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3 February 2021

I’m not much of a peeping Tom when my fixation is a bearded sexagenarian doing a jigsaw

In normal circumstances I would have never taken up my binoculars to peer at my neighbour, but, quite frankly, I needed the excitement.  

By Nicholas Lezard

A saying has been doing the rounds lately. I can’t remember the exact wording, but it is along the lines of, “if you do not have a naked neighbour in the window, then you are the naked neighbour in the window”. I suppose it is a version of the poker player’s stern advice: “If you do not see the rabbit at the table, then you are the rabbit.” “Rabbit” here means: “hopeless poker player” and it is a very good maxim, and the reason I only play poker with children or idiots these days. (I am using the term “these days” very, very loosely here.)

But anyway, the naked neighbour thing: yes, I am very much the naked neighbour in the window, and it looks like the only one. I’m not completely naked: I have on a T-shirt and boxers. All the neighbours I have observed since I moved to the Hove-l (oh, by the way, I do live in Hove: the border is Montpelier Street, I am told, and I live just on the other side of it) are very much clothed. A few minutes ago, out of sheer boredom, I was looking through binoculars at a bearded gentleman opposite doing a jigsaw. Once I realised I was getting a very weird kind of thrill from watching a male sexagenarian doing a jigsaw I knew how I was going to kick off this week’s column. I tell you, it’s all go round here.

[See also: Now that Christoph has blown through, perhaps it’s time to spice up the names we give our storms]

Of course, had the jigsaw-solving gentleman in the cardigan been instead a lithe young woman doing callisthenics in the nip I would have drawn my curtains and gone to the other room. This actually once happened to me in the original Hovel, back in London: in the kitchen in the flat opposite I saw a woman who seemed to be wearing a tight, skin-coloured bodysuit. I honestly took about a minute to work out what was actually going on. I felt a bit uneasy at having looked but I excused myself on the grounds that (a) I didn’t at first realise she was naked and (b) anyone in the nude, in a well-lit street-facing room, at night, who doesn’t draw the blinds is presumably complicit in his or her exhibitionism.

I like to think that somewhere, in the houses opposite, there is a woman sitting in her room with the lights out, scrutinising a middle-aged man mooching about the bedroom in his shreddies, or worse, not so much for perverse gratification but just to pass the time.

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But there are other ways to do that. I find sleeping a lot during the day eats up great chunks of it; conversation with a Beloved in the evening does that too; and, of course, the telly, but I have never been a great telly-watcher – I simply don’t have the attention span for it.

[See also: My New Statesman tote bag was a symbol of hope and belonging, and then it almost killed me]

The great way to fill up the evening is, of course, to consume alcohol. I’ve been trying to cut down and at around nine o’clock I take a quiet pride in the fact that it has taken me three hours to consume a bottle of wine. The only problem with this is that there are still at least three more hours of the evening to get through, and one is not the same person after drinking one bottle of wine as one was when one started it. If I can keep it under two bottles a night I consider it a small victory of willpower.

I saw a report, or should that be yet another report, in the Guardian last week that said that English and Scottish outstrip all other nationalities when it comes to getting drunk, by which they mean to the point where “your physical and mental faculties are impaired to the point where your balance/speech was affected, you were unable to focus clearly on things, and that your conversation and behaviours were very obviously different to people who know you”.

If those are the criteria for drunkenness – apparently the English and Scots admit to getting into this state more than 33 times a year – then I’m not sure I’m up there with the best, or the worst. My mother can tell, even over the phone, if I’ve had so much as a sip of alcohol, but apart from that, it is a relatively rare occasion when anyone can tell I’m pissed. I think it happens about once a month, maybe less; I like to think that by drinking so slowly I metabolise half of what I’ve been drinking by the time the next glass is poured, but then of course if one is not communicating with anyone but oneself one does not have a yardstick against which one can measure one’s inebriation.

In the end, it will be vanity that will make me cut down. When I manage to reduce my wine belly, I will give the peeping Toms over the road something decent to gawp at.

[See also: Let me describe the flat in which I will be spending lockdown… it won’t take long]

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This article appears in the 03 Feb 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Europe’s tragedy