We cannot prevent people from having children …
Tenants, France 2009.
Some years ago we had a tenant in one of our flats, a young chap of 19, named Pierre-Anton. Or it might have been Pierre-Antoine. I can’t remember. He moved in to the flat with his girl-friend, a weighty young lady of about the same age and named Corinne. Both were under “tutelle” which is a very good system here in France where exceptionally unintelligent or incapable people are legally put under the watchful eye of somebody with a bit of sense. It can be a neighbour or a parent, a total stranger or a friend. Both Pierre-Anton and Corinne were extremely thick – for want of a better word – and were under “tutelle”.
Many of our tenants were what the French call “les cas sociaux” (social cases) and that is where we came in. There were not enough council flats or houses, and most landlords would only take tenants who could pay two months’ deposit plus the rent up front, and also be in possession of a CDI (full time work contract). For les cas sociaux this was out of the question.
So we filled the gap by providing inexpensive accomodation where the council paid a months’ deposit on behalf of the tenant, and the tenant’s rent-allowance money went straight on to our account. This meant the tenant only had to fork out as little as 10 Euros a month from his own pocket for the rent, but most were incapable of even that – indeed, seemed to think that because I was the landlady, I somehow “owed” them something.
But I diverge. Pierre-Anton and Corinne moved in to one of our flats with their few possessions. In no time at all Corinne was pregnant. It took me a while to realise she was pregnant because she was such a hefty lady that it really didn’t show. The baby was born in the local hospital and they named the poor little scrap Francois. Corinne went home. I suppose the health visitor and/or a social worker must have visited, I don’t know, but Corinne forgot to feed the baby (he was sleeping all the time, I wasn’t going to wake him, was I ?!! she said at the inquest) and he died when he was about four days old.
Now, I know we cannot do it. I know we must never go down that line. But boy oh boy, did Corinne need to be sterlised !! And did Pierre-Anton need the snip !!!! Within a year another baby was born, though this time both the health visitor& the social worker came round regularly – in fact, I think some poor carer actually lived in the flat with them till we could all be sure that both young parents knew how to look after a baby.
I love children.
I love babies. But I have to say it – one glance at that baby and you could see he was every bit as unintelligent as the parents. Sorry. One shouldn’t make judgements like that, but I know I was right. A year after that another baby was born, and then a third. They all had that same look to them. The flat got steadily more crowded and steadily more dirty and more run-down. Cigarette ends were everywhere, mixed in with food packets and baby items. Both parents seemed to spend most of the time shouting either at each other or at the babies. The stench was something else.
After considerable effort I managed to get them moved in to a little house with a garden. I helped with all their stuff (back and forth, back and forth with my car loaded with smelly possessions), helped them install it all, shook hands, kissed the children (the French spend a lot of time kissing each other), wished them well. And I drove away.
Some three years later the phone rang and it was a social worker in Saintes – a good half hour drive away from me. Pierre-Anton and Corinne are in terrible debt, she explained, and they tell me that the only person they can think of who might help them is you.
Pardon ? Where do I fit in to this picture ? I haven’t seen them for three years and they are nothing to do with me.
“Their rent is covered,” continued the social worker, “but their electricity has been cut off and also their water. The gas and telephone have both been cut off for a long time. We provide emergency help in cases such as this, but this young couple have already dipped in to that fund many many times. He cannot hold down a job, though he regularly has a bit of work. He does try. But the situation is such that we must now remove the children from them.”
“Well, that might be the best thing ….” I ventured.
The discussion went on for some time and Pierre-Anton came on the line … and to cut a long story short I agreed to drive over to Saintes (half an hour each way!) and meet them, to include the social worker.
I wanted to say “these people should never have been allowed to have another baby, let alone three!” but, of course, one can’t say that. All of them looked so poor and so depressed. The kiddies had those large dark teary eyes of unhappy children, and how could any of us wish them anything other than Life, Healthy and Fulfilling Life ? I wondered what had gone wrong in the overall plan of things in an up-beat country like France that this dirty little family had slipped through the net and found themselves begging from an ex-landlady.
So, I paid for the utilities to go back on and I helped Pierre-Anton find another job on the strict basis that a) the social system would put them under a different “tutelle” (not me!! I exclaimed) and b) that Pierre-Anton would listen with great care to any and all advice on how to keep his job.
I saw them again in a market, about five years after that. They were still together (no matter how stupid the parents, children are usually better off with their own flesh and blood) and still looked very poor. I ducked behind a stall because I didn’t want them to see me, and watched for a while. All three children had grown, of course, heading in to puberty and ready to go off and produce another lot just like them …
Poverty and ignorance has nothing to do with the government. People like these will always be with us, just as there will always be beautiful people and ugly ones, wealthy, generous, kind, nasty, cruel … these are human traits that will never disappear. In France and in the UK, and in many other countries, the gap between rich and poor is no longer as stark as it was even just fifty years ago. Furthermore, for those that have intelligence, even if they are poor, there are opportunities to crawl up out of poverty. I have little patience for those who are capable of helping themselves, or for governments that shell-out to them. It is the ones like Pierre-Anton that we need to watch out for. Not just the government, but you and me too.