Something in the water

Eileen Moir Mary Dhonau Jenny Jennings
31 May 2001

It took a crisis for us to meet

Eileen Moir: Jenny, Mary and I met in the strangest circumstances imaginable.

Jenny Jennings: You can say that again. It’s fairly unusual to say you met because your houses got flooded with sewage. But in our case, that’s exactly what happened. Now look at us! We’ve run a national campaign. And last week, we went to 10 Downing Street. It’s crazy to think what’s happened.

Mary Dhonau: The strange thing is that we’ve been neighbours for six years but until the floods came, all we’d done was nod and wave at each other.

Eileen: It took a crisis for us to meet.

Mary: “Crisis” is an understatement. Last Christmas, all our houses were flooded with sewage. And in fact, it’s happened to me ten times in seven years – sewage water three foot deep. This time, I’d just had enough. So I sat down at the PC and wrote a cross letter to our water company, Severn Trent.

Jenny: Some people even had faeces floating through their homes and still Severn Trent didn’t come out.

Mary: So I put my Wellington boots on - that was the only way I could get to see most of my neighbours - and I knocked on 48 doors and got signatures. In turned out that all of us had had the same experience, and the water company had taken no notice whatsoever.

Eileen: I’d never seen Jenny before, but I’d seen Mary and always smiled and said hello but never stopped.

Jenny: Then when the sewage water came in, we knocked on each other’s doors and just said, “Are you flooded?” And it was, “Yes, come on in.”

Mary: Comrades!

Jenny: Then the wine opens, and we haven’t stopped drinking since. Now we’re very, very close friends. We’ve got a Christmas party planned for April or May, because we couldn’t have Christmas as our houses were flooded.

Eileen: It was the most miserable time for everyone. We felt incredibly isolated.

Mary: I remember how I opened the curtains on Christmas morning and nine houses in one direction were all empty and gutted and I just felt sick because no-one was there, no-one to wave to and no-one to share Christmas with.

Eileen: It was that awful sense of loss, really, as though our homes had been stolen or taken from us – and we were powerless to do anything about it. Nobody was accountable. Everyone abdicated responsibility and blamed the next person, and we were made to feel very much like trouble-makers. And apart from the practical and functional problems of not having a kitchen, not being able to use your washing machine or toilet, it was because it was your home, your base, the place where you’re safe and secure. The thing is, it wasn’t nature flooding us, though there were certainly lots of natural articles floating in the water, it was from the drains. If we’d bought a house by the river we’d have made a calculated risk that it might flood...

Jenny: But we’re half a mile from the river with an industrial estate in the middle. And we had a foot of water in our house for twenty-four days solid with not one single neighbour coming over. Even when they saw us in the street walking about in Wellington boots up to a portaloo, not one person asked us how we were.

Mary: And they must have seen us on the telly.

Eileen: I think they found that we were an embarrassment, we were highlighting a problem and it had an agenda for them, in terms of house prices – it lowered the tone.

Jenny: But people here can be so narrow-minded. You’d expect it in a village maybe, not a city like this.

Eileen: I don’t think it’s peculiar to Worcester. I think it’s echoed everywhere. It was the same in South Wales. I had to move from there to Worcester because of my husband’s employment. It was a question of being together in Worcester or not being together.

Jenny: My husband was born here, so I moved here to be with him. All his family come from here – I don’t know how far back. And they’re all still here. So he’s a real Worcester man, a woozer. It’s a big, very close family, just like the Waltons. The Waltons of Worcester!

Mary: I’ve got five children at the last counting – talking about the Waltons. I lived in Malvern originally but my son got a choral scholarship at the Cathedral, so we moved here.

Eileen: I love Worcester, it’s a beautiful place.

Mary: I don’t like Worcester at all. I think it’s the most unfriendly place in the whole world. Just look at what happened when we flooded. No-one cared a bit. People here really don’t welcome a stranger into their bosom. I can stand at the school gate – and I have been going to that school for years – and I’m still a relative stranger.

Eileen: But everyone’s different. I don’t think there’s a typical Worcester person at all.

Jenny: And what about people saying there’s a typical “Worcester Woman”? I mean, look at us! What are we like? Personally, I’d have found it really offensive to be stopped in the street and stereotyped as “Worcester Woman”.

Mary: I found it quite funny, I went around at the last general election saying, “Of course, I’m Worcester Woman, and however I vote it’s going to go with me.” Mind you, I’ve always voted Liberal Democrat. The first thing I did when I escaped from home to university was to vote Liberal Democrat – my parents have always voted Conservative.

Eileen: Everyone’s got to find their own way in life. And I think chiselling in to be part of a community is a hard slog wherever you go.

Jenny: It’s very American Werewolf in London here. Especially with me. I’m an outsider. I come from Essex, and it’s not the classiest voice, is it? But I’m not shy. I talk to anyone. I’m not bothered. So you walk into a pub, and if you’ve got a different accent everyone stops and looks at you –

Eileen: The piano stops –

Mary: And they knock their dominoes over –

Jenny: As long as they let you through to the bar, that’s fine by me. But it’s very cliquey, very interbred. Worcester is a strange city because they don’t like to be classed as being anything to do with Birmingham even though we’re not so many miles away. But I’m from the sea, originally – we lived on twenty miles of beach – so Worcester seems like a proper city to me.

Mary: But it’s not a friendly place. If you think about it, even we weren’t that friendly until the floods came. Maybe there’s something in the water?

Jenny: I won’t stay here forever. I’ll go back to the sea.

Mary: And be flooded!

Jenny: Yes, but you don’t get flooded by the sea.

There’s too many fences and barriers

Eileen: I was born in Glasgow, my family are all from Scotland, and it’s an involuntary thing but I feel very proud to be Scottish, and interwoven in that is a strong British identity – I’m not English at all. So I feel Scottish in the first instance and British in the second. But I think there are all sorts of problems with Scottish independence. I mean, in terms of care for the elderly, for example, there’s a different rule in Scotland and a different rule here and I think that’s absolutely disastrous. It’s postcode care and I feel very strongly against that. So in terms of independence, or regional devolution, I think it has to be threaded through the whole of Britain. I mean, I feel it’s very important for Scotland to have their say and to have their power, but I’d be very against a postcode type of situation where it became graded what kind of care you’d get and how you’re viewed. I don’t know how it could be worked so that you get your say, but there is some sort of vote that allows people to be treated the same wherever.

Jenny: It’s because there’s too many fences and barriers. Everyone wants to be British when it suits them, but the next thing you get is the Welsh trotting off one way, and there’s Scotland, and it’s all very torn when it suits the government to be torn. Personally, I feel British rather than part of any region, like Essex, where I’m from originally. And no, I don’t wear white stilettos – not on a Sunday.

Eileen: I do think there’s strong differences in culture, and issues surrounding all the different identities.

Mary: I think there’s a definite English identity, too. But take my parents, I have watched them become more and more British. They didn’t even vote Conservative last time. They voted for the Independent for the first time because they liked everything the Independent chap was saying. And then there’s my parents in law who will not have a two pound coin because they think it’s a euro. They actually refuse to accept a two pound coin if they are handed one. But I think the euro is something we’ve got to do. Our family motto has always been to go with the flow, and I think we’ve got to go with the flow over this – sorry Jenny.

Jenny: Oh God!

Mary: Because surely the idea of the Common Market was to stop anything like the Second World War ever happening again. And that’s how I feel, that in that idealistic way, if we can all work together and just get on. Even though I cannot believe the bureaucracy of it all, the paperwork, and the beef, for instance. There’s a lot of petty battles. It’s not working how it should be.

Jenny: But it’s all for show. The countries will never unite. The French bloody hate us, and we can’t stand them – as in the token Brit and the token French fella. But we will never unite. The euro is a token trophy of how we could unite – but underneath, with all the undercurrents, we’re just too different.

Eileen: I worry about all the different identities, I mean we do have to acknowledge difference, and celebrate it, and use it to our advantage, and not pretend we’re all the same. And in Europe I feel that every country has its own identity, and different value-base.

Mary: We need to stand back and address the situation, because the Common Market is going really AWOL, pear-shaped. There’s too much bureaucracy, too much petty fighting and goings-on in between. The ideal, the basic reason for the Common Market, has gone out of the window.

Jenny: It’s all very well and good having a European parliament but how many times have I, or anyone else in this room, ever been asked our views on it? It’s just like with Westminster. It’s way out of everyone’s hands. I know we’ve just been there, and it was lovely, but... I’ve never, in my life, had to make a stand on something, apart from this. It’s the first time. For years, I’ve sat and watched the TV and heard what’s being decided in Westminster and I’ve never thought about actually doing something. I mean, we took our campaign nationally in desperation.

Mary: And we’ve used the media to let Severn Trent know we’re really serious. We wanted them to take notice of us. We needed the weight of the media behind us.

Jenny: So we’re using the media, because that’s what they’re there for.

Eileen: If we look at it locally though, I work for Social Services, and it’s like a microcosm of things on a larger scale, say at Westminster. Even at work, decisions are made without consultation of people doing the job. The knowledge of the people on the ground floor isn’t used. As workers, we feel frustrated because at the end of the day we’re the ones facing the public and having to deal with difficulties surrounding the decisions that are made. All we can do is work hard, argue, discuss, debate with our managers about decisions, but there’s this heavy feeling of it being a pointless exercise sometimes because these decisions are already made. And that’s how I feel on a bigger level as well. You’re often powerless, because decisions are already made and even if they’re the wrong decisions you’re half way down that road and you have no power to stop. And then as a worker, and I guess as a citizen, it could be argued that you have to have the strength to face the repercussions of sometimes completely stupid decisions - mostly made by men.

Jenny: And think about MPs. How many female MPs have we got? For hundreds and hundreds of years, government has always been the man’s job. Decisions were made with a group of blokes sitting round, while women were supposed to be at home doing the menial tasks, and I think that tradition is still around.

Mary: I had a letter from 10 Downing Street this week addressed to Mr & Mrs Michael Dhonau. Well, I am not Mrs Michael Dhonau! I was absolutely outraged.

Jenny: How would he like getting a message sent to him as “Mr Cherie Blair”?

Mary: We went into our marriage as an equal partnership, “Mrs Michael” is ridiculous.

Eileen: It’s funny, when my husband was in the army we were in Berlin one time, and I had to get some medication for something, and they gave me tablets for Lance Corporal whatever. So I said to my husband, maybe you take the tablets three times a day and I’ll get better? It’s all so much a part of our structure and our culture.

Jenny: I mean, “Worcester Woman” to me sounds so patronising, as though it’s about time the little woman had her say. You know – Middle England, little women, we’ll knock on the kitchen window and get her away from the sink, see if she’s allowed to vote – or ask her husband if she should be allowed to have her say.

Mary: When I’m in the paper, it’s still “Mary Dhonau, mother of five”, and my age, nothing else about me. But when my husband is quoted they don’t mention his job or that he has five kids, but with me it’s always “mother of five”. Even though I’m in the paper for lobbying, they don’t see me, they see the fact that I’m a mother and happen to have five children.

Eileen: But I think that’s woven into life in Britain wherever you are.

The real issues are lost in the game

Jenny: The one thing I’d say about our MP, Mike Foster, is that I don’t agree with his politics at all. He’s trying to get fox hunting banned, and I disagree with him about that. But he’ll get my vote, because he’s the one person who has actually listened to us. We went to his clinics and then he came round our houses and spoke to us. Like we could have said, “Michael, can’t use our kitchen, love. Can we come round for Sunday dinner?” He has been absolutely fantastic. All right, it’s coming up to the election and people are going to be coming out the woodwork. We’ve had councillors saying, “Yes, I’m backing you.”

Eileen: And we’ve never heard of them!

Jenny: So we’re like, “Who are you?” One councillor has an Indian restaurant and in fact he’s given us free Indian takeaways – he was fantastic. But that’s bribery, surely?

Mary: Curries for questions!

Jenny: I wish we had a councillor who owned an off-licence.

Mary: I went on the radio and said we were outraged because of all these councillors saying they were supporting us, and they hadn’t been near us! The only person we’d seen, and the only person to have dirty waders, incidentally, was Mike Foster.

Eileen: He’s been marvellous, and I don’t want to be cynical but of course he’s got his own agenda. He took us round the House of Commons and was wonderful but it was a game.

Mary: Anyway, I haven’t made a decision who I’ll vote for yet. But I’ve rung round every party to ask for a copy of their Manifesto. For the first time in my life I’m going to make a very slow, reasoned decision before I vote.

Eileen: But it’s all a game. And we’re not happy to play the game – it’s choice-less. But we’d tried all other reasonable means. They didn’t answer letters, we were passed from one agency to another. So we can’t win this unless we take a stand, get our voice heard.

Jenny: You’ve got to play the political game. To get from one side of the board to the other, you’ve got to have the right connections and the right links to get across. So we had to go first to the local media, and from there to the national media. And we contacted our MP to get the connection to Downing Street.

Eileen: We wouldn’t have to play that game though, if it was clear what the local bodies were, where their boundaries were, and what they offered us. But it’s not clear, and it’s in the big agencies’ interests to keep it hazy. Severn Trent are prepared for us to be flooded for a few more times before they actually do anything.

Jenny: Meeting each other, we’ve been able to shout together, so we’ve been heard. Individually, we’ve got nowhere.

Mary: If it was just me, I don’t think people would take me seriously, it’s only when we’re together...

Jenny: Otherwise, you’d be the mad Worcester Woman.

Mary: I can see it now - www - the wicked witch of Worcester.

Jenny: I think people forget how individual people can be.

Eileen: But then think about how the thing was dealt with. For instance, Severn Trent have agreed to see us, but they won’t see us together. They put it in writing, and said they thought it would be a free for all.

Mary: We’ve been pushing for a public meeting – but no way.

Eileen: They replied to my letter and I said, look, whilst I appreciate an answer to my letter – which is a novelty – and whilst I’m happy that you want to have dialogue, I feel it’ll be wasting your time unless we actually get together as a community. Because although our stories are slightly different, there are a lot of common threads.

Jenny: Now every house he walks into is going to be, “I’ve got shit in my house.” And there you go. The same story every time.

Eileen: But it’s divide and conquer. Because I think very often the structures are designed for one reason – to protect the ones in power. It’s always an abdication of responsibility. And there’s so much of this game-playing around, in politics, and on every level. I think what’s happened to us has really highlighted and illustrated that.

Jenny: You’re right. We’ve gone to our MP with our cause because he’s the people’s spokesman, he’s Worcester’s spokesman. Alright he’s opening fetes one day, talking to old dears the next, but he’s our voice, we can go to him. But when we went to parliament, it’s as though the buck stops with him. He’ll filter through the stuff that he sees necessary that will help his party, his cause. He’s a sieve, and things hit him and what needs to go through goes through.

Mary: He’s very publicity oriented, I suppose they all are. But he’s the man with the lollipop at the moment. With the hunting issue – I think it’s barbaric. I can’t think of anything more repulsive. So I think he’s right to be against it. But someone told me that he didn’t feel that strongly about it, that he was just doing it for publicity.

Jenny: What annoys me is that you get all these people – sorry Mary – living in the town who say that we should ban fox hunting. But I’ve been on fox hunts for twenty odd years and we’ve never bloody caught one. 99.9% of fox hunts you don’t catch a fox, it’s just traditional sport, it’s like pheasant shooting, it’s a traditional country thing. It’s a bloody good laugh!

Mary: But I’ve heard a fox being ripped apart. I’ll never forget that sound. I was about ten. It was near Oxford.

Jenny: Still, it’s getting a lot of publicity for Mike Foster. And he can’t believe in every single aspect that’s put on his desk. He can’t agree with everything. But he’s got to be shown to support some things, hasn’t he? That’s what he gets paid for, that’s how he wins votes.

Eileen: I think the real issue in Worcester is that there’s a crisis in care for older people, and probably a lot of other people, who are not given the support to actually demand the services that they have a right to. They’re not able to play the game. They haven’t got the energy to play any game. They can’t get to the toilet some of them. And yes I do think fox hunting is important, but there are other issues that are important as well – and they’re arguably more important if you’re talking about somebody who can’t get to the toilet, feed, eat. But because people don’t make a fuss, because they internalise and accept, the problems aren’t dealt with. It’s just treated as a game, moving money from one pot to another.

Mary: You don’t question. It’s like going to the doctors and they send you to a consultant and they say x, y and z is going to happen to you, or to your child. And the minute you question them, all hell breaks loose. People don’t question.

Jenny: And the problem I find is that you have one say every five years. One say, and that’s it. Then you forget about it.

Eileen: And the real issues are lost in the game. The real issues are lost in the hype and the nonsense surrounding it, so people don’t know what they’re really voting for.

The world is getting smaller and smaller

Jenny: There was a man when I came home from work yesterday, in the bus stop opposite Sainsbury’s, glue-sniffing. I was absolutely horrified. I’ve never seen anyone glue-sniffing before I moved to Worcester. It’s horrendous here for drugs and everything.

Mary: I’ve got teenage children and I feel sick when they go out in the evening. I can’t very well say no, you can’t go out. But whenever they go I’m petrified because they’re so vulnerable with peer pressure, and I’m so scared for them.

Eileen: There’s a lot of frustration around because things go to court, people are let off, and it becomes a game. So people can get very disheartened when they’ve used the legal system to try to bring justice to situations, be it crime, car crime, drugs or whatever, and for some reason it hasn’t worked out. There’s quite a lot of racism around, too.

Mary: Actually, the Asian community is very big here, and it doesn’t worry me at all. I just want to get on with everybody else and I don’t think that just because someone’s got a different coloured skin it makes them any different, unless they try to influence their religion on me or something like that but then I’ve got my own thoughts about religion. I’m happy just so as long as we all muddle along together and everyone’s allowed to be themselves.

Eileen: I think there’s a lot of opportunity for differences inside a culture. There are very positive things that can come out of it – in learning about different cultures and changing to a way of life that suits all of us, that’s better for all of us.

Jenny: I make it my business to know what’s happening around the world because the world is such a small place, and now when there is a flood, or the earthquakes at the moment, it affects every single country. The world is getting smaller and smaller.

Eileen: Especially with the internet. We looked up the legislation for the sewage issue on the net, because you can use legislation creatively, and we thought if we have some knowledge of it then it’ll give us confidence to argue. But sewage legislation is so boring! You can’t believe how boring it is.

Jenny: But the internet’s another tool, isn’t it?

Mary: I mean, I didn’t understand about MAFF and wondered whether because Jenny’s fish had been put in the bath...

Jenny: Yes, my fish had to move into our bath.

Mary: And I was wondering whether we had to report it to MAFF for cruelty to fish.

Jenny: Very funny... It’s true, though. We had to fish them out of our garden and put them into our bath. They loved it! It was the hot water and the bubble bath that didn’t go down well.

Eileen: But that was the funny thing. In the end, we had to go and find out about the sewage system for ourselves. But we have no wish to be sewage experts. They’re supposed to be the experts. So again it was about this muddiness, people not taking responsibility. And then they had a lot of explaining to do.

Given an opportunity to shout, people will say something

Jenny: The thing about the Americans is that they cock everything up, don’t they? And we always look at them as though that’s the way we’ve got to be. But look at what they’ve just done with their election. It’s the biggest farce, and a company like that – I mean, a country like that, it’s all Hollywood, all glitz and glamour, and the cost to do an election! Surely that’s money that should be spent elsewhere? It’s all the game, the hype and everything, where they pick you up for a week or two and then they drop you for five years.

Mary: But I think it’s the same with our general election, all the parties will make these incredible promises, and will they keep them?

Jenny: Never!

Eileen: It’s all so glitzy and tailored now. It’s all for show, with everybody looking glamorous and having their designers to make sure they look right and say the right thing, and it’s all false, just like with Worcester Woman – which happened in America first, didn’t it, when they had women from wherever it was?

Jenny: And we all know that the prime minister or the president, or whoever, is just a spokesman, a hand-puppet who will say whatever he’s told to say. But Britain is getting left behind. We’ve always been the British Empire, which was absolutely huge. And slowly but surely we’ve dropped bits off and we’ve got smaller and smaller. If you go to Germany, or Switzerland, the country is immaculate, everything is run very efficiently. Alright, they’re not the perfect race but everything is just right. And when you come here, the country is filthy-dirty, we’ve got a problem with immigration or drugs. Now of course every country’s got that, but other countries in Europe highlight it and act on it. We don’t. So they’re keeping up with the times, while Britain as a country and in her politics, is very, very stale. We just haven’t moved on. We’ve got a huge history and we rely on that to get us by – good old Great Britain. But Great Britain isn’t as great as what it used to be.

Mary: But I think we’ve got a good chance to be great again.

Jenny: Only if you are given the opportunity to stand up and speak. We stood up together and shouted because we’re three exceptionally strong people with three exceptionally strong views – maybe not all the same. But people who maybe aren’t as strong as that have to be given the opportunity to speak and say what they think – and then, yes, Britain would be great. Because given an opportunity to shout, people will say something.

Eileen: But I think things are getting better because there is a lot more opportunity, and a lot more impetus for dialogue and discussion, for debate. Say with education, it looks at how life is now. When I was little, we didn’t have computers, we didn’t know about mortgages, we didn’t learn about life, and everyday life, and I think that’s what goes on now. So it helps debate, and the general belief that if you have a voice then you can change things.

Mary: My son’s doing a diploma in life, I think it is. He learnt how to mend a car and how to bake a cake last week.

Jenny: That’s all well and good, but when you look at the other side of the coin, the education service I think is appalling. When we were children I would never stand up and tell a teacher I thought they were talking a load of old cobblers, and storm out of the classroom with “you can’t flipping stop me.” But you can’t get the cane any more. The discipline in schools! Kids are pushed to be more outspoken and to know their rights.

Mary: But I often think, what are my rights as a parent? I’ve got a very difficult fifteen-year old, and she’s always talking about her rights, she can do this and that. It’s how she feels empowered. And all her friends feel the same. Now, I hope that one day, when she’s a parent, and she’s in the position that she puts me in, that things have changed and she has the power I haven’t got now. But Jenny’s right in a way. My daughter has been threatened and bullied at school. She’s had mental torture going on for months. One of her friends was totally smashed up last week, and the children haven’t been expelled, they’re in an exclusion block at school. You can see them there drinking coffee and eating chocolate biscuits. Now what kind of punishment is that?

Eileen: I think it’s more to do with values, and the erosion of values. Yes, children are being taught now that they have rights, but on a deeper level it’s about the values. I know there’s a lot of talk about family values, but I think they’ve been eroded.

Mary: I was brought up quite strictly. But I don’t feel that we’re a completely united family, we don’t have the social interaction we had when I was a child.

Jenny: But in Europe, the family values are very strong. They all have dinner together as a family, and families go out together. But that doesn’t happen here. It’s a different culture.

Mary: The thing about children’s rights is that they’ve been taken to the extreme now, so there’s things like Childline. But is there a parent line? Right now I would give anything for a parent line, for some help and backup on how to bring up my child because I’m treading in very, very deep water and I don’t know how to deal with it.

Eileen: It’s all underpinned by changing values. Religion, education, politics and the changing family – which isn’t necessarily mum and dad any more. It could be any kind of combination and you have to acknowledge and accept that because that’s the reality. And it doesn’t lessen value, you can still have a strong and good foundation for your family, whatever your family is.

Mary: I have family values, very strong ones, but they’re not happening, and things feel very disjointed. Teenagers now have a lot more happening outside the home, and so the parents don’t feel needed, unless it’s for money. I don’t know whether my children will still have a deep and meaningful relationship with me when they’re the age I am now. But I can pick up the phone to my Mum and she’s there for me. I’d like to think my children would feel the same about me, but I don’t think that they’d turn to me. I think their friends and outside interests have a much stronger impact on them.

Jenny: Just like us then.

Since we first met the women of Waverley Street, their campaign has, it seems, won a total victory. Exactly one week before the Queen was set to meet Worcester’s flood victims – represented by Mary Dhonau – the women received several phone calls from the press. “There’s been some good news”, they said, unable to elaborate.

Severn Trent planned to invest hundreds of thousands of pounds into upgrading Waverley Street’s sewage system, agreeing to a comprehensive two-year programme of maintenance. They had not yet told the women of Waverley Street.

Now it was the turn of local press and TV to flood into the street. A picture of a triumphant Mary, holding a champagne bottle, arms aloft in celebration, appeared on the front page of the Worcester Evening News even before the water company had held their press conference. Shortly after, now in celebratory mood, Mary met the Queen, who reminded her of her Auntie Jean: “just a regular old lady with a handbag”. The Queen, well-briefed, talked sewage. Mary’s mother was so proud that she felt she could “die happy and go to heaven”.

Since then, the women have held their belated Christmas celebrations. Mike Foster MP came for lunch, as did the local and national media. The women have appeared on numerous radio shows and become an item on television. They find themselves being recognised by strangers, and not just locally. The morning we last spoke to Mary, she had called up a ticket hotline: the operator recognised her name, and wished her the best of luck.

Their only reservation is that everyone is getting scared of them.

For years, Severn Trent denied all knowledge of the street flooding. They have now admitted that they knew about the problem as long ago as the 1970s. But when the press reported this new revelation, the water company reverted back to their tactics of denial. In Waverley Street, four sewage pipes, filled with faeces, flow into one. Some of the pipes, the women have now discovered, flow uphill.

A new community spirit has emerged that once was non-existent. “It occurred to me this morning,” says Mary, “that as I was walking home, everyone was waving at each other and saying ‘Hi’.”

The end-goal is clear: “Our ambition is to be invited to switch on the new pumping station when we get it! If they try and renege, the TV companies have agreed to follow us straight through the doors of the director’s office of Severn Trent. With the media on our side, we will make sure we see this through.”

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