, I heard a lot of banging and running up and down the stairs, their stairs run up the side of my living room. What was all this noise on a holiday morning, it was only 8.35am, the adults should be at work and the teenager and his friend and the ten year old still sleeping. I looked out of the window and there were 2 ambulances, mmmmm, 2 ambulances, either somebody is really ill or there are a few people ill. You don't want to stare, don't want to be considered nosey. The paramedics were running in and out, this worried me, normally they appear so calm, should I go and see if I can help, was the 10 year old in the house, did she need to be removed, was it the 10 year old who was ill, again what should I do, I got dressed, I felt that was the best thing, to at least be dressed. I saw the son head for the ambulance and take some equipment into the house, then I saw his friend help a paramedic, then I saw the 'shocking machine' This is not good. I watched from the upstairs window as the paramedics took a male, a very grey male out to the ambulance, with tubes and things, I realised at that point that it was the male of the house and the female was more than likely at work, so by deduction this left the teenagers and 10 year old at home. I decided I should be a responsible adult and offer help. I went out to find the son on the phone on his doorstep 'you need to come home' he said. 'P's not breathing' he blurted to me. P was his stepfather. 'Where's you mum?' I said in my authoritative tone, I knew this was a serious situation, my instincts told me. His mother needed to be here. I established quickly that the 10 year old was with her older sister and had stayed the night. 'If you need any help, you come and get me' he was 17 years of age, to young to be dealing with a crisis. I continued getting ready for work and on seeing the older daughter passing, I offered my help of a lift or anything, none of them drive or have a car. They accepted a lift and I dropped them at the hospital, on our journey they talked about the number of times he had been admitted with various things and I thought positive and made my way to work. Little prepared me for the phone call later that morning to say he had died in the ambulance.
Given that the paramedics had used the 'shocking machine' in the house, I can only assume he also died in the house as his 17 year old stepson watched over, if I had been quicker or not worried about being considered nosey I might have been able to removed him from the situation. I was an adult I could have protected him from this memory which will stay with him forever.
He left behind an ex-wife and 2 sons, a partner, 2 stepchildren and a 10 year old daughter. His first anniversary passed last week and it has been a tough year for his family as we have become closer. He was 39, kept himself to himself, drunk, perhaps excessively, in his own home and we were not particularly close, he was just the man who lived next door, but I have felt the devastation that he left behind.