Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: TOWER (01/16/20)
TITLE: Round and Round the wheel turns
By Corinne Smelker
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When me mam was 15, she met me dad. He plied her with drinks down the local pub and a month later she was pregnant. He died of a heart attack before I was ever born; and that’s when she found out he was already married.
Young, penniless and scared she turned to the local council for help. I was born in 1972 in the Tower Hamlets, part of the east end of London. Erected in 1965 to ‘gentrify’ the poorest part of London, the Tower soon became a midden of crime, gangs, drugs, guns and prostitution.
Mam had me in the local hospital and then the council sent her to live in the flats of the Tower Hamlets. She tried to go to school, but had no place to take me, and trying to walk through the streets surrounding the Towers was to put your life in the hands of the gang members who had divvied up the Towers into sections.
She had bad taste in men, did my mam. By the time I was five she’d had three more kids, all with different fathers, all different colours too. Sometimes after she had fallen asleep, her man of the hour would creep into my bed (which was just a pull-out bed in the lounge) and try his luck with me. I got really good at kicking them where the sun don’t shine.
We lived on the third floor and in all the time we lived there, the lift never worked. My poor mam’s health suffered as a result; carrying the shopping and the double pram with my twin sisters every time she went out was hell on her. We all complained to the council, but nothing was ever done. It was like they herded all of us poor people together and then left us to rot. According to mam there used to be lovely green areas between the flats in our part of the Tower Hamlets, but once the grass was laid the council never took care of it; so first it filled with litter, then the grass grew tall, and finally it died, never to be replanted.
Mam valued education above everything else. “Jilly, get a good education and you can break out of this,” she’d tell me. I was a clever girl, and did well all the way through primary school. English was my best subject, although History was fascinating too.
I met Guy when I was 12. His parents basically threw us together, anything to keep him in the flat and away from the gangs. His mother brought food to his bedroom and then started leaving nighties at the door for me to wear. I was 13 when I discovered I was pregnant, but waited to tell mam until I was 7 months gone.
Mam was angry and disappointed. “School was your way out,” she cried. “Now you are stuck here in the Tower with us all. Why didn’t you learn from my mistakes?”
Jemma, my daughter made it to 16 before she fell pregnant. She lives in the Tower one floor up from me, and two doors down from Mam.
Round and round the wheel turns.
In 2017 the Trust for London and New Policy Institute found that Tower Hamlets has the highest rate of poverty, child poverty, unemployment and pay inequality of any London borough. It also scores last in GCSE results.
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