There was this story on a current affairs program a while ago. It was supposed to be a nice, feelgood kind of piece, to make us feel all warm and fuzzy in the pits of our stomachs. It was about an ordinary street somewhere in the city – and Old Harry, the Neighbour from Heaven.
Cue the violins please, maestro.
Old Harry was in his 80s but was busy dedicating the rest of his years to the residents of his street. His uncomplaining wife cheerfully told the TV presenter – ‘I hardly ever see ‘im. He’s always off doin’ somethin’!’
As indeed he was. It had probably started quite innocently, with Old Harry emptying the odd mailbox when someone went on holiday. And feeding the dog and budgie. Maybe a bit of weeding when No.4 wasn’t very well. But after a few years of these kindnesses, you can just imagine the little lightbulbs starting to flash over people’s heads. They started to recognise a good thing when they saw it. They bought their new lawnmowers with Harry in mind. They didn’t bother replacing their worn out gardening gloves though – Harry has his own, and a nice sharp pair of secateurs and a whipper snipper. They were, however, considerate enough to ask whether he preferred using a paintbrush or roller before their trips to Bunnings.
They were, they explained happily to the pert girl from the TV station, ‘Making poor old Harry feel wanted. He just loves doing things for people.’
A particularly gruesome piece of work, in floral tent and thongs with a mouthful of chocolate biscuit, said Harry had even painted her entire house. ‘It took ‘im a few months, but,’ she said grudgingly. ‘Still, ‘e got it done eventually.’
There was more. It appeared Harry had a special pegboard on the wall of his garage, to accommodate copies of his neighbours’ house keys. That way, he could let himself in to water their indoor plants. And vacuum under their beds. And turn their ovens on so the chicken casserole would be ready and waiting when they got home from their jobs, where they undoubtedly earned good money for doing whatever they did. (Enough to employ housekeepers, even.)
Well. Words just failed me. There was an insane urge to rip the arms off the obese harpy with the TimTams and punch out each of the smug bastards who shamelessly used someone and then sat back complacently and said, ‘It makes poor old Harry feel wanted.’
How very magnanimous of them. Giving an old bloke a reason to live. Without them, Harry would undoubtedly have asked to be terminated years ago. After all, what else is left to a life if you can’t be an unpaid slave for a street full of disgusting, shameless users? That we should all be so lucky, to find such a street in our twilight years!
I was furious at Harry, too, for not kicking them up their respective arses. He should have packed his wife into a Winnebago, flung his house keys at TimTam Ma’am and taken off around Australia.
And were we treated to the spectacle of people knocking themselves out to do things for Old Harry? In your dreams. They were safely in front of their tellies, eating meals Harry had heated for them, enjoying the freshly painted walls and vases of cut flowers from Harry’s bountiful rose bushes. Writing lists of little jobs for Harry so he’d feel the rest of his week was worthwhile and could hold off taking that fatal dose of Ratsak for another few days.
At the end of the story, Old Harry was sitting at his front gate in a fold-up chair, enjoying a cup of tea provided, no doubt, by the producers of the current affairs program. Another old bloke stood by and played the fiddle. It was his reward to Old Harry, for being such a wonderful neighbour.
Call me cynical, but there was the unmistakable stench of ‘happy ending’.
There’ll be a place in heaven for Old Harry, though. Hopefully with a banana lounge, enough good literature to keep him happy until the cows arrive – and a very stiff drink. When his ghastly neighbours turn up at the other place, Old Nick will hand them oven gloves and secateurs – and directions on how to prune Harry’s hedges into Eternity …