It’s important to get a picture of the setup in your mind for any of this to make sense.
The living room is compact, and space for something like a standard-size desktop computer, on which to try to work for a living, is limited. As a result it sits in the corner of the room with the monitor facing back into the room. If someone suddenly removed the computer but left me and my chair where they were it would take me back some 32 years to when I was banished, forbidden to look at my classmates for having told a lurid story about nose-picking to five-year-old Wendy Jones.
The way I have to position the chair means I can see part of my minuscule back garden through the rear glass door of the flat. I paid a premium of some thousands for a tiny garden in London, so that I could watch it grow with increasing hatred that at some point I’ll have to get cutting implements and/or the mower out of the shed. The shed, which I erected myself to some acclaim, is the main thing I can see through the glass door.
And, above the shed, a little old man who I would dearly love to hack to pieces with a bolo machete.
The setup involves me staring at the monitor for long periods of the day, when I’m not typing, because obviously I never thought typing would be a required life skill and never learned to do it without staring at the bloody keyboard. I particularly enjoy looking up to admire a lengthy sentence only to find I accidentALLY HIT cAPS lOCK HALFWAY THROUGH AND HAVE TO RETYPE IT.
When I’m looking at the monitor, the roof of next door’s extension is in my peripheral vision. It just sits there, as roofs do, inoffensively. And then whenever whoever lives in the flat diagonally up and to the right of me decides to go on a little expedition, his greying dome and little round glasses pop into the side of my eye and I look up and across.
I fucking have to. There was nothing there and suddenly there’s movement, so up and across I look. Maybe once every couple of minutes he’ll pop his head over the little parapet and my brain will think “What’s that?” even though it knows full well it’s a little old man searching in vain for a long-lost contact lens.
Every single time he’s in my line of sight for no more than a couple of seconds, and every time I see him he’s looking down – not at me, at the floor beneath him. Peering down, more accurately, at the floor which he will, fucking please, fall through at any moment. I can only assume he’s wondering if the extension’s roof is going to give way beneath him, walking around on it stamping and muttering “It’s going to break in a minute, it’s going to break in a minute” like the relative who comes round to break your previously intact belongings to prove how poorly made they are, and thus how cheaply you live.
The worst thing is I brought this on myself. A couple of years ago the side wall of that extension was covered with ivy which crept up and over the top. In a fit of misguided garden maintenance I stripped it all off. Later that day a little old man peered confusedly down into my garden for the first time, like a kidnap victim released blinking into the light, bewildered by the unfamiliar sights of a world that’s moved on about three decades while he was getting raped in the basement.
Two nights ago I apparently slept with my head at 90 degrees to my body and woke with a neck pain akin to that of the T1000 when he gets blown up in the metal factory at the end of Terminator 2, and making a similar screeching sound. Perhaps, just perhaps, the sudden urge to snap my head to the right could be fucking skipped, just for a day or two. But no, there he is, scrabbling around for the last walnut or Werthers Original or whatever old people drop through their decaying digits these days.
And as you can imagine it plays havoc with both schedule and lifestyle. Working without distraction is impossible, while a cheeky one off the wrist is now a terrifying race to finish before the head appears. I can now complete that particular task with hand movements like Neo out of the Matrix, and when it ends seconds later it’s with an image of a little old man with glasses in my mind.
There’s no happy ending to any of this. In the only successful piece of gardening I’ve ever done, the ivy now won’t grow back. The extension looks sturdy enough to hold him, no matter how often he tries to shuffle his way through to the room beneath. There’s nowhere to move the computer to, and I’m still stubbornly refusing to get a job, though it’s tempting to do so just to get this damnable pillock out of my sight.
So stalemate it is. Perhaps I could buy a thousand jigsaw puzzles and sit on the roof of the shed throwing the pieces one by one into next door’s garden, in the hope he’ll be unable to resist grabbing at one and falling over the edge to his death. And when you find me on my shed clutching that one final piece, unable to let it go, don’t forget to look up and give a little wave to the chuckling OAP who finally drove me to the insanity I’m fast realising is already irreversible.