Actually, I'm not anymore. I lost my job when my daughter was born. Took a week paternity leave and was called at the end of it by my contractor to find that I had been laid off. I was not awarded any redundancy pay because I was sub-contracting.

I never went back to that profession and am now doing something completely different.

However, fuck those guys - I have plenty of stories to tell and if you are the tennant of a British council house or flat or even if you are not and just have questions, ask away. I am quite happy to spill every bean I have.

If proof is needed I can scan my CIS card which has my name and face but I will only do this to the mods as I don't really want to be incriminated for bean spilling by my former employers who were, frankly, a bunch of evil bastards.

EDIT 1: proof sent to mods.

EDIT 2: Just so nobody else need ask: a council house is British cheap housing owned and managed by a local authority (regional government) rented out to tennants who can't afford (or don't want) to rent or buy privately owned property. Council estates refers to large numbers of low rise council owned buildings in one area, used to house entire communities. A council block is a high rise of flats. The best widely familiar example of a high rise council flat I can think of is Del Boy's flat in Only Fools and Horses.

EDIT 3: I should probably point out that council flats/houses does not necessarily equal run down slums, ghettos of drug addled crazies or large swathes of criminal immigrants milking the system for all its worth. All this exists, of course, but there are an equal number of well maintained council properties and the vast majority of council tennants are regular, nice, law abiding citizens. The nature of my job (i.e. repairing void tennancies where damage has been caused or the tennant lived in such a horrible way that he left the property in a vile mess) means I wound up seeing the worst end of the spectrum, not the best. So the stories I have to tell reflect this. Just don't make the mistake of thinking they represent what is the absolute norm.

EDIT 4: I'm getting a lot of accusations of being American. I'm not sure why. Some people are saying I use American spelling. All I can guess is I'm using Chrome, which does the spell check thing as I type and if it pulls up an error I change it to the suggestion. All the suggestions appear to be American spellings. I am very British thankyou very much, but used to using a sort of neutral language online so as not to confuse non-Brits who are, frankly, in the minority. Maybe that also has something to do with it.

Comments: 2376 • Responses: 50  • Date: 

Im_a_wet_towel1035 karma

For my American brothers and sisters.. Council house=Public Housing.

usernumberfive1206 karma

I thought it was housing for parliament members or fancy housing.

oneoffaccountok383 karma

Just to confuse you a public house is a bar and a Council House can also be the building that houses the local authority's various bureaucracies. The politically correct term for a council house, as in welfare housing, is local authority housing.

n00bengineer85 karma

These are the kind of misperceptions that have a lot if Americans surprised by the content of this thread. We have a very optimistic view of the UK, generally.

oneoffaccountok75 karma

I blame All Creatures Great And Small. When I went to America back in the 90s all Americans everywhere thought I lived in the country, had an old black Ford and used the word 'veterinarian' an awful lot.

I did like America though. So many American women wanted to sleep with me. It was like waking up in fantasy porno dreamland.

kutNpaste486 karma

What the hell is worse than finding brain matter sprayed about?

oneoffaccountok966 karma


I found a dead cat in a cupboard once. It had been hanged, which for some reason disturbed me more than the brain matter.

I think the way some people live disturbed me more than actual physical findings though. The state of some people's homes, where they live, sometimes 24 hours a day like prisoners in some self imposed cell.

The creepiest instance was a flat in an area used primarily to house drug addicts. Hardcore heroin users who would sleep until mid-afternoon then emerge like zombies and queue around the local phone box to call their dealer. It's council policy to house drug addicts within easy reach of their dealer so they don't withdraw too often.

This particular guy had died of an OD. His flat was high up and the flats around were empty, so he'd lived a really isolated existence in the clouds. He'd covered every inch (and I mean every inch - ceiling, cupboard doors inside and out, floor etc) in marker pen, writing down, apparently, every thought that came into his drug addled head. The things he wrote were not profane, but they were very very disturbing.

Kraden396 karma

what a cliffhanger - tell us what he wrote!

oneoffaccountok707 karma

It was a long time ago. He was clearly a paranoid and believed demons were coming for him. He wrote about things he saw flying outside the window and a bunch of trippy poetry. The creepiest line, for some reason, was where he described lying on his bed waiting to die while the ghouls flew round and round the light bulb.

OMGimsoawesome103 karma

It's council policy to house drug addicts within easy reach of their dealer so they don't withdraw too often.

Please explain this to me.

oneoffaccountok181 karma

If your dealer lives in region A and you tell your housing rep that you are an addict and your dealer lives in region A, your rep will try to find you a house/flat in region A so that you can be close to your dealer. I was told this is so that the addict doesn't withdraw. It's really something you have to draw your own conclusions from. Generally speaking the council I worked with would bend over backwards to help smack heads get housing, more so than many other more deserving and needy groups.

TomyKing73 karma

i wonder why the flats around are empty... TELL US!

oneoffaccountok250 karma

Generally these blocks of flats are arranged deliberately so that the actively mobile are high up and anyone with disabilities or likely to require a lot of visits is low down. This guy was clearly put in no-man's land to keep him away from everyone else.

[deleted]402 karma


oneoffaccountok1076 karma

Sorry, my previous answer was a bit short and uninformative. I rushed it because my 4yr old was dancing in front of our open fire.

So, I won't start with the worst I've experienced - I don't want to peak too soon here - but the following is definitely one of the most horrible.

The contractor would generally accompany me first thing in the morning to the job site, show me what needed doing, leave me to prep and make good then come back either later that day or next day with paints, etc.

In this instance he was cagey and said he couldn't stop long as he had other jobs to get too before lunch. The flat is on the 7th floor of a block in an area usually reserved for families. I drag myself and my tools up the 7 floors (we never use the elevators) to find the door to the flat is missing. A temporary metal door is in place. The metal doors and window shutters are often used to secure void residences to dissuade squatters and drug users, but not usually as replacements for the standard front door.

"Where's the door?" I ask casually. The contractor informs me the flat was broken into and the door stoved in.

Fair enough. In we go. And it's as we enter the hallway that I feel I might lose my lunch.

There's blood stains on the floor and up the wall. The lakes of blood that must have been here have been cleaned up to an extent, but nobody has scrubbed the stains. What's more there's strange fleshy matter in the corners where wall meets floor.

On into the living room as the contractor studiously avoids the subject of the blood and points into each room telling me what needs doing. We come to the living room which he gestures at without entering. "They're going to replace the floor so don't worry too much about paint spatters. Magnolia throughout and woodwork. Do your best with the ceiling."

And he's leaving at speed. I enter the living room, suspicious about this ceiling, expecting it to be falling in or fire damaged. Something shitty that'll take me an age to sort out so the job won't be worth the money.

I'm not prepared for what I find which can only be described as gooey chewing gum-like substance, blood and, all down one wall, more of the gooey smeared stuff that looks like red shit and smells like regular shit.

I start on the hallway and at about lunch time the carpenter arrives to sort out the front door. Being another sub-contractor he has nothing to lose and gives me the whole story (with no small relish as he knows I'm about to knock off for my lunch).

The flat belonged to a registered sex offender - a pedophile. Someone in the block found out and got together a posse of dads who descended on the guy one night with baseball bats. They kicked in the door and beat the guy in the hallway. He ran into the living room where one of the posse dealt the killing blow, exploding his skull with a well aimed swing and smearing the ceiling and walls with his brain.

Apparently the cleaners had done their best, but given up at some point. I think I must have looked so appalled he regretted telling me the story in such vivid detail as he helped me scrape off the shit on the walls which, upon as close inspection as I dared give it, did indeed look like brain matter. Behind the radiator I also found bits of skull with hair and skin still attached. He told me to just paint over the stuff on the ceiling, spraying it for me with stain block before setting himself to the task of the front door.

So I painted over that ceiling brain shit and did the rest of the flat as quickly as I could.

In my defence, I was young and inexperienced. Looking back it was extraordinarily irresponsible of me to just leave that stuff on the ceiling. I'm in no doubt that a new resident (maybe a family) would have been moved in within a few weeks of the redec.

TL;DR had to decorate a living room covered in the brains and skull of a murdered pedophile.

leondz1062 karma

Why don't you use the elevators?

oneoffaccountok300 karma

Most of them worked fine, but I never trusted them.

Lord_Osis_B_Havior146 karma

Elevators are the safest vehicles in human history.

oneoffaccountok341 karma

You go into a council block elevator every day and tell me that they are the safest vehicles in human history. Apart from anything else, it's very hard to just quickly step out of an elevator with two bags of tools, a roller pull and four tins of paint if Mr Psycho Drug Addled Bottom Rapist steps in just before the doors are about to close.

Rogerwilco1974165 karma

Thinking about it, it's probably because they weren't so much elevators/lifts as vertically mobile toilets.

oneoffaccountok146 karma

That too. They were usually original to the building and the buildings were old. They felt clunky and rattled a lot. I'm not good in elevators. I have a fear of heights originating from one of my other decorating stories regarding going up in a cradle on the outside of a building with a drug addled fellow decorator.

XavierMendel62 karma

Were the men ever arrested for murder?

oneoffaccountok200 karma

Yes. IIRC they were sent down. Not going to go find news links as it may reveal my whereabouts and incriminate me to my former employers. Unlike Julian Assange I won't escape a thorough kicking by hiding in the Ecuadorean embassy.

deLamartine52 karma

How does it come your boss didn't lose a word about the place and didn't even give you any indications?

oneoffaccountok139 karma

It was quite normal. The contractor paid by job and he knew that if you didn't like the look of the job there was always the risk you'd say no and walk away. Usually this was over money, where you'd walk into a new job in the morning and realize that the pay for the entire job was £180 but it would clearly take you two weeks to finish. In these cases the contractor would get you in and get out as quickly as he could before you could say no. Once you were in, invariably you just got started. It was rare to walk out on a job without first discussing/arguing it through with the contractor as the result might be no more work. They all knew each other and had lackeys at the council who could make certain you never worked again if they felt like it.

BearTricks69 karma

How does one dispose, officially, of chunks of skull and brain? Did they just make you throw it in the bin or were they responsible enough to send it to medical waste?

oneoffaccountok121 karma

It went into a black bin bag along with all the rest of the debris in the flat and the bin bag was then disposed of by the contractor, either down the rubbish chutes of the block of flats or into his van and then into the waste collection at the council depot. I saw him put asbestos and all sorts down those chutes.

easyiris644 karma

When I was given my council flat when I was eighteen the walls and ceiling were covered in both graffiti and blood, I found part of a syringe (no needle just the case part where the fluid goes) under the fireplace, there was a bin bag rotting in the cupboard outside, the toilet was black (I mean black. Not slightly brown or off-colour, fucking black) and the whole place stank. No one helped me to clean or decorate. I donned surgical gloves and went at it myself. I was given £10 in B&Q vouchers for paint but ended up having to spend about £50. I also laid the carpet by myself.

As a little girl who had been street homeless for a while I was over the moon to have a roof over my head but felt sort of upset that no one thought it was pretty unacceptable to allow that young girl to move into somewhere like that with no help.

Anyway, fast forward six years and I now live in a different city (and country, really), have a high paid job and my very own two bedroom house. But that scabby little flat (my first home) will always be my pride and joy.

oneoffaccountok287 karma

There's a kind of sliding scale of priority, which is fucked up, but just the way it seems to be. From my own experience I learned that money is spent first and foremost upon families and focused on immigrant communities. Drug addicts come next, and then the elderly and disabled. As a new tennant coming off the streets you would be way down the list and the expectation would be that your flat would be empty again in a few months anyway.

I'm really pleased to hear you're doing well.

oneoffaccountok225 karma

I wish unflushed turds. Unflushed turds would have been a good day :-D

fdedio308 karma

First up, thank you for doing this AmA! And, just to take it in a completely different direction, how about the, well, coolest experiences?

oneoffaccountok1055 karma

Coolest experiences: that's easy. I LOVED doing what we call 'assisteds' which is basically decorating elderly resident's homes. Rewarding and fun. When I first went on assisteds I felt so sorry for these guys. They're, on average, between 70 and 90, usually capable of looking after themselves but desperately lonely. Many spend the entire day watching TV and waiting either for rare visits from family or for the meals on wheels lady to deliver their hot dinner at midday.

As you can imagine, having a decorator around for a week gives them a sounding board to talk about their lives. And I was never bored of hearing them talk. I would even stay late to help them out with little odd jobs around the place in order to hear more about their experiences. I was particularly fascinated by their wartime accounts and gained a huge local knowledge of how things were during WWII in my area.

The most striking thing about these stories was the fact that they were all so upbeat. Very few were about fighting or hardships, most revolved around the fun they had when they were younger, even if they were directly involved in the war.

Kraden219 karma

so what's the worst story?

give us the peak already!

oneoffaccountok707 karma

It might be an anticlimax from the perspective of a reader, but my personal worst was an occupied house in an immigrant region. It was a difficult job because it was a hall, stair and landing (always tricky where people occupy the house because it's a thoroughfare and you have to be careful of your tools, ladder etc.)

In this case there was an extended family of, I assumed, Jamaicans. At first I thought they didn't speak great English, but I eventually realized they were speaking in patwa. The family consisted of a terrifying big fat momma, two skanky daughters and a little girl. During the day various men would come and go, always surly and usually to have some kind of argument with the old lady.

The girls also came and went and were abusive to the mother. The little girl belonged to one of them, but I couldn't work out which. They never paid her the slightest attention.

Most of the time it was just me and the old lady.

It soon became apparent to me that the little girl never came out of her bedroom. The old lady kept her in there all day. When I was decorating the landing I would chat with the girl through the half open door and she was a lovely little kid with amazing brown eyes and a lovely smile. But if the old lady heard her speaking she'd come thundering into the hall and scream up the stairs. When she brought the girl food, which was brusquely shoved through the door without much communication, she would go in and yell if I'd been chatting with the girl.

The two young girls were flirtatious with me and I asked one if the little girl was being kept in the room for my benefit, so she wouldn't get in the way of my decorating. The girl told me no, she was kept in there because the old lady hated her. No further explanation was given and I didn't talk much to the girl again because the old lady saw us chatting and immediately tried to arrange a date between us - she kept laughing in an unwholesome way and saying "once you try black you never go back". It was sort of disgusting, especially as the girl kept nodding and grinning knowingly as if to say 'yes'. It felt very much like a green card situation and it made me feel incredibly uncomfortable.

The thing came to a head when I'd progressed to painting the stairs and the little girl ventured out of her room to chat to me. The old lady comes pounding out of the dining room where she spends most of the day, stomps up stairs and just starts laying into the kid with fists and feet.

I grabbed her and restrained her, resisting the urge to throw her down the stairs, and told her to back off, that she shouldn't hit kids. I was shaking and horrified. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

That evening I went home and called social services, then I phoned the contractor and told him I wouldn't go back. He was extremely pissed and refused to pay me for the four days work served, even though I'd nearly finished. I just couldn't face going back, knowing I was really powerless to do anything. It was a depressing, impotent situation and I have very little hope that social services did anything but file away my complaint.

CareForceOne196 karma

In my line of work I too see these council house horrors. I hope you wore thick soled boots to avoid needles...

oneoffaccountok277 karma

Yes, though generally speaking I'd go in after the cleaners had been through the place for sharps and other drug paraphernalia. They'd leave everything else though. One of the first things I always did, even though it was not expected and ate into my time (I was paid by job, not by the hour) would be to clean up all mess and sweep through. Sometimes this would take several days but it made decorating easier.

CapitalDave132 karma

I once helped some colleagues (who don't speak good English) look around a council house where the entire kitchen had been burnt out, the walls were covered in graffiti and there was a syringe on the side which I can only assume was used for heroin.
They were rightfully horrified, but the person from the council showing us around was strangely indifferent about the whole thing. I shudder to think about some of the stuff they've seen in those houses.

oneoffaccountok134 karma

That sounds very normal. To be honest most housing reps who show tennants around these places seem beyond caring. Don't be fooled, however, into thinking there's nothing they can do about it. If they show you around, it's likely they are responsible (or at least part of the team who are responsible) for managing the property, including maintenance and upkeep. I was often appalled by the number of lazy reps who would pick their noses all day then panic at the end of the financial year because they hadn't spent enough on their properties and needed to blow a big wad of cash in order to justify the department's annual budget.

It was not uncommon, around this period, for me to find myself doing the painting and decorating equivalent of polishing lumps of coal; repainting a window frame in a place that would probably fall over if you gave it a hard enough push, or redecorating a house that has been vacant for months and which you know will be vacant for many more.

I could never make sense of it, given the number of people on waiting lists for maintenance and decoration.

siriuslyred183 karma

What is your general decoration approach? Do you go for light blue colours to encourage calm? Or just say fuck it, it's all going down anyway, and paint everything Insanity-Orange?

oneoffaccountok415 karma

I'll give you a few protips:

Preparation is 90% of the battle. For a good finish, don't skimp on the making good.

Sand wood and always use an undercoat, never that vile one coat stuff which is gloopy. If the woodwork is sanded smooth and undercoat then gloss applied you'll get a beautiful smooth result. I never use Satin oil-based as I think it just looks like the wood has only been undercoated, and I steer clear of water based wood paint as you tend to find it reacts when applied to existing oil based coats which will grin through.

Pour paint out of its tin and into a scuttle then mix in a little water. Only a little. The object is not to increase the amount of paint but to thin it down as modern paints are very thick and you'll get an orange-skin effect when using neat onto a roller. Use a sheepskin roller and a roller pull for the best finish and the easiest application. Avoid novelty paint applicators like pads or those things that somehow pump the paint onto the roller.

When you apply paint with the roller make a W shape then fill in. This gives an even block. Do this all the way along the wall, starting at the top, working down then along. Roll the wall until you no longer hear the squelch of the roller against the paint. This indicates you have a perfect flat finish with no orange peel effect.

Council colour was always Magnolia, but at home and when I do private decorating there are no real rules.

For bold but beautiful looks, my own personal rule is to choose a palette of colours, rather than duotone a room (which always looks bad IMO). Find what colours compliment one another and get a palette of maybe four or five. An easy way to do this is find a colourful wallpaper you like with a bunch of colours. Put the wallpaper on one wall (behind a bed, on a chimney breast, etc) then pick out the boldest colour as a paint and put that on one wall. Put a neutral colour on the other two walls, like a cream or white. If you have carpet, that should be neutral too. You can't go wrong with a nice cream.

Pick out colours from the wallpaper in your bedding, lamp shades and curtains.

Personally I believe furniture makes a room more than colour, so I'm always careful what I use. I'm a fan of rustic so I tend to invest in real wood. I'm not a big fan of Ikea or flat pack. You can get some truly beautiful furniture online these days. My bedroom is furnished with Irish Coast. Just got the link as random first from Google so I'm not endorsing the website.

GCanuck166 karma

So, what's the one contract you got where you legitimately thought, "fuck this, Imma burn this fucker down instead"?

oneoffaccountok430 karma

The house in question was a regular void tennancy, empty and run down in a run down area. The contractor was running late but had given me a key on the Friday so I could open the place. That should have given me a warning that something was not right about the job.

I open the door and the first thing I see is a square of white paper on the hallway floor. The rest of the house is empty, but in a state of disrepair. The white paper draws my eye because, while there's lots of debris, all that stuff is mouldering and grotty, this looks clean and new.

I approach the paper and notice that it's covered in little black dots. I peer closer and see that the black dots are actually dead fleas.

Nothing new there. In these places house or dog fleas are pretty common. I recognise these as house fleas, bigger than dog fleas.

Then I notice a flea on the back of some curling wallpaper. I pull the paper and notice more fleas. Then more. Then more. We're talking a black clump of the things. I'm horrified, particularly as these fleas are dog-sized. Huge meaty things that look like they've been feeding on a corpse or something.

So I walk out of the house and get some fresh air. Call the contractor and moan that the place is full of fucking fleas. He sighs (probably because he already knew this and hoped I wouldn't notice so quickly, like before I'd managed to get all my tools in so I'm less likely to turn the job down) and says he'll be along shortly.

So I go to sit in the car and listen to the radio, eat a sandwich. I'm wearing my whites (decorator's overalls) and out of the corner of my eye see movement on my knee.

I look down to see a veritable assault wave of fleas coming over the horizon of my knees, heading up my legs at a terrifying rate. I leap out of the car smacking at myself like a demented idiot and screaming like a girl.

Long story short, the contractor feels so sorry for me he drives me to a pest control place and sprays me down with flea killer. I then strip off my whites and drive home to shower. When I get home and tell my then girlfriend why I'm home early she sends me out and won't let me in the house until I'm naked in the porch. She tells me to leave my clothes in a pile to be burned then comes out and scours me for fleas. When she's satisfied she sends me in for a shower and has an impromptu burning in the garden.

I didn't go back on that particular job until pest control had blitzed the house several times over, which was nearly a year later. There were no fleas left by then.

pansymarks162 karma

Have you ever gotten some unreasonable demands?

oneoffaccountok490 karma

Yes, many. Usually from the contractor.

I can't stress enough that the people for whom I decorated (where the house or flat was occupied) were by and large extremely nice, always helpful and complimentary. I disliked working on immigrant occupations, not because I'm racist, but because generally I was treated like dirt by them and cups of coffee were very rare. Working in the Somalian district was always a nightmare as they wouldn't even acknowledge your existence except to open the door. I never took it personally though as it was a cultural thing.

The most unreasonable demand was from a contractor when I was part of a 10 man crew painting the outside of a series of blocks of flats in the centre of town. We had two cradles which were fixed to the top of the block and operated by two men, each pressing a button at their end of the cradle to make it go either up or down.

Nobody wanted to go in the cradles as we all knew they were fucked. Anyone who agreed to go up got paid double time and a half, which was, back then, about £200 a day compared with £80. So the incentive was there, but already two of the crew had gotten stuck and been forced to bring the cradle to roof level then clamber out and onto the roof. We're talking a 30 story building, so not a walk in the park and we were given no safety equipment (nobody gives a shit about you if you're sub-sub contracting as technically you're self employed).

So I would occassionally be tempted by the money and on this day I agreed to go up because it was windy as hell and they were paying triple time for the risk factor.

I was teamed up with the only other person stupid enough to do it, the obligatory druggy ex-prison con (every crew I worked on seemed to have at least one, always late and always lazy).

He was on one button, me on the other. We worked our way slowly up the building from about the 20th floor.

The gusting winds were pushing the cradle in and out and side to side, sometimes up to 5 or 6 feet from the side of the building. We'd use our roller pulls to hold the cradle out as it swung back in so it didn't bang too hard into the wall. It was terrifying so we worked as quickly as we could to get the job done.

When we had reached the 24th he took a break and lit a roll up. I could smell drugs, but not sure what was in it. Something strong. He completely lost the plot and wouldn't do any more work. I worked alone, struggling to paint and keep the cradle stable at the same time, up until the 28th ish floor then thought 'fuck this' and told him I wanted to go back down.

But he was beyond operating his button properly so we went down at an angle the whole way, my end lower or higher than his. There were a few moments when the tilt was so harsh I was sure the wind would just throw me out.

I remember kissing the ground and thanking fate for sparing my life when we finally got down (I don't believe in god).

Meat_Confetti136 karma

Holy crap, I would have kicked that guys ass if I were you! Of all the places to decide to get high. Did you at least report him or something? Or would no one have cared?

oneoffaccountok310 karma

I told the contractor, yes, and the guy was gone the next day. I recall quite clearly that the contractor was amused when I said the guy got high but appalled when I said he refused to do any work.

RezzCondor61 karma

dont know about over there but in America the trades are a magical place where you can work as fucked up on any drug as you like as long as you still work your ass off

oneoffaccountok62 karma

Yes in decorating, labouring (building) and stuff where you're basically doing donkey work. This is why all these trades attract ex-convicts, especially when the work is through an agency because agencies don't care who they employ so long as they turn up and get paid.

nellingtonboots117 karma

Did you end up getting paid the full triple time pay, seeing as you missed the two top floors? :/

oneoffaccountok175 karma

ha. Yes, but I never went in the cradle again.

Diaper_cocktail66 karma

I've worked on swing stages before (what we call cradles in Canada). In order to be safe all you need is a well fastened rope dangling from the rooftop and a harness. Don't tell me you didn't even have that?

oneoffaccountok109 karma

nope. The harness was attached to the cradle, or would have been had we attached them. We didn't because we figured we could grab a window sill if the thing dropped out from under us.

MiserylovesATL139 karma

Ok... So what's the "worst you've ever experienced" story? I'm a 10 year veteran contractor and I have some pretty crazy stories myself, let's hear yours!

oneoffaccountok484 karma

OK, this is fairly near the bottom so people will have to work for it. I'm guessing this will get a bunch of 'that wasn't so bad, the brains were worse.' If so, I beg to differ. I was there. I experienced it first hand, as did the others who were present and it's something I personally will never forget. It was just on a different level to the brains.

The flat was the upper story of a low rise, so three stories in all. I'd been called in to do a full redec (basically redecorating the entire place). The downstairs flat was also due a redec, so my fellow decorator who I will refer to as Bert (pretty earthy guy in his late 50s) was down there. Some chippies were working on the bottom floor putting in new doors. They were also commuting between the top two floors putting in new doors there too.

It was quite a nice job. Not a bad house that had been used as a halfway house for homeless families. The lower floors were in good nick but the top floor flat had been left in a mess by a single mum who had been evicted for non payment of rent.

So the first thing that happens is that Bert tells me not to use the toilets. For some reason (the contractor was cagey about it) the toilets are out of order until a plumber comes mid-week. In the meantime we piss in an empty emulsion can. This is full of Bert's piss already since he's been there a full day before me, and the whole middle floor stinks of fish because he had a fish supper at the weekend. It's not nice, but I'm upstairs so I don't mind.

I've worked here two days when the plumber turns up. The smell is getting stronger by the hour and me and Bert realize this isn't just his piss but something else. It smells like something died and we start to get suspicious about the toilets being out of order. The plumber looks nervous and confesses that this isn't the first time he's been but he knows it's a fairly major job so he's been putting it off.

The problem, he thinks, is a blocked soil pipe.

Whatever, Bert and I think. Not our problem. We have our jobs. He has his. He tootles off to the top floor bathroom and we get on with our work.

The sounds of taps running, clanking, swearing and then a weird sort of squashy liquid sound come from the bathroom. Then there's a rattling, like all the radiators in the house are suddenly filling with water. I hear the toilet flush and then the plumber's voice. "Fuck!"

Then it starts.

Brown liquid pooling out across the kitchen floor from under the unit in the corner. The bathroom is on the other side of the wall. I get an ominous feeling and back away from the pool, rapidly expanding. Then a smell like the arsehole of hell hits my nostrils like a shockwave. It's the fishy smell we've been getting all week, plus the dead corpse smell, plus the smell of twenty thousand festering shits.

The plumber is at the door. "Fuck fuck fuck"

"What the hell is it?" I ask. He just says "fuck" and looks lost.

We evacuate the kitchen. From downstairs I hear Bert yell, then shriek. The smell of death and shit and rabies and everything bad you can possibly imagining is coming up the stairs. The plumber legs it down there and I go with him. Bert is running out of the flat. He looks very white.

More yelling and cursing now. The chippies on the bottom floor. "There's fucking shit coming out of everywhere! What the fuck?"

The plumber is in a state of what I can only describe as extreme panic.

Bert's flat is now drowning in a lake of liquid shit. It's lapping against the skirting boards and pouring down between the bare floorboards. The colour is astonishing. Almost black like oil. And the smell could be bottled and used against the Taliban as a form of stench warfare.

What had happened was this (all revealed in the subsequent clear up operation and plumbing extravaganza). The previous tennant, a single mum, had evidently disposed of nappies by flushing them down the toilet, wrapping them first in pink scented nappy bags. These bags had understandably, at some point in the sewage pipe beneath the ground under the street upon which the house stood, become stuck. Quite a lot of liquid had managed to seep past this considerable blockage, but not the shit which had fermented in the long vertical soil pipe stretching down from the top floor to the bottom.

For reasons I will never fathom and he was never able to satisfactorily explain, the plumber had seen fit to pull the flush on the top toilet. This had set off a final straw chain reaction which had caused the toilet to overflow and then the soil pipe to break. Liquid shit had poured down from the top floor and water had somehow risen up (other plumbers diagnosed some kind of vacuum had formed and was responsible) pushing out the shit and the shitty water.

We abandoned the house and stood outside watching as shit flowed from under the front door and into the garden then started bubbling up from the drains. Weird grass blisters formed in the garden and we were worried they would burst and erupt with shit.

People were coming out of their houses to find out what the smell was.

The rest of the day would have actually been quite amusing, if not for the smell. Plumbers arrived in droves of vans. Our poor guy was just shame faced and I felt so sorry for him. It was clearly becoming a story they would all retell for years to come, the kind of thing they'd regale their grandkids with and here was the hero of the hour, standing in the garden, watching his peers comedy-staggering across the grass blisters.

Inside was a no-go zone for a good two weeks after, but then me and Bert were sent back in to finish our redecs. Much of the shit had been cleaned up, of course, but the place was now horribly stained and the smell was there to stay. Mixed with the smell of gloss paint, it took on a sort of strange chemical-meat smell.

It was at this point that Bert confessed he had kicked over the emulsion can full of piss in his panic and this had mixed with the general horror.

BearTricks162 karma

This, combined with the brains thing, reminds me of something I came across while studying at University.

In Germany between the wars, there was a woman who rented a flat next door to a strange guy who didn't really say much. One day she realised that her drains were blocked and backing up outside because of something that the guy next door was doing. She went to the guy next door and he said sorry and he'd fix it. A few days went by and nothing was fixed, so she called a plumber who went outside, did something to the pipes and a mess of blood and guts etc came pouring out and flooded the street.

They called the police, who arrived, kicked the guy's door in and found him in the kitchen frying a human hand and boiling a head. Turned out he was a cannibal and had been disposing the bits he couldn't eat down the toilet. A lot of that happened in Germany around that time, because of the low police presence on the streets that was a condition of the Treaty of Versailles.

So it could be worse.

oneoffaccountok70 karma

You win. I quit. Ha.

techbelle24 karma

this reminds me of a tenant house my parents had. during their lease, we got a call from animal control reporting that 'droves' of rats were living in the house. it was a nice (but small) little place, so it seemed curious. we drove over and before even leaving the vehicle, the smell of refuse, rot, and crap hit our noses. the house itself looked fine, but as we approached, i was awed (as a 10 year old, i will never forget it) the bugs marching TOWARD the house... there was a literal line of ants. the smell was overwhelming. we entered the house and it looked run down and filthy but not, you know, terrible. upon further investigation we discovered that the family who lived there (who were immigrants, actually) had been putting all of their trash in the storage place under the house. so... the crawl space was full of maggots, rats, roaches, old food, diapers... there was mold growing everywhere... I sort of thought we should just burn the place down, but after we evicted them, we paid professionals to clean up. disgusting.

oneoffaccountok18 karma

I redecorated a flat where a young family had just been evicted. They lived underneath a family of immigrants who were very nice. He was a hard working professional and she was a lovely, friendly, very attractive Polish girl. They also had a kid, and the shit they had to put up with from these bastards who lived under them just boiled my blood.

Basically the ground floor family had been throwing their rubbish out of the back bedroom window. No bins, no bin bags, nothing, just straight out the window. The pile, when they were evicted, and when I moved in to clean up and decorate, was halfway up the window (these were windows with two sections and the smaller top part levered open so all the crap went out there). Most of the rubbish was used nappies and the smell was quite something, though the worst of the reek was shut out by the double glazing.

The inside of the flat was a state too. I only cleaned that up and left the pile outside for the council cleaners. I did phone up the council repeatedly while I was there to make sure they came and cleared that shit away though. I felt so sorry for the couple living above, especially as it was a communal garden.

virnovus14 karma

Used disposable diapers, down the toilet? I mean, I know there are stupid people out there, but really?

oneoffaccountok14 karma

And she put them in nappy bags first. This part always blew my mind.

Ilovebobbysinger126 karma

What are you doing now? You have good literary skills. Don't see that much from a p&d!

oneoffaccountok273 karma

I'm an artist, which was my job before I became a decorator. I had a nervous breakdown when I was 24 and was forced to retrain in something that didn't require much in the way of brain-power but kept me in work. I learned carpentry by watching 'This Old House' and Norm Abrams on the Discovery channel then started decorating for friends and family. It progressed from there.

I've since gone back to the design work, but I work for myself on small projects for publishers and avoid advertising and the general professional design industry like the plague.

archanos56 karma

Hey, your comment struck me a bit. I'm curious now, seeing how I'm actually in college studying to go into commercial advertising myself. Why do you avoid the general industry of design? What was so bad about it, or the reason I guess it broke you down?

oneoffaccountok139 karma

I worked an office on my own because I was employed to cover the main client in my city while the main business headquarters was in a different city. The client was a bank, but I also did a lot of advertising stuff. I would get in at around 7:30 and finish about 9:30, head straight to the pub, drink and socialize until turning out time then get the bus home, go to bed, get up, back to work. This was me every day (I also worked Saturdays and Sundays) and the work was stressful. Couldn't make a mistake, couldn't take a cigarette break or even go to the bathroom without calling the boss first and asking if I could leave the phones unmanned. I was alone a lot of the time until new people were employed to man the phones and work the Macs, but by then I think I was going a bit strange. I finally cracked when my boss sent me a warning letter and accused me of not putting in enough effort. I knew this was his usual method for getting rid of people he suspected were moving into a higher pay bracket and I just felt chronically under appreciated.

I should stress that probably 75% of my problem was alcohol related. There's a big drink/drug issue in blue chip advertising. It wasn't uncommon to have a bottle of wine open during the day, sharing with clients etc, and a drink at lunch before heading to the pub for the evening.

BestTastingFish88 karma

I agree with this. OP definitely has a writing style that is pleasing to read.

oneoffaccountok54 karma

I'm an amateur writer. I've actually self published a book, but I'm reluctant to link to it as it has my name splashed all over it.

Lampshade_Seven121 karma

This is the best god-damn AMA I have ever read. Thank you.

oneoffaccountok24 karma

wow. Thanks. Ha.

NoozeHound118 karma

My ex did a spell as a meter reader and had horror stories of just how revoltingly people lived behind 'their own front doors'. Spattered brains never made it onto the list but many stereotypes were enforced.

So, I'm curious as to 'plenty of stories' and 'not wanting to peak too soon' with murder and brain-splattered walls, where the hell do you go next? Spill Jacko.

oneoffaccountok418 karma

Yes, the way people lived often filled me with horror. I found this more revolting than the brains on the walls. Some people exist in a living hell, some self imposed, some not.

In one assisted (elderly resident) an old lady sat in her chair all day. No TV. No lights. Curtains shut. The carer came for ten minutes in the morning to move her a little in the chair and change her nappy and make her a cup of tea. At lunchtime meals on wheels came, then another carer to put her to bed. She didn't speak. She just sipped her tea and stared at the wall.

I worked around her, talking to myself or whistling and smiled at her as much as I could. She acknowledge me only once with a slight, wobbly smile.

The on-call resident (kind of a caretaker who comes running if any of the old folk yank on the red emergency cord in their bathroom) said she was completely sane but suffered with some kind of depression.

I would pop in if I was in the area after I finished the job to check on her and make her a tea, stroke her hand and tell her a joke, but she never smiled at me again. She died in hospital a few years back.

FoodBeerBikesMusic116 karma

No sex or nudity?

I ask because my grandfather was a plumber in NYC, and he loved to tell about the time they were doing some work in a apartment building.

They went to one apartment to take some measurements. There was a bit of a delay, but the guy finally opened the door. They did what they had to do, but when they went into the bedroom, there was a walk-in closet and they had to open it to measure for a pipe run.

When they opened the door, there was a woman, stark naked standing there. My grandfather's partner said "excuse me", took the measurement and then closed the door without batting an eye.

oneoffaccountok33 karma

There's sex and nudity somewhere in this thread. You'll need to hunt it down.

Wavyhill106 karma

Have you ever found a house or flat that's been a proper time capsule - ie, unchanged since the 1970s / 1960s etc?

oneoffaccountok69 karma

No. Nothing like that.

Properties tend to get cleaned out as soon as they're void and then they are either relet quite quickly or stand empty for months or years. I've seen some pretty ancient wallpaper in my time though.

4mus3d78 karma

Have you ever found anything where you thought that it might explode?

oneoffaccountok176 karma

Yes. A car on fire.

God, recounting these stories now sounds crazy, like I'm making it up. Honestly I'm not.

So I'm painting a kitchen in a rough area (don't underestimate how rough) and facing the window which overlooks the front garden. I hear a thump and see a car, upside down, sailing past the window. It lands in the garden with a crump.

I run outside to see two joy riders legging it. The car is on fire and burns steadily for the next twenty minutes or so before the fire brigade turn up. It was like a community bonfire with all the locals standing around watching it, but I was terrified the thing would explode.

Gingee74 karma

Were you ever harassed by tenants?

oneoffaccountok186 karma

I worked for an 80 yr old lady who desperately wanted into my pants once. That was more amusing than harrassement to be honest.

Otherwise, not really. By and large tennants were nice people. The void flats and houses tended to be the ones where you heard horror stories about the tennants, but by then they were usually long gone.

little_feast65 karma

Did you ever meet or speak to the previous inhabitants of the flat/house you were working on? Did anyone ever walk in on you while you were doing your job?

(I used to clean houses for landlords and sometimes the neighbors would come in and tell me about the previous tenant, so I wonder if you had similar experiences.)

oneoffaccountok262 karma

All the time. I did a stint on assisteds, which is elderly residents, always occupied. These were great as the old folk would make you cups of coffee and chat to you and were really friendly.

I had the one house, owned by a glamourous granny, maybe 80 something years old, which sticks in my mind. She would sit in the kitchen watching me work on the living room, the whole time flirting outrageously with me. Double entendres were flying all over the place and she kept trying to ply me with wine. It would have been funny had she not gone a bit weird when I refused her advances, called the contractor for whom I was working and complained that I was doing a shit job.

I worked on a flat occupied by a Jamaican yardie and his girlfriend and he was such a nice guy we remain friends to this day. At the end of the week, when I'd finished the job, he shared a bottle of fiery Jamaican rum with me and drove me and all my tools home.

During the week a friend of his was due in court and the guy knew a rival gang intended to catch him as he was coming out, kidnap him and probably kill him. He was going to head to the court to look out for his friend and produced a revolver which he intended to take with him.

The one and only time a tennant ever drew a gun on me. I sat him down, gave him a drink and told him I would rugby tackle him if he even thought of going to a courthouse with a loaded gun. We talked it over for ages and in the end he put the gun away. He still says to this day that I probably changed the direction of his life that day.

soundknowledge273 karma

Note to Americans: This is the UK. The fact this guy HAD a gun is a pretty big deal, let alone showing it to his painter / decorators...

tripuri77 karma

Which I'm speculating is why the OP used the expression "drew a gun on me."

In the US, to draw or pull a gun "on someone" implies that the holder of the gun is threatening or intending to shoot said someone.

Unless I'm mistaken, the OP means that the guy merely produced the gun and showed it to him.

But because neither event occurs with the same frequency in the UK as it does in the US, they probably don't need such specific expressions.

soundknowledge130 karma

If somebody pulled a gun out I'd probably react the same as if they were pointing it at me tbh. There's no real reason to own them in the UK (other than a few shooting clubs, or farmers, or farmers' mums) so if you've got a pistol you're probably up to no good...

oneoffaccountok49 karma

Yes, I crapped myself. I've never even seen a real gun, never mind had someone pull out a loaded one at work. Sorry if I used the wrong nomenclature.

CLEANliquid47 karma

What was the strangest thing you encountered while painting? Blood splattered walls? Rodents in the wall? Sharks living under the carpet?

oneoffaccountok115 karma

Blood splattered walls, yes. Rodents in the walls, yes - in fact I remember quite vividly sitting outside a house having my lunch watching the rats run out of a hole in the wall, across the top of the garden wall and onto a high ledge of grass then back again. No sharks, but plenty of fleas.

erpii39 karma

Did you ever do something on the job that was against your morals?

oneoffaccountok64 karma

Other than standing by and saying nothing while my employers behaved immorally, no.


Care to elaborate on your employers immoral behavior?

oneoffaccountok66 karma

He routinely disposed of unsafe materials in normal resident bins. Asbestos and the aforementioned brain matter were probably the most extreme, but he would also fill neighbours bins with rubbish so he didn't have to cart it off in his own van.

bickering_fool17 karma

Sorry if asked before - but has this experience made you look at life differently...and indeed social housing particularly.

oneoffaccountok62 karma

Completely. I learned so much about myself and society generally.

I learned that the elderly are treated in a truly disgusting way in my country, ignored, neglected and undervalued. They are, at the very very least, a mind blowing source of stories about the way the world used to be. I wish more of them could get to grips with the internet and share the stuff they keep locked in their own heads.

I learned that humanity has a very dark side but also that each and every person is unique in their own way. Even if a bunch of people dress the same, have the same hairstyles, the same kind of facial features, the same colour skin (cliche I know, but...) there's something inside them that you've never experienced before. Coming from advertising beforehand, where hanging entire swathes of society on pegs in order to sell shit to them is the norm, that was quite a revelation for me.

I learned that there are some horrible smells out there just waiting to be discovered.

thornae17 karma

So, to counterbalance all the horror stories, do you have any good memories of your work? Any nice encounters that didn't make you despair for the human race?

oneoffaccountok65 karma

As I previously mentioned, I loved working for elderly residents who were always upbeat, inspiring and lovely, despite being the most neglected. Some of their stories were so awesome I would actually find odd jobs to do so I could hear more.

Some other highlights include the world's scruffiest cat. Just a cat who jumped onto a wall while myself, the contractor I was working for and a chippie (carpenter) friend were standing around chatting. We were stunned into silence. This thing looked happy enough, but also like it had been pulled through a hedge backwards. I can't really describe the moment, but the contractor said it was the scruffiest cat he'd ever seen and we all just laughed and laughed and laughed. It was the kind of laugh where you're bent double and crying, then you look at each other and for some reason the connection you make in your expressions starts you off again. For years after we referred to that area as Scruffy Cat Town.

Random tennants of tower blocks who would help me carry my tools up flights of stairs, like I was a woman with a baby in a pushchair or something. It always struck me as a weird thing to do, but really bloody nice at the same time. I must have looked terribly knackered.

I think the most amazing experience was when I met my good friend of many years now. He and his girlfriend were renting a pokey little flat and getting a lot of trouble from the guy downstairs. He was also mixed up in Jamaican yardie shit, but a really nice guy. On the last day I worked for him he and I shared a fiery bottle of rum and agreed that we would remain friends. During the week he had pulled out a gun and told me he was going to go rescue a friend who was being threatened by a rival gang. He'd heard rumours the gang were going to jump his friend as he came out of court, and probably try to kill him. So he was going to take the gun and... do something. I don't think he knew what himself.

I sat him down and refused to let him leave the flat. Told him I'd rugby tackle him if he tried to leave with the gun and I think maybe even told him at one point that he'd have to shoot me. He later said it was a turning point in his life. I feel proud that I did what I did. I've not always been the best person, but that is one moment in my life I feel like I really did a good thing for a good reason and changed someone's life because of it.

iRuisu15 karma

Have you ever come across some odd rooms from previous tenants such as sex dungeons or some other bizarre uses for rooms?

oneoffaccountok48 karma

Interesting question. I never came across a sex dungeon (unfortunately, I would have salvaged all the stuff before the cleaners could come in).

I worked on a house as part of a crew (we were repairing all the houses in an entire street of immigrant housing) and we discovered that every room, including the kitchen had a bed. I think there were about thirty beds altogether (not frames but sleeping bags and blow up mattresses, stuff like that). As we worked on the street and watched the comings and goings at the house we concluded it was being used illegally by some kind of people smuggler. The people coming and going (always immigrants) were never the same from one day to the next except for a couple of shady guys who would pull up at least once a day in a big silver merc with music thumping.

BadgerGecko13 karma

When working in a cradle or on scaffolding how much nudity did you see in the flats?

I only say this because I was more than happy walking butt naked (my natural home state)even if the builders could see I didn't care, don't think they did either

oneoffaccountok40 karma

I only ever saw one nudy through a window while working in a bedroom which overlooked another house and a really hot woman was doing the ironing in the nude. Couldn't tear my eyes away and when the contractor came to check on my work I told him and we both watched. Then the chippy arrived and all three of us watched. It was morally wrong but wonderful.

I saw other nudity while on the job, but that was all legit and above board.

mothermilk13 karma

I'm a postman and I have to admit some houses when I have to knock I stand by the door sideways so I don't have to smell what emanates from the door, how did you deal with being inside the stink?

Also do people tear up their own carpets and rip down the wallpaper to convince the council to come fix it? Or do they just like living in filth?

oneoffaccountok12 karma

If you want a room decorated (at least this was the case back then) you had to put in an application and wait, sometimes up to 6 years. Even if your house was in pristine condition you could apply for a redec.

sixstringzen12 karma

What kind of scary/weird/strange situations have you walked in on?

oneoffaccountok36 karma

I walked in on someone asleep in their bed when I thought the flat was empty. They were supposed to be at work but had taken the day off sick. I had a key and had let myself in, was whistling away to myself while opening the bedroom curtains when she rises like the living dead from under the covers. I nearly soiled myself.