Opposite Dovecot Towers, the new flats are almost finished. Soon I’ll be overlooked (still no blinds, BTW.) Being able to gaze in a leisured manner into your neighbour’s home may inspire fantasies of Rear Window (or The Simpson’s masterful pastiche) but the reality is closer to Friends and their Ugly Naked Guy.
I used to live opposite a hotel, and could see into the rooms. I firmly believe that people should remain clothed forever, but in this hotel, air-stewards - half crazed with jet lag - stood in plain sight weighing their bollocks or scratching their arses, uninhibited and proudly naked, a sight both horrible and fascinating. (Interestingly, the women drew the curtains as a matter of course.)
One neighbour was on a lower level, both literally and in terms of his personal evolution. He would stand by his expansive shiny window staring at the various reflections opposite. He said he could see into everyone’s home if they didn’t close the blinds. He stood, grinning, on the stairs. He was weird.
Many blocks now have CCTV. People on lower incomes in social and rented housing are more likely to be victims of crime than richer people who live in more exclusive areas. In some ways, we have more to lose; many of us don’t have insurance, so anything that helps to deter burglars and muggers is fine by me. I worry about CCTV cameras tracking our lives, but one building I lived in even had its own channel. Instead of a video entry phone with a small screen, we tuned in and watched people entering the building and wandering around (the TV channel also showed the goings on outside.)
One Friday night (just the one mind) I’d been enjoying a drink, and on making my way up the stairs, I tripped. Next day, several neighbours asked how I was. The caretaker once showed me the night time security footage of the front door at night. It was like Benny Hill fused with The Wire: hookers marched in with shifty looking clients while junkies rushed into the post-room. The re-emergence was careful and slow.
Of course our post was robbed, vandalism was widespread, and we were greeted every morning with used condoms, needles and pools of effluence (I love the smell of vomit in the morning!) At one point someone hurtled down the stairwell and died; did they fall, jump, or were they pushed? As you can imagine, we were most anxious to know, but with so many strategically placed CCTV cameras, we were certain the villain would be caught.
Imagine our delight when we were told that most of the cameras were fake (why?) and as for the genuine ones, well our security guard wiped the tape clean every night. Couldn’t be arsed, you see.
NB: Just before I sat down to write this, Heroic Caretaker told me that our only CCTV camera system (the one in the basement) was stolen last night. I am not making this up.