Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Not Such a Bastard After All

Every so often comes a defining moment in our lives. A moment which gives us sudden insight into inner selves, making us re-evaluate our attitudes and values. For me, one such moment occured yesterday. It came unexpectedly and involved Pot Noodle. To properly explain what happened, we have to rewind back to the end of last year, the 30th of December to be exact. This was the day that my next door neighbours did a runner, dumping most of the contents of their house in the back alley for the dustmen to collect, before driving off in their van. I don't think I'd ever exchanged more than two words with them in the year, or so, they'd lived there. Despite having a reputation for being weird, they were at least quiet, unlike previous tenants. So the house lay empty, and I awaited the arrival of yet another set of tenants (there's been a pretty high turnover since the house was put out to let). However, the owner decided to sell, so there have been a steadily decreasing stream of potential buyers (ultimately put off by the asking price, I suspect). Then, at around six thirty on Monday morning, I heard someone moving about in there. Clearly, this was far too early for buyers to be viewing the place. I then remembered seeing the previous tenant's van parked across the road the previous evening. Hearing the back door close, I rushed downstairs and looked out of the window. Sure enough the van was there and, strolling toward from the direction of the back alley, was the guy who had been renting next door until the end of December. Clearly, he still had keys and the locks hadn't been changed.

Now, my first reaction was to get in touch with the estate agents handling the sale and inform them of this outrageous transgression. After all, I reasoned, as a property owner myself, I wouldn't want squatters wandering in and out of my house. And who was to say he was the only one with keys? Before you knew it, the place could be over run with drug addled thugs burgling their way through the neighbourhood and terrorising the local population. However, during the course of Monday, I just didn't find time to contact the agents. When I got home that evening, I noticed the van was back. Later, I looked out of the window at it, only to see my former neighbour sat in the front seat forlornly eating what looked like a Pot Noodle. It was clear that he was currently homeless and, in desperation, had returned to his former home for some kind of shelter. Suddenly, I felt like a total shit and realised what a self-righteous bastard I'd been earlier. I felt even worse when, much later that night, I returned from the pub - assuming that he must have let himself into the house to sleep - to find that the van's engine was running, presumably in an attempt to keep warm as he slept. So, far from being a squatter, it seemed he wasn't even taking advantage of the property's empty status to get a reasonably warm and comfortable night's sleep. Indeed, I recalled that the main sound I'd heard from next door the previous morning had been that of running water. It seemed he was only using his key to get a wash and/or shower. What a judgemental little shit I'd been! I decided then not to say anything to the agents. He wasn't doing any harm. Besides, if the owner (who has been a pretty unscrupulous absentee landlord, reluctant to carry out repairs, according to some of the previous tenants), is too tight or too stupid to change the locks, he deserves all he gets. At the end of the day, I'm not going to kick a man when he's down. Let's face it, there can be few situations sadder than having nowhere else to go other than the house you used to live in. It must be hell, having to sit across the road from it in a van.

So there you are, thanks to a Pot Noodle, I discovered that I'm not such a bastard after all. Some embers of compassion still stir in my breast. Not that I actually feel any better as a result of my decision. The fact is that, in some ways, I actually resent the bastard for making me feel so inadequate! There's a part of me which wishes there was something more I could actually do to help him. Yet still I don't go over to that van and offer any solace. I suspect he wouldn't welcome my pity and I'd just feel like a smug git - commiserating with him om his misfortune before retreating back to my cosy warm house. Besides, my attempts to actively help people usually end badly, more often than not they're thrown back in my face. So, for now at least, I'll settle for helping through inaction. The whole situation just makes me feel so bloody sad. It simply emphasises how damned powerless I really am to really affect the lives of those most in need. Maybe the fact that the third anniversary of my father's death is fast approaching is clouding my judgement: perhaps if it was any other time of year I'd dob my former neighbour in. I'd like to think not. Anyway, he was in there again this morning, and his van's parked opposite again tonight. God knows what he's going to do when the place is finally sold. I hope he sorts himself out soon, if for no other reason so that I can go back to being a self-righteous bastard.



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