Catherine Pepinster: My heart skips a beat when I hear that grating noise outside my house


Something rather ugly appeared on my strreet a month ago.

Something rather ugly appeared on my strreet a month ago. Its arrival was announced by clanking, scraping and banging as it was moved into position, chipping the kerb and cracking the pavement. Like most Londoners, I'm used to noise throughout the night: the chirruping of mobiles as people stagger home from nightclubs; foxes barking as they terrorise next door's tabby; the police helicopter hovering overhead; the boom boom boom de boom of a sound system on wheels. But at 6.30am, the shifting of several hundredweight of metal outside my window is enough to inspire thoughts of violence.

Since then, I've had a change of heart. The behaviour of my neighbours, of estate agents, and even passers-by suggests they feel the same. Now I'd be hard-pressed to think of a more lovely sight than that of a skip.

My love affair with the skip was no coup de foudre. First, there was that unwelcome wake-up call, then came irritation. It was taking up a much- needed parking space, and it was a cumbersome hulk of metal. Then I started to realise what a Godsend it was. It was not just next door's dustbin; it could be my secret dustbin, too. And the beauty of skips goes beyond that simple role. People can not only furtively chuck things in, they can also dig things out.

Skips are the kind of places the unknowing leave all those useful additions to a house: shutters, the odd bit of original floorboarding you need to finish off the dining room now you've got rid of the tatty fitted carpet.

They're also useful for disposing of items the council has decreed should be taken to the dump. But dumps are at least four miles away: far too long a journey just to throw away a burnt-out toaster. Creeping out under cover of darkness to chuck a toaster casually over your left shoulder is no easy matter. Especially when several other neighbours are doing the same – easing in torn vacuum cleaner hoses, and the odd hi-fi, circa 1982 – into the skip.

Our skip now has not only the bric-à-brac of the entire street piling up – while another gang of people are pushing and pulling at bits of oak – but it's become the stopping-off place for people emptying their pockets as they pass by. A confetti of fag packets, train tickets and sweet wrappers is now sprinkled on the top, which is finished off rather splendidly by someone else's ripped-up hedge, and even a broken sapling.

But best of all (and this is where the estate agents come in), is what the skip symbolises. For if someone has hired a skip, it means they are tarting up a house. And if they think a place worth tarting up, someone else will think it means the property is worth more. If the street gets smarter, my house is probably increasing in value, too.

That's the sort of sentiment that has people who can't afford to buy their own home seething with justifiable fury. But the appearance of a skip in a street need not mean rising prices. It can signify that redundant, derelict, rundown homes are being brought back to life, homes that could be affordable.

In East London, there is a row of six terraced houses close by the Royal London Hospital, a hospital that, like so many other inner-city ones, struggles to recruit nurses. These terrace homes, shuttered and empty, could have provided much-needed accommodation for hospital workers. Yet the hospital that owns them left them to rot.

The hospital is not the only organisation guilty of keeping property in poor condition and empty. Row upon row of vacant flats can be found above boutiques, gift shops and book stores. The London Plan, to be published next month, will propose that high-street retailers should build affordable flats above stores and on petrol station sites to cope with the demand for cheap housing. The demand is worryingly high. Ken Livingstone estimates that 31,000 homes a year are needed by people such as nurses, bus drivers and teachers. So forget the new homes. The retailers could start refurbishing their existing living quarters above the shops. Then we could all relish skip after skip appearing in our streets.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - SQL Server, T-SQL

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Data Analyst (SQL Server, T-SQL, data)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road