Donkey kept in a bathroom


DonkeyDue to the political composition of the County Borough of West Ham, there was much social housing spread throughout the borough. One particular housing estate was located in a backwater of the borough where the council appeared to house some of it’s more difficult tenants. The entire estate comprised of blocks of tenement style buildings. Each block being four floors high and each floor accessed by a double flight of stairs with a sharp 180° bend midway leading to a small landing on the next floor above.

As a young fireman I was advised by more experienced and wizened  colleagues that if I ever attended an incident at this housing estate, I was never to ask questions no matter what I might find.

I once attended a chimney fire at this estate in the 1960’s. At this time central heating was still something of a rarity. It was always possible to tell one reached the location of a chimney fire as the smell of burnt soot permeated everywhere. Sometimes in the dark, the offending chimney appeared like an erupting volcano with a multitude of sparks gushing from the top. Extinguishing a chimney fire is normally a simple if somewhat messy task, providing one has the correct equipment. The equipment itself is pretty basic but very effective and consists of a series of flexible bamboo canes which can be screwed end on end. A rose nozzle is attached to the top cane which has numerous small holes around it allowing fine jets of water to emerged from all around the globe shaped nozzle. This has the advantage of requiring very little water to extinguish the chimney fire while at the same time minimising water damage. The nozzle is connected to a thin flexible hose which is in turn attached to a stirrup pump that can be stood in a bucket of water.

As one firefighter manipulates the canes up the chimney, his colleague will slowly pump water. Normally it requires less than half a bucket of water to extinguish a chimney fire provided no unforeseen difficulties are encountered.

At this particular incident, the flat, (apartment), was located on the top floor. In a way we were thankful as this meant the chimney flue would be short in height and much easier to deal with. It was my task to go to the bathroom and fill the bucket with water from the bath tap. As I pushed the bathroom door open, the door opened no more than about 6 inches before it suddenly slammed shut in my face. I apologised profusely assuming I had interrupted someone using the bathroom but was greeted only with silence. I knocked on the door asking if I could come in only to be followed by more silence. More cautiously I once again slowly pushed the door open and like before, after a few inches it again suddenly slammed shut.

With the chimney fire still roaring away, my need for water was more urgent than possibly someone else’s need for modesty. The third time I tried the door, I wedged my fireboot behind it after it  opened a few inches. I could feel strong pressure pushing against the door. Each time the pressure against the door eased a little I repeatedly pushed it a few more inches before wedging  my boot against the door again to stop it closing. Eventually I managed to open the door sufficiently to push my shoulder and head through. Alas no, it was not a scantily clad damsel in distress that greeted my eyes, it was the large hair covered behind of a donkey that was pushing against the other side of the door. It took a few seconds for my mind to absorb what I was seeing was real before I burst out in uncontrollable laughter. My colleagues soon came to see what the commotion was about before they in turn joined me in a loud chorus of laughter. The woes of the tenants and their chimney fire were forgotten for a few moments.

The floor space of the bathroom was quite small and was completely occupied by the frame of the donkey. It was not even possible to fully open the door to get the donkey out due the obstruction it caused. I eventually managed to fill my bucket with water by climbing over the donkey and standing in the bath with my boots on, then passing the bucket back over the top of my donkey to my colleagues arm stretching around the side of the door. Putting out the chimney fire was short work and after about 15 minutes we were ready to leave. In all this time the tenants of the flat never mentioned the donkey at all. It was almost as if the animal did not exist. In time honoured tradition with this housing estate, we, (the fire service), did not ask either. I quickly learned that nothing I ever saw on this estate should come as a surprise.

When we arrived back at our station we did laugh as we talked about the donkey amongst ourselves. Unanswered questions like how did they ever get the animal up the narrow winding stairs to the top floor? How were they ever going to get the creature out the bathroom again without removing the door? How did they clean up after it’s natural functions as well as what on earth did they need the thing for in the first place.

Until this day those questions still go unanswered. If nothing else, that particular incident was part of my life’s experiences of working in the East End of London.





One Response

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michael Gilbey, Michael Gilbey. Michael Gilbey said: Donkey+kept+in+a+bathroom+ […]

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