Neighbours

‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’

This phrase is regularly produced by contributors to Any Answers, their smug and querulous tones suggesting that they are the good men in question and that their mere contribution to that venerable Radio 4 forum is averting – necessarily – the triumph of evil. It is retailed as a celebrated quotation but as such is of doubtful provenance. It’s variously attributed to John F Kennedy and Edmund Burke but apparently neither originated the phrase.

It is also of course nonsense. Good men doing nothing may I suppose be necessary for the triumph of evil but it is not the only thing necessary. There are good people sniggering and looking the other way in Russia, to take one example from many, but Mr Putin bears the main responsibility for his own evil and its triumph. Many of us reproach ourselves daily for our part in the appeasement of Mr Blair at the beginning of the Century, but in the last resort the responsibility for his misdeeds is his.

This is not a mere quibble. These smug and querulous assertions, whether on Radio 4 or in what we are encouraged to call the social space, make matters worse, not better. The triumph of evil is bad enough by itself.

And what’s all this about ‘good men’? Do women who snigger and look the other way not bear their share too of the responsibility?

Anyway, the better half said something of the sort to justify picking a fight with a neighbour. This is the drug dealer to whom I have referred before. He (it is a he, like the good men doing nothing) is as yet in a small way of business. His drug dealer’s limousine has blacked-out windows but is one of the more modest of the range of small cars offered by the Kia motor company – and not new. However he is admirably hard-working. Lanky youths with bicycles come and go at all hours, collecting small packages and returning with pockets full of what appear to be bank notes.

All this would be a matter of simple local pride if it were not for the nature of the coming and going. The drug dealer’s flat, like all of them in our block, is serviced with two locks and the tenant is provided with two keys for each and two fobs for the front door to the building. These are not replaceable and in the case of the drug dealer’s flat one of the fobs has, as we later learnt, become lost.

He cannot be in his flat all the time. He has to travel around, ensuring that his product remains tip top. His is, I understand, a world where sources of supply can disappear overnight and it is essential always to have a plan B. The result of his absence is a succession of people requiring access at the front door, and when they cannot raise an occupant of the flat in question, they press our buttons indiscriminately. Sometimes there is someone in the flat but they are asleep or ‘nodding off’ as I believe it is known.

One tries to help. ‘Are you a ‘mule’?’ I say to the young men (and again it does tend to be men, notwithstanding what one might expect from, for example, the excellent Harpur & Iles detective stories, where the process of delivery of the narcotics is often entrusted to women) as their faces loom Barry Manilow-like onto the screen in my flat provided for that purpose. Depending on the apparent good faith of their response I may or may not let them into the building.

On one occasion it turned out to be the drug dealer himself, locked out of his own flat. Irritation overcame my underlying desire to be neighbourly. It was the seventh or eighth time that afternoon and I was trying to work. I replaced the phone without first pressing the ‘Enter’ button. He got in anyway – someone else obliged – but he was sufficiently irritated to stand outside my door for some minutes, where he made a sound that can only be described as howling.

This was approximately the point at which the better half took things in hand.

“Something must be done,” she said. “It’s unacceptable behaviour.”

“I don’t really care,” I said feebly. “Local colour…neighbourliness…importance of not upsetting people who habitually use knives…our lovely new car parked just outside.”

And then she said it.

“‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

“Or women,” she added.

A difficult week followed. She remonstrated with the drug dealer. She told him that his howling, whilst acceptable in strictly circumscribed conditions, for example at a Halloween party, had no place outside the door of our flat. He in turn cunningly played the race card and told the management that we were harassing him because he was black. When we passed each other on the staircase we turned away from each other with a contemptuous shrug. The better half contacted her friend George who said that if muscle was needed he was our man.

It was the drug dealer who very decently brought this unfortunate conflict to an end.

“I know it’s been difficult,” he said. “But now it’s new management. You’ll see changes. Sorry for any inconvenience.”

He told us affectingly about the lost fob, which explained everything.

“I don’t know where I can have put it,” he said. “Actually, I suspect foul play.”

I for one was happy to see amity restored before my throat was cut, and so was the better half, whilst glad to have made her point. Now, when we see the young men on their bicycles, plying the streets of Stratford with their precious restoratives, we wave to them. If only all problems with neighbours were resolved so readily. We have more serious ones elsewhere, but that’s another story.

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