LIFE IN `THE JUNGLE': A HOUSING ESTATE
Where no one cares about anyone
WE live on the edge of The Jungle. It is a new housing estate of roughly 500 houses, not a very big one, rather like a large model village—built in 1945. But Jungle all the same.
In the jungle we think of where the next meal is coming from and about the roof over our heads: sometimes we even think of covering, of clothes. Some few of us have TV and motor cars and are said to have £15 to £20 a week coming into the house, but the great majority has £7 to Ell a week.
Recently I was given a list of 40 Catholic families on this estate compiled five years ago by the Catholic Parents' and Electors' Association, and was asked to check it. Why pick on me ? I have three children of 5, 3, and I years and a schoolmaster husband who is a magnet to any problem parent. Further, I am notorious for opening my big mouth too wide and jumping in it with both feet. However, the parish priest confirmed the assignment, so I got on with it.
AdLT an optimistic estimate, one in six Catholics go to Mass on Sunday—one in 10 is prob
ably nearer the mark. Far fewer take part in any active life in the parish.
Why? So often the reasons were distance from church with no buses at the right time and no other transport possible that my first reaction was to write to the local Traffic Manager, and he has started an earlier trolley-bus on Sunday. Even so, anyone wanting to go to 8 o'clock Mass on Sunday must either walk or cycle. This means, in my own case, rising soon after 6 and breakfasting just before 10. 1 did it all last summer, pushing the children in a pram. But it is not
right to take a 15-month baby, or even a 3-year-old, out at 7 a.m, in some of the weather we've had.
Or am I wrong? In the real Jungle perhaps mothers and children are tougher, more enduring, more devoted. Should one persevere? Just imagine the 40 known Catholic mothers up here all doing it, Sunday after Sunday. No further advertisement would be needed. no flying colours and ceremonial music, and surely the holy angels would greet them hereafter.
Those who go to the 10.30 Parish Mass do not get out of church till 12 noon, and you can imagine that mothers of families don't cook the Sunday dinner happily at such times. We have long given up the joint-two-veg. and pie Sunday meal and have casseroles and salads, depending on the season. However, the earlier trolley-bus enables us to hear a 9.30 Mass in the town and be home before 11 a.m. One has to be very rich to keep the Sunday holy in the old-fashioned leisurely way. I go to Holy Communion every Sunday. If priests can fast for Mass, mothers ought to be able to.
NO ONE CARES
OTHERS who have to go out to work, even to parttime jobs during the week, and partners in mixed marriages, find
all this too difficult.
Over and over again I hear the same complaint. People fall ill, or they are unlucky at work. or circumstances get too much for them, and, they say to me. no one cares. No one visits them, no priest or layman from one year's end to the other. No one baby-sits or takes a turn with the ironing or the mending or the chores. Why should they? No one visits the sick with a few books and some fruit or flowers. No one says to the children; "Come and see what I've got in my pocket . . ."
The Jungle is definitely not Respectable —mothers of Nice Girls know that there are no potential husbands here. The
Guild . . . "Well!" said one member to me, "that man has ulcers and he's been to prison for not paying his rates, and how dare his wife go on having babies?"
I appealed to the — League. Out of 60 members, one offered to baby-sit, one to do ironing. They made one visit each, and never came again.
'DON'T ASK US'
MANY, many Catholic children go to non-Catholic schools because the parents have had rows with the nuns or the lay staff at the only Catholic school here. There are no school visitors. The Catholic Teachers' Association and even the Tertiaries say: "Don't ask us—what could we do?"
The worst offenders amongst parents responsible for this sending the children to the wrong school are the Irish. As one Irishman said to me: "No, I never go to Mass, and of course I send the children up the road. It's more convenient and I'm as good a Catholic as any."
Perhaps he spoke more truly than one would like to admit.
My confessor says that this is all no worse than any other large town and that I must not say: "If you never go to church and you send your children away from the Faith, why go on calling yourself Catholic?' He says they'll call themselves Catholic all right on their deathbeds and that's where God gets them.
The Catholics who marry outside the Church and need help to get right get no help at all; quite the contrary.
The backsliders who think perhaps, after all, they'll make an effort and send son Gary to the local Catholic grammar school (Independent) know that they cannot pay full fees. They go to try and come to some arrangement; they make an offer, and in at least seven cases it has come down to this: They have been told that the boy will be accepted if they will pay El a week and see he goes in uniform. On an income of £7 or even £10 a week? It is impossible.
WHAT have I done?. As a private individual I have tried, first of all to have any information needed at my finger tips, such as bus times, school fees, regulations and pos
sible sources of help.
I qualified as a marriage guidance counsellor. (One woman asked the priest for information on the safe period and was violently rebuked; another received only silence. Perhaps there was a good reason for this, but it only made in them bitter resentment and further temptation).
My Protestant neighbours help me cook and wash nappies for mothers with new babies. A few non-Catholics will baby sit. One minds children from time to time, coaches them (and their parents) at the approach of the Iiplus exam. One coaxes the children to come to Sunday Mass (one goes on a weekday in peace). Hordes of Cowboys and Indians play in our sandpit, and our books and comics serve as a small but well-used circulating library. My own home? I cook and serve meals regularly, but life is not dominated by a hit of dirty crockery in the kitchen sink. Wash ins and ironing five days out of seven. Mending when absolutely necessary. Cleaning — every day, hut the minimum of polishing.
The children seem serene and happy and are said to be wellmannered. Our health is good. (So one can do a bit for others, evte single-handed and on £10 a week. Oh, yes, I read, go to the theatre once a fortnight (our Rep. is a great joy). Only the clothes situation—my own—is grim.
AT conclusion can I arrive at? I'd better finish this before dawn.
Our Lord seemed to thing that it needed only 12 men to convert the world. Perhaps if I could pray more my work would be more fruitful. Actually I'm sure that I'm the wrong person for this job. But it seems that there is no one else to do it. Catholic mothers up here won't help each other: no one in the parish seems to have heard of the Works of Mercy — (Oh! wrong! Sorryl They've probably never heard of The Jungle). As for reading Fr. Paul Furfey s "Fire on the Earth" or Dom Chautard's " Soul of the Apostolate", they're just books for seminarians, and questionable at that.
Obviously I don't love people enough yet, and I ought to, because God is very good to me. That is the only way I can think of—to love God in these brethren one desires to serve.