Suburbia blues

Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours… Well, I guess that’s expecting a lot, I mean good neighbours are hard to come by, but would it really be too much to ask not to have bad ones? Over the years, especially living in small flats in high-rises, we have had quite a wide range of strange and annoying neighbours.

There was the young Asian couple who had a hobby of assembling flat-pack furniture at 1am with a large hammer and didn’t speak a word of French or English. Then we moved in underneath an illicitly sub-let flat where they would always run their very unstable washing machine at midnight or play their stereo very loud at crazy hours of the night, and would never answer the door because, well, they weren’t supposed to be there. That’s when we began to get quite good at Zen and the art of Passive Agressive Note Writing. (Note to self: good title for a book?)

On the ground floor of that block of flats lived probably the most amazing of all neighbours we have ever had, the Bin Man. This didn’t refer to his profession, as far as I know he didn’t leave his flat much, he earned this name by hoarding refuse. You could tell by walking through the entrance hall if he had opened his door that day. It wasn’t that bad, it was worse. He also used his old Peugeot* 105 as a fridge, even in the summer, and kept fruit, meat and milk in there. Or maybe he just left the milk in there until it was technically meat. He would always dress in the same “outfit”: baggy shorts that you prayed weren’t actually underwear, a string vest and a woolly hat. Classic. Of course, the complaints about him and the effects of his poor hygiene on the rest of the building had been pouring in for years, but it is incredibly hard to kick someone out of social housing in France if they’re paying their rent. And he was. They finally managed to get him to leave after he punched up a guy who had filed a complaint. When he had moved out they had to call in a team of 4 guys in white hazmat suits to clean the place out. While they were cleaning, the hall floor looked like a herd of festival-goers had trampled through it without wiping their boots. Except the dirt was going from the inside out. Nice.

So, when we moved to Ireland and stumbled across this lovely little suburban house, with a beach down the road, we thought we had finally made it. This, we thought, must be bliss, a lovely quiet estate, a back and a front garden (well, the front one is a tiny square of grass with 3 struggling shrubs but hey…), luxury was ours at last! Well, not quite. The house itself is fine, it could be improved, what house couldn’t, but honestly, it’s a great little house. No, the things that are driving us nuts are outside.

You see, I spent a good few years of my childhood in the suburbs of the good town of Swindon. Freshbrook to be precise. And I loved that house, I had nothing but fond memories of it. After that house my parents moved to a great big farmhouse in the middle of the French countryside, and although I dearly loved that house too, the little** control freak inside me longed for doors that fitted their frames, central heating and a neatly-mown regularly-shaped lawn. So I moved back to suburbia thinking I was finally going to get all that, which I did, in a way. But I was forgetting a couple of details.

The first was that back in the good old 80’s, house alarms were still quite a rare thing. So I have no childhood memories of being woken at 2am by an alarm that will not stop until maybe some time the next day. Things have changed. People with annoying house alarms should have their stuff stolen on principle. Seriously, sometimes I’m that far from going to look for the culpable house and looting the place, seeing as no-one seems to give a damn about the alarm.

The second thing I failed to realise was that my old house was detached, this new one is a semi. And somehow, someone forgot to put anything but a thin bit of drywall between the two halves when building it. This would only be moderately annoying if we had reasonably quiet neighbours, but the family next door seem to have developed a form of communication purely based on screaming. I don’t mean shouting, that happens in all families with kids, no, screaming. They have 2 kids, a 4-year old boy, named after his father, which makes things even more confusing, and a 5-year-old blonde angel of a girl, whose name seems to be “You Little Bitch”. As in “Oi, get in ‘ere you little bitch yer food’s getting cold!”. Yup. Delightful. And that’s a pretty tame example of the way their mother addresses them. The thing is that You Little Bitch seems unable to speak, all she can do is produce a shrill scream. Whatever she happens to be doing. Riding her bike along? Screaming. Playing with the other kids on the street? Screaming. Sitting still on the pavement? Screaming. Seriously.

Obviously, the Screaming Nextdoorses do sometimes go to sleep, and there are rare times when no house alarm is going off, so just in case we were feeling weirded out by the peace and quiet, the Backside Neighbours (our back garden backs on to their back garden) regularly make sure they leave their dog alone for a day or two, so the poor thing barks and whines, sometimes all night. That earned them one of our patented Passive-Aggressive Notes™ after a few sleepless nights…

I’m beginning to dream of a house in the woods, with no neighbours for miles…

*Pronounced Puh-show, not pew-joe.
**Well, I was littler then, the control freak grows with the rest!

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