Proximity

We have a crazy neighbour. And when I say crazy, I don’t mean he looks a bit weird and we imagine that all he does behind closed doors is knit ornamental dogs. I mean certified, bat-shit crazy. I mean: we never accidentally glance at his house as we walk past, we keep our voices down in the day as well as at night, we live in fear of his actions, kind of crazy. I feel that he is a story that should be told, because I genuinely worry for the future of anyone in his proximity.

Now, this psycho-killer-waiting-to-pop works in waves. He knows the rules. He knows full well the guidelines on warrants for arrest or prosecution, and, upsettingly, he plays just within those rules. He has been harassing us on and off since we moved in next door, and has now been quiet for a while. The other day, he came back into our lives. So, I did what anyone would do. I put on some calm music and tried to get into the head of a killer.

About half the literate world (at least, surely) must have written an angry letter in their time. I understand the urge behind this. I am there. So when The Neighbour’s letter came through our door in January, six weeks after we moved in and dropped him a ‘hello’ Christmas card, I wasn’t unfamiliar with the sentiments. Though unreasonable in both exaggerated perception of his personal rights – I am hitherto unaware of any one person’s claim to control over another’s freedom to express themselves via ‘female squeals and laughter’ (this highlighted as a particular crime in itself) – and the use of punctuation, I could fathom the kind of frustration and pent-up anger that lead to his letter coming into being, and coming into being in our hands. So far, only the vast lines of exclamation marks and the clearly-fury-induced typos (his vocabulary lead us to believe he was fairly intelligent – later disproved; perhaps he was just sitting on thesaurus.com for the duration of this pedantic fit) were the only really worrying red flags. Oh, apart from the mention of his past incarceration, and the scene he painted in no impressionistic form of his having “always had problems with the occupants of no. 3”. In my world, that rings alarm bells anyway, but to make out that it was no. 3’s fault was clearly ridiculous. You are the constant… you are the problem. You think he’d take the hint. No. The Neighbour is so impenetrably, immovably set in his paranoia, his obsessive games, that I am sure he will never see the light.

This idea weighs on me a bit; not least because we intend to stay in this house for the forseeable future. I have suffered at least all my adult life from this unbearably pseudo-intellectual kind of hubris; wanting to teach lessons everywhere I go. Exhibit A: Teabag stains on and around kitchen bin. Clean them up? No. Draw red chalk circles around each one and leave for guilty party to notice and feel embarrassed into action. Sometimes, this is satisfying, even if it doesn’t get results. Like a generous charity-giver, I feel I have done my bit. The world is now a better place, and I can sleep well knowing I have not neglected bad behaviour. Put in these terms, it sounds mortifyingly narcissistic and fascist even, but it centres around my unflinching desire to stick to what I believe in. Mainly good manners and avoiding waste.

The Neighbour will not be taught. He will not speak civilly, he will not listen or consider long enough to change his opinions, he will not branch out from this blinkered view of life that is stuck in his own house and yard, and relates only to everything outside that in a painfully negative connection with his own property. It must be tiring. The man has a red, raw face and a fat belly. He is front-heavy, surprisingly stocky on second glance, and always looks out of breath. He moves like a lumbering tortoise. Were they creepy and aggressively poisonous.

So, being at a stalemate of stolid grudges and behaviours, we play his game for a while. We turn off our shower fan – one of his main complaints – until we realise our bathroom is getting damp, and we could be liable to our landlord. We stop playing music (or anything loud) by 11pm sharp. We stop talking in our yard and tend to stay indoors. We even keep the cat inside more often to feed and sit, to avoid his power hose shenanigans (These being the most obvious and inexcusable of his calculated, sickening ‘retaliation’ against us and the world. When she’s left the garden, you can stop. You don’t need to hold it over the wall on her until she cowers into a gap she’s too big for between our two walls, and keep it there so she has no escape.) It makes me furious and sick in the pit of my stomach to recall everything he’s done. There is no hint of innocence about it, not a smack of any remorse or openness to letting old grudges go as long as we can all act peacefully and respectfully; just a cold, hard, indomitable mission to make us as miserable as he is.

And that is the nearest I can find to a reasoning of it all. Ex-navy, ex-alcoholic, now-stoner and completely holed-up agoraphobic sociophobe, he is caught in his own stale saga of dramatic arguments over nothing. And he refuses to do it alone. For someone claiming, “I just want to be left alone,” and requesting, “Do not attempt to contact me,” this man puts himself out there a foreboding amount. He insists on stalking the street up and down past our window regularly, just to stare through at us. He does the same in the alley behind our houses, staring up at our back windows. He even, on occasion, stalks calmly past the shop I used to work at, and that my housemate still does. The man is dangerous. He makes us uncomfortable in our home, at work, in the street, in our yard. He is wholly unpleasant and unrelenting. He is constantly on the verge of explosion; shouts and swears whenever he sees us or our cat, and actively seeks out confrontation, while apparently avoiding it, or at least keeping at a safe distance such as his bathroom window, when he wants to hurl some proper, loud, unmistakable abuse. And anyone who builds a rack to fill with electric drills, move up against an adjoining wall and leave on while they go out for hours, is a dedicated, certain psychopath.

I could write a book on The Neighbour, but I feel I’ve got out all I can, or need to, at this point. I know someone out there will relate to this or have worse stories. I just want it to be known now that this man has been noticed, and is worth preventing from becoming a killer, if he isn’t one already.

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The Unshopping List

Most of you who know me personally I’m sure will agree I’m quite a critical person. I’m hard on myself and others; no one escapes. Whether these criticisms are justified or not is another matter, but at least I know myself. So, when I’m not pulling down my skylight blind and making sneering remarks of gratitude for being able to shut out the world outside, a lot of my time is taken up with scowling and scoffing.

For the past few years I have been in serious relationships, and have been on a lot of couple-dates. Sadly, it seems to be my (or our) luck that these dates form a series of unfortunate events; either the order is wrong, the wait is obnoxious, or the waiter is loudly snorting back excess phlegm on his way to and from the table. (A story not worth going into any more detail about.) And that’s not to mention the FOUR times Cliff Richard’s Congratulations came on once in Frankie & Benny’s, before we even ordered. Lights down, music up. Four times. In fifteen minutes. If you’re reading, employees, you should perhaps limit the birthday thing to one an hour. Just to be humane.

So, being the misery bollocks that I am, I am cordening off a number of places for my Unshopping List, i.e., the list of places I will never waste my time or money again, because life is too short. “Fuck me badly once, shame on you. Fuck me badly twice, shame on me,” as Samantha would say. And here it is, with feelin’:

The Torture Pit

… is what they should call Clifton Moor Frankie & Benny’s. (I assume the chain has similar policies to this branch, but best be fair and only tarnish the offending location.) Enjoying a rare night off together, boyfriend and I took the chance for a Hot Date and ventured into F&B’s next door to work, thinking what-the-hell. It was pretty full, so we were given a buzzer and some menus to wait with at the bar. After fifteen minutes, having got drinks and chosen meals, we were escorted to our table. After a further fifteen minutes of vacant waiting, (I say vacant – this is actually the spot that was occupied by no less than four birthday celebrations, which didn’t even seem to include a cake or something special being brought out, just a dimming of the lights and a horrificly loud reprise of Congratulations. Don’t worry though, it was only the first two lines and then it faded again.) almost succombing to boyfriend’s favourite joke-wish to do a runner, we were finally asked for our food orders. Having given these, we were then told that what I wanted was off. I settled for spag-bol, not a meal I like to eat out because it’s a home recipe as far as I’m concerned, and there’s nothing special or more tasty about it cooked in a restaurant. It arrived luke-warm and very wet, and got taken away and microwaved. I ate about half of it before decency gave way to nausea. We entertained the idea of running away a few more times, and I even snuck out early to ‘have a cigarette’ while boyfriend decided if he had the balls to run too or not. Sadly, they caught him and he paid. We have been back once or twice to another branch, the last time ending up sat opposite people we know, but not very well, stretching boyfriend’s autistic traits to the limits.

The Almost

Waterstones.

If you can't even get your grammar right, I'm hardly going to pay attention to your recommendations.

HOWEVER. There was a very helpful, efficient, friendly girl at the desk who helped me find exactly what I was looking for, directed me to lots of suitable choices, one of which even had the person I was buying a gift for’s name within the author’s name (I know, right) and one of which was the one book he doesn’t have by a certain author. Despite admitting to going off colleagues’ opinions and being “so Yorkshire” in her pronunciation (her own words), she was very good. She even left me to browse a couple of times and then kept coming back with more recommendations, and more confirmations from her colleagues that were more widely-read in certain areas. I might love her.

The Main Offender

The Graduate. Now, I wasn’t a huge fan of this place when it was Varsity, but I gave it a go. I had a few good pre-drinks in there and even pulled off flirting as a Finnish girl until I got me an impromptu lesson in ceilidh dancing with a Scottish trainee solicitor dressed as a hotter woman than myself. I had cynically limited expectations when I saw that it was changing image, but decided to give it another go. Try everything once. But The Graduate disappoints. Initially, I really enjoyed the food. It was simple, reasonable and tasty enough. The decor was inoffensive, if a bit unimaginative and confused. But then I asked for a half-a-coke, and things got messy. The barmaid gave me a huge glass of coke, at which I challenged, “Sorry,” (as is always more effective, if not particularly true or just), “I asked for a half.” “We don’t do halves,” she said, clearly indicating that she had heard me but had ignored the fact that I didn’t know this and just given me what she felt like. “This is a small,” she continued, pointing at the full pint of coke. In what universe a pint is a small I am unfamiliar, so my acceptance of this notion was probably a bit stunted. “Right.” She then poured me a ‘large’ coke for my boyfriend, and – very mistakenly – put it next to my ‘small’. Now, he took a picture of this on his phone, but I don’t have it to insert here. I trust however, that you are all pretty intelligent, imaginative people, and can picture what I describe as two identical pint glasses of coke. The apparent only difference (I did attempt to clear this up with another waitress, being pretty bemused and wanting some resolve even if only for my peace of mind) was that they charged £1.10 for the small and £1.40 for the large. I think you can understand my feelings at this point. The more attentive waitress who had explained this then brought out our meals – mine being wrong, and plus an add-on that I’d said no to. The barmaid who’d got our drinks had charged me extra for these. Needless to say any more, I think, save that I avoid it like a relationship that turned sour because I was pushing it for too long until I thought, “Well, you clearly don’t love me and don’t even care, I’ll call it a day.”

Letters I Should Have Sent #4

Dear Liam,

I know you’re hurting, but the way you’re dealing with it is starting to hurt me. Perhaps you could find another coping method.

You are not a born actor. At this point, I think it is safe to say you are never going to be a trained actor either. You cannot perfect convincing accents, seemingly not even your own. You look ridiculous in anything but your own natural hair (short, clean-shaven.) You do unforgivably cheesy things like the Titanic hand-on-the-steamed-glass that makes an unwelcome appearance in Chloe.

I am sure you are a very nice man. I even used to like you on-screen. I thought you might make a lovely husband or father-figure. But I can no longer take you seriously. And I certainly can never forgive you for Batman Begins. Whoever cast you as a mustachioed ninja was clearly on whatever drug it is they were trying to depict in the film if they thought it was going to work with impact.

Please do what you do best and stick to small, occasional roles in which you play amicable, homely gentlemen, such as in Love Actually.

So, if you can bear it, please stop doing this


this

this

this

and even more than that, this

Yours,
A drifting fan