Watching the Hood

16Oct09

COPYRIGHT RICHARD BAKER neighbourhood

Sit for long enough at your desk at home and the sounds from below become familiar to the point that you learn to identify a neighbour’s faint mumble, the rumble of wheelie bins towed to the kerb or even the Woodpecker’s toc-toc-toc-ing a dying Ash.

As I was reading about yesterday’s boy-in-the-box-not-in-a-helium-balloon sensation, a man-in-a-van stopped outside and pulled out a set of ladders. I watched from my first-floor window as he reached up to position a yellow sign but realised I couldn’t quite make out its writing so grabbed a pair of binoculars that are kept at hand to spot any impending mischief around here.

I peered through the glasses and the words Neighbourhood Watch came into focus. I was .. watching the neighbourhood.

God, it felt great to be here. Looking and listening, sharp as a razor, athletic and honed, on guard, on my toes and and prepared like a scout: This eagle-eyed citizen spy maintaining his surveillance from the safe-house, a sentinel in the canopy, a lookout scanning the horizon from his cliff-top lighthouse. I was Jimmy Stewart sitting by a front window and it smelled like .. victory. Oh, yes!

*

Three months before. A summer dawn, 4.15am and there are noises downstairs. An elbow has nudged my ribs awake and very slowly, I realise there is someone halfway up the stairs. And it’s not one of us.

I don’t notice the glass in my bare feet as I pad along the carpet, nor the last faint disturbance from outside when I pad sleepily through the ground floor. Nor does it occur to me why there is a faint cool draught blowing through the living room or that the shattered aperture punched through the double-glazed window panel might be anything more than a sleep-walking collision.

Lights are on and my wife is standing in the doorway holding a tennis racket, a grimace of adrenalin and fear in her face as if she’s about to fight for her life .. on Centre Court.

*

The man was from Lambeth’s Graffiti Squad and had been up since four-fifteen too, patrolling the borough for graffiti and fly-posters. Later, when his team are out themselves scraping and steaming the offending street art off, he can be found gauging his verticals with a spirit level at lamp post 7.

“I’m pleased because stopping this makes a difference to the community,” he beams, “it sends out a message to everyone.”

I tell him I was eye-balling him through an eye-glass – y’know, being suspicious, which is pretty .. comical, didn’t he think? He shrugged and quickly added how many he’d put up yesterday and how his granddaughter wants to study Forensic Science at Cambridge – to ‘do her degrees’ – and I thought of the young lady SOCO who came to dust our woodwork with aluminium powder and found .. Nought. We on the other hand, now imagine breaking glass every night.

I am the Warden, I am the Watchman, goo goo g’joob.

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