I've just cried. Proper tears.
Alone. All on my own, unless you count the dogs who, of course, cleaned my tears straight from my cheeks. They just like the salt, I know this, but for now I'm happy to be under the delusion that they love me and wanted to help.
I cried with frustration. A sudden, overwhelming surge of rage and of disgust crashed over me and, I, fear, has dragged me under.
I came home, gamboling up the little walk I live on with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. I don't have a great deal to smile about these days, but there's always someone worse off and, even when at my lowest point, I pride myself on being able to focus on that. Others survive, I should too, so I just get on with it as best I can.
My neighbour was stood in his front garden. He was staring at his flowers and looking quite disheveled. I noticed him and said hello but I was carrying a sack of dog food on my shoulder and didn't stop.
My neighbour is by no means a friend of mine, I don't dislike him but I don't really know him. Last year, though, I helped him pick up some furniture and deliver it to a lady he knew who had lost her home and was starting afresh with nothing. He paid for the furniture and he paid for the fuel to move it. He enlisted my help and, without her having to do a thing, he ensured that she had chairs to sit on, a bed to lie on, a cooker to cook with, curtains at the window, a fridge and a freezer and even a television. All second hand, even the mattress, but she was so grateful.
When we'd finished he kissed her on the cheek and said goodbye. She didn't see us out, she was having to use her oxygen at that point and the pipe wasn't long enough to reach the door. On the way home he told me a bit of back story.
Thirty years ago he had left the army. As many ex-servicemen will testify this can be a difficult transition for some. My neighbour had found himself drinking too much, had become violent, had destroyed his marriage and had ended up homeless. Not "But I have a right to a council house and I won't leave the office until you get me one" homeless but living in the street and eating from bins homeless.
The lady that we'd just left had known him before he joined the forces and they bumped into each other, quite by chance, in the street one afternoon. By now she had a good job working for the council, a nice little house and a car. Between her husband and herself they had a nice little life. The odd night out, foreign holidays and enough expendable income to be able to smoke sixty cigarettes a day each. Oh, and Sky television.
Her husband knew my neighbour as well. In fact they had been at the same school, never friends but never enemies, and so when she returned home that night and told him, with tears in her eyes, how low he had sunk he went out alone to find him.
They put him up, only for a week or two, just while they helped him claim some benefits and find a bedsit that the council would pay for. By the time he moved out of their little home he had been elevated through the social classes from "beggar" to "dosser". From pond life to drift wood. From filthy scum to scrounging scum. Things were good.
And things got better, at least for my neighbour. He found work, relatively well paid it was too, and he bought a house. His ex-wife forgave him a while before she died. They became closer, and when she eventually passed away after a period of illness his daughter came to live with him. From the very lowest point in his life he had risen to the heady heights of home-ownership, a respectable father to a polite daughter but who sometimes got a little too pissed on Friday night. Things went from "good" to "bloody good".
Recently, though, I get the impression things haven't been quite so good, again. I know he's now unemployed and that he knocked on my door recently to ask if we had a spare TV as his was broken.
Once in my own kitchen I dumped the sack on my counter and gave the giddy dogs a tickle, as is obligatory so far as they're concerned. Then I popped the kettle on and put some toast under the grill. My plans for this afternoon were to sit down to re-write a chapter of my next book with which I have decided I'm unhappy.
Tea and toast in hand I slumped on the settee and switched on the laptop, glancing out the window as I did. There, at the bottom of the pane and, fortunately, on the outside, was an arse. A derriere, bottom, pair of buttocks, just staring at me. Toast still dangling from my mouth I stood back up to investigate.
Outside, doubled over, was my neighbour. In one hand he had a plastic carrier bag and he was using his other hand to rummage through the plants (Ok, weeds) in my front garden. I watched for a moment, not quite sure what to do, then went outside expecting to have to remonstrate with him.
He was collecting cigarette butts. Our little walk is like a wind tunnel and a good chunk of the litter and general detritus from the dirty streets of Horwich blows along it, becoming caught in the bushes to the right or the gardens to the left. His bag was almost half full with stinking, discarded cigarettes.
I asked if he was ok. He asked if I had any Rizla. I did, so I gave them him. I also had two cigarettes, my last two cigarettes. I offered him one, but he declined and looked ready to cry. He was desperate enough to crawl along dirty streets, in full view of his neighbours, picking up dimps, but he didn't want charity.
He was wearing a tee-shirt and I saw, on the crook of his left elbow, a dressing. It was hanging off and I could see the puncture marks beneath. On his wrist was a hospital wristband with his details on. I asked if he was okay, if he needed a doctor, if he wanted a hand with anything? He shook his head. Then he cried.
My neighbour is a big man. Ex-squaddy, ex-footballer, heavily tattooed and more than capable of looking after himself. But here he was, crying. Blubbering like a schoolgirl, right there in the street.
I didn't understand much of what else he said. He mentioned his mother, I think, and I'm sure a lot of it was reassurances, swearing he was alright and that he was sorry. He turned and went back home.
I don't like to interfere in anyone else's life, but I felt I had to tell someone. I didn't feel qualified to help myself and so I looked up the appropriate telephone number and made a call. I hope he's okay.
My tears were brief. They weren't for my neighbour, for his predicament, for his suffering. They weren't for mine either. Poverty has bitten hard in my household, but we're surviving much better than some, as my neighbour today proved.
My tears were anger, frustration and hatred of me and of us. All of us. We, the English, are pathetic. Weak. A waste of the Earth's natural resources. A wealthy country, with people starving. Not "oooh I am hungry" starving, not even having to make do with beans on toast AGAIN starving, properly starving. Their bodies panicking and attempting to digest their own internal organs starving. Here, in Britain. For that I'm ashamed.
It's not just dossers and layabouts either. I'm sure my neighbour has been no angel, but neither have I and neither have you (Unless you ARE an angel, in which case let me know so I can renounce my Atheistic beliefs.) but he worked, paid taxes and was comfortable. He did a fine job of raising a daughter, too. Then a bit of a hiccup, not his fault this time, just a downturn in the economy. Oh, and changes to benefits. Rising prices. That kind of thing. The things that we allow, all of us. Selfishly thinking balls to them, we're okay. Siding with the top, hating the bottom. Blaming those below for our little problems. We don't think it'll ever happen to us. If we're struggling we believe it'll be temporary, that at some point the rot will stop, reverse and then our futures will be brighter. Don't bet on it. Statistically you're probably going to be one of the many that die without leaving a lasting legacy. Maybe a few grand in a policy, a couple of ISAs, oh and any remaining debt against your name. But other than that you and I will almost certainly amount to nothing. We'll pay some taxes, die and leave behind a new generation to pay their taxes and die.
We can't afford the full Sky HD package, so that's the fault of the immigrants because without them we'd all be better paid.
If we can't afford to go to Florida and have to settle for Disneyland Paris it's probably because of those millions of workshy bastards claiming benefits paid for with our taxes. And they're all on the fiddle, you know?
We're apathetic with a capital "A", and even without the "a" it's still a fitting description. You and I (I'm now assuming my readers to be English) are all, to a man, responsible for what we have allowed to happen. It's not the fault of the bankers, it's ours. We let them off.
Cue the bleeding hearts... "No, the government let them off, the Tory bastards, it's their fault". Fair point, I suppose, except they're OUR government. Ours. We, the fucking morons we are, put them there. And anyway, the other lot had a big hand to play in all this shit we've stepped in.
All the while we let them. We even pay them. We're the customer and, just like all big corporations, they shit all over the us. All of us. For the wealth of the privileged to have any tangible value they need a huge, stinking pile of poor people below them. People to clean up their shit, to make their consumables and to teach their children. They daren't allow us to become more than we are, what if we become more than they are? Then who'll clean up their shit, spit in their steak tartare and despise their vile children.
But the cleaner uppers must then have people to hate, to blame for their temporary positions among the ranks of the perfectly ordinary and to ensure they don't pay too much attention to the lives of the powerful. They might stop cleaning up their shit. So, lets make sure there are even poorer people for the poor to Lord over.
It's okay though, because as we all know the wealth will trickle down. Rejoice, people, and give them bigger portions so that there might be more scraps for us. That will work. As long as they aren't greedy people, that they don't stuff their faces and makes pigs of themselves. Or put the leftovers in the fridge. Or bank.
They have a monopoly on power and we've given it to them. Our Grandparents would be disgusted with us. I'm proud to say that I am thoroughly ashamed of myself. I'm ashamed of all of us.
And now, just like you, I'm going to go away, check my Twitter or my Facebook account and put the telly on. Tonight I'll probably, at least for a while, forget all about my neighbour and his hellish existence. Even if I think about him I'll do nothing to help. I may offer him a cigarette whenever I see him, I may make more of an effort to stop and speak to him, but that's it. Nothing more. I'm in no position to help anyone. I'll not fight for him, I'll not fight for myself or for my children. I'll just bend over and take it.
Just like you.
This post was written while the sorrow I felt for my neighbour was fresh in my mind. As I type, our encounter was three hours ago. I feel I may have wasted your time, caused you to read all this in the hope there would be some deep and insightful comment, or maybe a rallying call for all to rise up and overthrow the establishment. It's neither. It's a demonstration of my own shortcomings and a description of the shortcomings I see in my fellow man. The same shortcomings in either case. I'm going to take some time to think about my life and the lives of those around me. Hopefully, I'll have an epiphany, jump from my lethargy and share the answer with you all. But would you listen? And anyway, we all already know the answers. We just can't be arsed asking the questions.