I’m wondering if there is any peace to be had in the world, and when I shall be allowed to sleep?
Yesterday, I spent several hours fumbling and cursing as I struggled to put up the three roller-blinds I finally persuaded myself to buy, to cut down the level of light in the bedrooms.
I’ve been doing this kind of DIY job for most of my adult life. At times I’ve even been paid for it. Now, the brain-hand-eye coordination, the easy figuring-out of how things go, is gone. I sit for hours, numbly wondering where this bit goes, how to fit that thing, what on earth the wordless diagrams mean. I tramp glumly up and downstairs all day, fetching these bits of wood and that screwdriver bit, that are unexpectedly needed to make sense of the job.
Surely in the old days, you had a clawhammer and a screwdriver, maybe a saw that wasn’t blunt after one use, and the job was done? Now you have an infinite choice provided by different tool systems with interchangeable bits and bobs, designed for this specific purpose or that, this particular size and design of screw-head… It’s all marketing.
Why am I bothering?
Because the prevailing ethos of the suburb where I live, on the fringe of a small seaside town, is one of doing, more than being.
Everyone has to be seen (and heard) all the time to be doing something here, either to their car or their house, or to that useless piece of green countryside they call their garden. And it is never-ending.
For almost four years I have put up with daylight streaming through the – frankly useless – vertical blinds with which the bedroom windows were adorned. Judging by my neighbours’ houses, an uncommonly successful vertical-blind salesman must have descended on the area ten years ago. How anyone sleeps, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s why we’re all so grumpy.
Streaming daylight is matched at night by the new street lights, which two years ago replaced the familiar orange ones, that were like being in the midst of a chlorine gas attack. Now, white light blazes from three sources right outside, infiltrating, probing, illuminating every part of my little house, so that I no longer need have any lights on. Birds sing all night, a sweet trill of confusion.
At about nine this morning, I had been awake on and off since five, admiring the marginal reduction achieved in the number of photons insistently barging through one of the windows, that I had succeeded in partially blinding – the other will have to wait, I accidentally cut through the cord that raises and lowers the blind – and little Hunzi was making his third attempt to nose me out of bed, when the doorbell rang.
The chime was accompanied by an impatient banging. As I stumbled downstairs shouting that I was coming, the ringing and banging went on. On the doorstep was a rough gentleman I recognised as one of the builders working on the houses across the street. I knew what he wanted. He wanted me to move my car.
Having no private parking, knowing the houses opposite were unoccupied, I have taken to parking on a patch of concrete in front of their front wall. It is as close to my house as I can get.
Now, I know, the developers know, and the builders even possibly know, that the land does not form part of the curtilage of the properties. Nevertheless, they regard me with annoyance*. The work is being done piecemeal, and has gone on for many months, a day or two at a time. If I knew when they were coming, I would park elsewhere. I can be obliging, even on two hours’ sleep. Most of the time they aren’t here, then they turn up and glower at me, parking their white vans where I can’t get out.
Having to get out of bed to move my car so the builders working on the roof of the houses opposite could get cement delivered was only the latest in a series of minor frustrations I have had over parking, caused by a plague of ‘white vans’ that has infested this area now for years.
Three years ago next week, a flood caused by an error at the hydropower scheme up the valley inundated the small estate of houses across the road to a depth of about a foot. For the next six months, dozens of white vans came and went, commandeering precious parking spaces as living-room walls were replastered, kitchens replaced and new carpets laid. I was obliged to park down the street, wherever I could find space.
Parking further away caused resentment among the residents, who anyway regard the spaces on the public highway outside their homes as their own. Snide little notes appeared on my windscreen. Householders took to leaving their cars and campers out on the road, instead of in their driveways. One told me, ‘I don’t like to look out of my window and see other people’s cars parked outside my house.’ I began to hate humans intensely.
Halfway through the refurbishment, even more white vans appeared on the scene as the development of the brownfield site next to the estate into flats and houses was begun. The sound of heavy digging and earthmoving equipment, the shaking of piledrivers was eventually replaced by the continual snarl of drilling and sawing and concrete-cutting machinery, the digging-up and refilling and re-digging-up of the road outside, intense activity that went on for the next two and a half years. (In China, they build entire cities in six weeks…)
This merely added to the racket made by the half-witted old man who lives just above the end of my little garden. He is in the habit of dragging an ancient circular bench-saw out of a shipping container he has somehow been allowed to park on the road in front of his house and spends days at a time, happily sawing-up old kitchen worktops into small squares, which he burns in his fireplace on winter nights, the stench of burning formica, laden with dioxins, hanging over the houses around. The noise is indescribable.
At three a.m. the lorries start grinding through the street outside: huge, six-axle, refrigerated 32-tonners, bigger than my house, as big as a small town, delivering Cathedral City cheese to the local supermarkets. What it will be like when the new Tesco opens, I shudder to think. Scat the Cat comes in at four, yowling her greeting, wondering about a spot of breakfast, complaining of being wet-through, or singing her sadistic little song to her new little playmate, with whom she is having a merry game of ‘toss the mouse’ before eviscerating them on the stairs.
By now in the summer months, the street lights are giving way to the daylight, streaming through the ineffectual vertical blinds, and the dawn chorus of the birds is starting up. The ‘ravelled sleeve of care’ remains once again un-knit.
So it is hardly a surprise when the news this morning brings news of a new report – it is the scientific conference season – on Alzheimer’s. Your risk of developing this ultimately lethal form of dementia is majorly increased, we are told, when you suffer more or less permanently from lack of a good night’s sleep. Your brain becomes clogged with proteinacious gunge that goes unprocessed, you forget how to put up roller-blinds, and then you die.
I’ll tell you one thing, I’m going crazy living here.
Why can’t everyone stop doing for a while, and just learn to BE?
*Quote: “You’re a fucking pain in the arse, you are.”