The unbearability of problem neighbours is in inverse ratio to their proximity. Share a party wall with them and you'll be praying for an early death – preferably theirs. Live far enough away, though, and you may feel they have a diverting Rabelasian quality, which is ideal for whiling away a Tuesday evening. See Neighbours from Hell passim and any recent episode of Shameless for an example of the effect. And now see Neighbourhood Watched too, which sounds as if it should be about CCTV cameras but is actually about housing officers, the poor beleaguered types who are sometimes the only thing standing between the quiet couple next door and imminent nervous breakdown. Housing officers like Sarah Chilton, who has 200 properties to look after in the Pennine town of Mossley, with a mere handful taking up most of her working week.
She's been seeing a lot of Janet, you can tell, a stocky woman with five children that Janet probably thinks of as "lively" but most of her neighbours regard as holy terrors. You could tell quite a lot about the moral universe that this family inhabited by the rare disciplinary phrases that did make it on to the soundtrack, in-between a meek and self-pitying explanation that none of the trouble was Janet's fault: "Don't be stealing no more vodka," she bellowed at one child, while another – wrestling on the kitchen floor – was brought in line with a stern admonition: "Ben! You don't fight with a cigarette in your hand!" Fight, by all means, but put the fag down first.
You suspected that what Janet referred to as "a few lickle drinks" probably wasn't very lickle at all, and that she may have been lacking in diplomatic skills when it came to neighbour placation. I'm not sure that Sarah had turned up with legal action in mind, but after Janet had broken off their conversation to have a wheezing chat on her mobile phone, leaving Sarah poised in mid-rebuke, she changed her mind. And Janet – despite a lot of bluster about how little she cared and how unbudgeable she was – suddenly got a little more realistic in the face of the threat of eviction: "Realistically, I should just turn into a nun," she grumbled, unrealistically, but, though still some way short of the novitiate, the curve of nuisance was at last downwards.
Janet was an absolute poppet compared to some of the other tenants featured in the programme, who included a man who seemed to be dismantling his own house piecemeal from the inside and a charming type who was lodging two giant mastiffs in a shed, full of their own excrement at the back of a block of flats. This last infringement was discovered by Julie, a Preston housing officer who got caught by an unexpected shift in the wind and promptly disappeared off screen to throw up. Meanwhile, Sarah was dealing with Paul, a heavy-metal fan whose giant speakers were backed up against his neighbour's bedroom wall, a fact that hadn't inhibited him from death-metal medleys at two in the morning. Paul looked mildly startled to hear that anyone might object to this, but it's also possible that he couldn't hear anything below 100 decibels anymore and was just putting on an expression that he thought would look appropriately contrite. The man who was demolishing his house, incidentally, finally succeeded in demolishing himself. As soon as the police incident tape was down, the housing association builders went in, cleared the residue of his chaotic life into a skip and created a little dream home for an old lady who looked unlikely to start bonfires on the communal lawn or have fistfights in the early hours, which was a bit of a result for the man upstairs.
"Confessions of an Easel Painter" – or Desperate Romantics as Radio Times calls it – finally reached the bit of the story where Effie Ruskin's untampered sexual status is revealed. What's clearer now that we've reached episode three is that Peter Bowker loathes his three main subjects. Johnny Millais is a stammering ninny; when Effie gets breathless in his presence, he doesn't seize her and kiss her, but offers her camomile tea, wimpishly explaining that, "I always find that settles my nerves when I get all fluttery and birdlike." Rossetti is a cartoon cad, either crumpling up drawing paper in a rage of artistic frustration or doing that open-mouthed chewing, which is the coarse-acting shorthand for sexual appetite. And Holman Hunt is a sanctimonious prig, whose commitment to morality shifts according to his interests. Only the women seem exempt from the flippant scorn with which the script depicts all character and motive – only they are acknowledged as real people with real feelings. But that isn't enough to rescue it. I gave it three episodes in the hope that something might come up, but I'm now seeking an annulment of our relationship on grounds of non-consummation and cruelty.Reuse content