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PacificEdge | March 23, 2019

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First brush with poverty

Back here at 168 Cathedral Street it’s a weekend in 1970 and Yvonne has asked a couple of us to go with her to visit an old woman who lives in the narrow, dingy street that parallels Broughton Lane on its western side.

We exit the back gate of 168 and turn left, then right into this little neglected street lined with old, dusty, down-at-heel workers cottages from last century. To middle class kids like us, it seems so other-worldly, so alien, so romantic.

Her house is typical of the small, one-level dwellings of the street. An old brick structure, solidly built and with a rusty iron roof, it is dingy inside but not visibly dirty.

She must be in her seventies. We realise this when we meet her, the woman who lives there. She is slight of build and stooped as if life has overburdened her. She says little and it is mostly Yvonne who speaks with her for it is she that has made first contact.

I don’t know what she thinks of these young people who have unexpectedly turned up at her door and I don’t know how Yvonne got to know her. What we all find remarkable and a little hard to believe is that she lives here, adjacent to the centre of an affluent city, in a little house without electricity. Perhaps she is simply too poor to pay her power bills, we rationalise later.

This brief visit is the first contact that any of us have had with poverty. It has been surprising and a little confusing.

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