23rd November 2020
We received today a noise complaint from a mystery neighbour, a tersely worded letter from management about the stress it can cause and not to leave washing machines on after 9pm; looked like the usual copy paste they send every time it happens on the estate. And so the sleuthing is on. It is like a lovely holiday in the sun and sand, or a spectacular train journey of luxury across continents, that two days in is helpfully relieved by the timely murder of a conspicuous fellow guest. Whereby you and your partner now embark on a new journey of discovery, gossip and international intrigue with an assembled mélange of the rich, bitter and deliciously suspect.
I don’t reckon it’s next door as they’re a bunch of twenty-something tokers who wouldn’t give a shit, a mix of Brits and Spaniards who we only ever see in passing (uncomfortably following one step behind, to land at our respective doors). Maybe they’re the ones with the noise and we’re mistaken suspects, though doubtful as they’ve been doormice since ever. Their only transgression being the smell of weed that used to permeate the corridor, until another terse letter to everyone in the corridor.
The flat below -now that’s where my roving eye is on. Just after moving in, I dragged a set of Ikea cupboards all the way from Croydon on my own (in loggerheads with A who felt we didn’t need them). No mean feat involving trekking out of town, traipsing through the ginormous superstore, spending a small fortune then heaving it all back on foot and two forms of public transport, that took up most of the day. I then proceeded to assemble my prize from the flatpack. It was about 3pm, and after a few goes with the hammer a banging replied from downstairs, the sound of some maniac ferociously thumping their ceiling with a baseball bat. Of course I stopped -but what to do? Just not build it, ever -staring forlornly at the instructions each night? Take everything out to muddy grounds and do it there, then try and drag the bulky unit back up? In the end I settled on building it in the stairwell. And in doing so broke the thing, the side snapping off.
Incensed with fury I then stomped back to the flat, slamming doors and banging as loud as poss up and down the hallway. No reply, fuckers. A half hour later, on my way out I passed a neighbour I’d never seen before in our private stairwell (only those on our floor ever use it), and that fitted the bill as to what I imagined a sound-averse, motherfucking curtain twitcher with no friends and no fucking life looks like.
In a previous flat we had one such Neighbourhood Watcher, an old guy living alone (of course), who’d spend days castigating everyone else on every little thing envisaged. He’d lie in wait at the entrance doors, and if you politely left it open for him he’d teach you a darn good lesson on the dangers of tailgating, and the prostitutes who’d use the abandoned sofa in the ‘lobby’. He was though quite handy in getting rid of problem tenants, notably the top flat reserved for council housing.
At first a young Nigerian girl who’d hold the odd soirée for bevies of the rich and not famous (gold and labels) but broke the cardinal rule of owning a dog -secreted on her person in daily walks, and we reckoned kicking it, from the constant whining. Then a quiet kid, but oozing chavness and smelling the whole place up with ganja. He gave way to another teenager, this time with baby, who introduced herself with banging night and day parties, blocking the stairwells with her lounging, toking mates. The last straw coming when she smashed her own window (surely just open it?), to scream at some guy walking past who’d done a dirty on her best mate and he screamed back yeahbitchyouweren’tcomplainingwhenyougavemeablowjobinnit.
Sometimes Mr Windowtitt’s alarms would go off, wired to every corner, wall and window no doubt, and set off by a mosquito sweeping past or him touching the glass whenever something waddled by. They were the sounds of nuclear attack klaxons, and would go on for hours until the appropriate authorities showed up, as he’d wait nerdily rather than manually fucking disable them, and upset procedure. Once, saddled with a vomitous migraine I screamed out the window, and he screamed back, albeit a little dispiritedly, that he had to wait. Concerned now that he was the ASBO. Such a fucking twat.
So he is always what I have in mind about Those That Complain. Some widower without a life, and a deep-seated sadness to be filled with letter writing to the council, endless phonecalls of untrammeled grump, and binoculars at the ready, sometimes jiggling methodically. So when I passed the lonesome looking fellow in our stairwell I had my lasers trained. Yet he was so affable and holding open the doors I got taken aback. -Or maybe methinks he was protesting too much. But then the other day, passing by their window the flat in question appears inhabited by a Mediterranean looking family. I will have to sharpen some bench tools in the yard, slowly, conspicuously, trying to catch their eye. Maybe licking an axe.
Ah such nostalgia golden in the sun, like re-runs of all your favourite episodes. On every estate I’ve ever lived poverty ensures mental health problems, and utter chaos. 24-7 Babyscreaming, pounding bass, pounding trainers, pounding faces, cop cars, fire engines, mystery vans, mystery suitcases. Bouncing balls, breaking glass, breaking bones, screaming sirens, hissing spraypaint, landing bricks, racist tirades, spit, vomit, shit.
The sound of the woman dragged by her hair and their mad sex after, the bully one-time screaming in terror from his house, the weed factory run by a Vietnamese slave, the town bike moaning with ecstasy through the hottest, window-open nights (we reckon alone the whole time), the old lady in the armchair glimpsed from immaculate gardens, downing a bottle. Trying to shag each other as 7 year olds, the local still famous for being the hunting ground for a fucking serial killer.
I thank God our neighbours never complained, because we were one of Them, constantly yelling and banging and throwing handily heavy /delicate objects. When we first moved in we were decidedly thinking ourselves above all that, Dad an academic from landed gentry, Mum the high-earning breadwinner. But a career on a factory line and cleaning floors paid to that belief, our furniture (insofar when we had any) decaying in the garden, the TV full blast all day, interspersed with our yelling and fighting. The stench of cigarettes and alcohol, cooking and rotting carpet, and piles of second hand crap tottering even up the stairs. Some rooms you couldn’t see the floor or hear yourself think, till you kicked a wall or two to get the headspace. Our neighbour an old lady who lived alone: quiet, reserved and with her own dramas behind closed doors. I once heard her Christmas Day in bed, sobbing through the wall.
Though now we’re no longer that ilk. Having left home and progressed into the echelons of the middle class again, if not in income in mindset. Yes, indeed my liege. -But like every southerner of a certain standing, throughout time and place and circumstance, we are now not to Interfere. It’s almost impolite to introduce oneself to the neighbours, cake in hand, as privacy these days is a closely guarded secret. Our last sanctity to an utterly different life to what’s on show to the public eye, and 8hrs of exhausting workplace comportment. This I find particular to these shores, and why sniff and binge drinking is such a thing, to let the hair down that’s normally so starched it’s been standing in fright all day.
Anyhoo, on with the day. I reckon the noise complaint was from J’s birthday though surely it can’t have taken two weeks to send the letter. Maybe he had a secret rave when we were out this weekend, or maybe he’s been screaming in front the box again. I’ve half a mind to do the same, throwing no end of shit out the windows in a show of devil-may-care, till the copshop turns up and we can do some hostage-taking. Little A mewling as I tie him to a bedpost, necking a cocktail of white wine vinegar and Alka-Seltzer, Netflix blaring Attenborough through March of the Valkyries. Then throwing down Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbooks and threatening everyone with antique golf clubs and hot tea.
Lockdown may just be starting to get to me. Time to change, time to just fucking embrace your true self.