(And the Case of the Stolen Washing)

By Shane Pinnegar

I’ve lived in my share of insalubrious accommodations, let me tell you. One such hovel was located in Filburn Street, Scarborough in my hometown of Perth, Western Australia.

Now, the flat itself wasn’t too bad – everything worked, the location was great (only 2 blocks from arguably the best beach in town), no pest infestations (unlike some other places I had the misfortune in which to dwell… but more about them another time, perhaps).

No, the problem with this place was the people who gravitated towards the area.

The upside of the location was, as mentioned, the beach, the proximity to a couple of good pubs, and the fun-loving crowd around.

It was a boringly designed rectangular block of eight flats – 4 on the bottom, 4 on the top. I was the last one back on the bottom level. Right above me was Kimmie, a single Mum, and her little girl, who I affectionately nicknamed Zadeymonster, and next to them was a good-natured old bloke who mostly kept himself to himself. Next to me were a couple of Kiwi rapscallions who enjoyed a tasty beverage and owned practically no furniture, and at the front on the bottom was a buff surfer dude who often joined in our late night (or early afternoon) drinking and carousing.

So far so good.

Being so close to the beach, though, the entire suburb was riddled with surf bums of the druggy persuasion, and I was broken into three times in twelve months, presumably looking for cash to fund another fix of whatever they were on.

Upstairs next to the old bloke for a few months we had a hive of drug dealers. I can’t recall ever even seeing them, but the driveway was often blocked by cars which would pull up, allowing someone to run upstairs and rap on their door, conduct a quick transaction, then leave furtively. But even the dodgy dealers mostly minded their own business and caused us no grief.

The worst of the bunch was…………. Rock n’ Roll Grandma!

Occupying the top flat at the front of the small complex was an old lady. We’re talking over twenty years ago, now, so she seemed ancient to me, but in all honesty she was probably not much older than I am now, but very weathered.

We nicknamed her ‘Rock n’ Roll Grandma’ because she, too, mostly kept herself to herself, day drinking the cheapest and nastiest hooch and having the odd row with her equally dilapidated on-and-off partner. Perhaps she sometimes played some music and that’s where the name came from, or perhaps I just felt that drinking your days away was a particularly rock n’ roll pastime.

Anyway, I lived in this flat for a couple of years, and never had a huge drama with Rock n’ Roll Grandma… until one day, some clothes I’d hung out to dry on the line just vanished.

I had a day off, did my washing, hung them out in the morning, then went to collect them. It was a sunny day so they’d only needed a few hours on the line. Where could they have gone?

Kimmie passed by, taking her rubbish to the communal bins, and I asked her if she had, for whatever reason, taken my clothes off the line.

“No,” she said dejectedly, “but I’ve lost loads of Zadey’s clothes recently as well.”

“What the hell?” I muttered, annoyed. “Is nothing sacred?!”

“I think it was Rock n’ Roll Grandma,” Kimmie added, obviously annoyed. “I saw her with some of Zadey’s things in her basket earlier but she just ignored me when I tried to ask her about them.”

“For real?” I asked, amazed.

Well – this could not stand at all. I can deal with late night parties and turn a blind eye to drug dealers (well, I could then – probably not nowadays), but stealing clothes off the line is bang out of order. And I knew Kimmie was too shy to make a big scene out of it. I, however…

I marched up there and knocked on RnR Grandma’s door.

Her fella opened the door a crack and barked, “What?”

I could hear music playing, the flat smelt like cigarettes and stale wine, and even through the small crack the door was open I could see that it was obviously the maid’s decade off.

“Excuse me, but I think you guys have ‘accidentally’ taken some of our clothes off the line.” I said, giving them every opportunity to play nice and correct their mistake.

But no, Old Fella muttered some random abuse – let’s euphemistically say he politely asked me to go away – and slammed the door. I knocked again, but again, “Please leave” (or less PG words to that effect) were heard.

I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet, but I like to champion the underdogs, to stand up for what’s right. I knew Kimmie well – she couldn’t afford to restock Zadey’s wardrobe from scratch. Apart from that, I planned to go to the pub that evening and my good jeans were amongst Rock n’ Roll Grandma’s ill-gotten-stash!

It seemed I had only one recourse.

The Policeperson taking my call found it all very amusing. “A grandma stole your jeans off the line? And baby clothes? *titters* What is she planning to do with them? Well, why would she just take them? *chuckles* And they slammed the door in your face, huh? *laughs out loud* Okay we’ll send a quick response unit out there right away! *chortles*”

No respect, I tells ya.

A police car eventually arrived an hour or two later, but we’d kept an eye on their flat and no-one had left. Presumably this couple of master criminals had enough cask wine to keep them going for the day.

The policeman and woman told Kimmie and I to let them do their job and stay back, but as they were at the door talking to the Clothesline Gang, I heard something from the front of the complex.

I went around to investigate and it seems that as Rock n’ Roll Grandma and Old Fella realised the cops were at their door and their caper had been tumbled, one of them had opened their window and unceremoniously dumped all of our stolen clothes onto the patch of grass at the front of the complex!

“You’ve gotta be kidding,” I muttered, and went back to tell the constables.

One of them came to look, closed her eyes and shook her head, and muttered something to the effect that she was sometimes not sure why she even did this job at all, and weren’t some people just a piece of work.

“Is everything there?” she asked, perhaps realising in that very moment that this was a long, long way from why she had chosen to be a law enforcement officer in the first place.

All of my gear was, and Kimmie confirmed that all of Zadey’s clothes were present and accounted for as well.

A few minutes later the uncaped crusaders returned downstairs and let us know that they had given Rock n’ Roll Grandma a stern talking to and to let them know if there were any further problems. Off they went, off to continue fighting crime and keeping the populace safe from harm. And clothesline thieves.

I’ve been day drunk plenty of times, and I’ve never stolen anyone’s clothes off a clothes line – especially clothes which would not fit me. I’m also pretty good at apologising when I have made a mistake – drunkenly or not – so I don’t see why people have to be such buttheads at time.

But I can’t recall having any more issues, or even talking with, Rock n’ Roll Grandma in the final months I lived in Filburn Street. Maybe the cops put the fears into her, or maybe she learnt her lesson, realised that she’d crossed a (clothes) line. Perhaps it was just a drunken mistake. Whichever way, Rock n’ Roll Grandma and the Case of The Stolen Washing remains a cautionary tale all these years later.

Shane Pinnegar
Shane Pinnegar is an author, chef and music/pop culture writer who lives in Western Australia. He has a lovely wife, two rambunctious dogs with no respect for personal space, especially on the sofa or bed, twenty-something koi, a flock of itinerate galahs who visit regularly, and a never-comprehensive-enough rock n' roll record collection.

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