There are people who have lived in London for twenty years and never become a local. They don’t know their neighbours, except by the noise they make. But of course you can learn a lot just from that.
We used to have a couple of neighbours, long since departed, (not departed this life, you understand, just departed further up the property ladder) who started arguing every evening at 8.30pm. They reached a crescendo around 9.30pm, just as I was lying in bed wondering when my husband would get back from work and how many times our baby would wake up in the night. I found myself listening to them in the manner of a radio play. I couldn’t help myself; it was as loud as if they were standing right next to my bed. They argued about some shoes she bought, and about his endless DIY, and about whether she listened to him properly, and whether she didn’t listen because he wasn’t very interesting (she had a point there, I felt). It was a bit like ‘The Archers’ if ‘The Archers’ featured young urban professionals with too many power tools. I got hooked, and when my husband came in from work he’d ask ‘So, what’s the latest? Is she going to let him put those shelves up or what?’. We didn’t get out much at the time – couldn’t afford the babysitter.
They complained once about the noise of our baby crying. I was tempted to point out that surely if they could hear the baby, then did they realize that I could also hear them? But like a toddler ‘hiding’ by putting their hands over their eyes, they hadn’t grasped the concept of object permanence as it pertained to their downstairs neighbours.
We never really got to know those neighbours. It was awkward, because we knew too much already without asking them over for coffee and banana cake. And we weren’t impartial. We were both definitely on ‘her’ side. My husband held a grudge over a DIY-related mishap that caused our baby’s nursery to flood at 2am, and said only: ‘I’m glad she gives him earache, the drill-happy fool’. For my part, I couldn’t be doing with a husband who was forever faffing about with the decor – it was a small flat, just how many shelves could they need? And he shouldn’t have started on her shoes. We’ve all bought ill-advised footwear on credit, and a gentleman wouldn’t have mentioned it.
I like all of our neighbours now. Even if the young man upstairs has just started… to learn the trumpet. Ah, well.