The other day I had a run-in with my neighbour across the road, Fred. We go way back, all the way back to primary school, and I never really liked the guy, but as a neighbour I’d never really had a problem with him. Until now, that is.
It happened just after I’d climbed down from the roof of my house. I was in quite a bit of pain, though I was determined not to let that bastard have the pleasure of seeing me wince. I’d been up there trying to breathe a bit of life into my roof. Basically, the whole thing’s f**ked, but I figured it might be worth throwing some old paint onto it and seeing if it would help plug the leaks.
So I dug out the old paint tins from under the house, left there from the last time I painted the roof (back in the glory days before my illness), found a few old brushes, got a rickety old ladder, and climbed up.
The next thing I know, just as I’m having a cup of tea and trying to ignore the wretched pain in my back (Christ, I’m thinking, I’ve done it now. My back’s truly f**ked and I’ll be bedridden for a week after this), Fred comes charging across the road, striding with purpose down my driveway and demanding to know what I was doing on my roof.
“Painting it,” I laconically replied. “What the f**k did you think I was doing up there? Dancing?”
“It wouldn’t surprise me,” he answered. “You’re looking mighty sprightly for someone on a sickness benefit.”
Perhaps I could have been more civil to Fred, seeing as we went way back, but then I’ve always taken the view that my business is nobody else’s business. “Unless you’re here to paint the roof for me, I suggest you f**k right off,” I said, pointing an angry finger towards Fred. “Get off my property!”
Fred retreated back down my driveway and towards the road in a huge hurry. Did he really think I was going to hurt him? My back’s so screwed that if I tried to throw a punch it would probably leave me in a wheelchair. But then Fred has been a coward from the day he was born.
“We’ll see what WINZ have to say about this,” he said loudly as he returned to his side of the road. “I’m sure they’d love to know what you’re up to.”
As well as being a coward, Fred was a notorious snitch. If there was ever any trouble in the playground, Fred would find it and report it. I got busted smoking once because Fred ratted on me. I didn’t hold it against him at the time, because he had no friends when he was at school and I felt kind of sorry for the guy. But now I wish I’d taken a firmer line with the little nark while I was still able-bodied.
I’m not particularly worried about WINZ. Could they really make my life any worse than it already is? I told them last week that my house was falling apart, but the lady there more or less said “I don’t give a shit. Just be thankful you have a roof, even if it leaks.”
It’s pretty typical of the grief I get every time I deal with WINZ. Despite my back condition getting steadily worse, they remain convinced that I should be working, and I’ve lost count of the number of medical assessments they’ve done on me. I think they suspect me of inventing all of these symptoms, even though they show up clearly on the x-rays. Do they think I like being on the bones of my arse and in pain almost every moment of the day?
So there was no money from WINZ for the roof repairs. And the bank’s a no-go zone, seeing as how I haven’t paid the mortgage since my wife died, and I’m expecting any day for the mortgagee-sale signs to go up. So what was I meant to do? Sit in my house while the water poured in every time it rained? No f**king way. I may be little more than an invalid on the bad days when the pain is at its worst, but I’m still entitled to stay dry.
And now I see the snitch has talked to our local MP about my situation. How kind of him to make me the target of the nation’s scorn. I once considered myself a lifelong Labour voter, but the one time I’m down on my luck the bastards go and shit on me. Did David Shearer come knocking at my door to find out about my situation? Did he care that my dear wife died of cancer two years ago? That my degenerative back condition is incurable and will eventually leave me permanently bedridden? That I can barely pay the power bill and am probably going to lose my house to the bank?
Who the hell else was going to fix my f**king roof?
David Shearer goes on about the social contract, but I worked and paid taxes for almost thirty years, and now the staff at WINZ treat me like I’m a criminal. I always thought a contract had to have two parties.