Neighbours from hell?

I have never lived next door to true neighbours from hell; noise monsters who force your house to vibrate with their pulsating rap. Damage your mind with their death metal. Throw drug-fuelled orgies that last all night. But nevertheless, I have experienced moments when it has been wise to keep my head down and not become embroiled in an argument. Warring with neighbours can become litigious and expensive. Endlessly painful.

There are two types of people in the world. People who get on with their neighbours. And those that don’t. You can spot the ones who are heading for trouble a mile off. They buy a house with a shared driveway and block it off. A cottage with no soundproofing attached to a pub. They hate noise of any kind. Intolerant of one-off life events such as a garden wedding reception, or an eighteenth birthday party. They hate bonfires, barbeques, cats, dogs and fireworks.

My experience with neighbours ranges from pain to pleasure. The pain I have experienced stems from nosiness. When I was a teenager the boys who lived in the house behind mine had a telescope pointing at the landing window. In my early married days, the tax inspector who lived over the road, would comment on our movements. He clocked early or late nights. When invited in for a cup of tea, he stepped into the kitchen and inspected the contents of my fridge. He later became embroiled in a driveway dispute with the architect who lived behind him. The architect became convinced that the tax inspector had poisoned his cat. (Hearsay of course.) At least he hadn’t poisoned my dog, even if he did know how much money I’d spent on the Chablis in my fridge.

Life moved on. I became a novelist and my neighbours became obsessed with the sex-scenes in my debut novel. Oh how fed up I became of eyes raised to our bedroom and crass comments implying they knew what went on up there. My husband would call their bluff by saying that everything in Amanda’s novels was made up apart from the sex. He said this with a smile in his eyes. They returned his gaze, and widened their eyes. I would try not to blush during the awkward silences that followed.

Or a sense of community?

The pleasure of neighbours is most certainly community. If you are lucky enough to have neighbours who are like an extended family, treasure them. Small houses with tiny front gardens are the most fun. As soon as you step outside you meet someone to chat to. When I lived in a leafy street with a large front garden, the binmen were more communicative than the neighbours. I never met the neighbours. I never bumped into them. My years spent in town houses have been the best years of my life.

When our children were young we lived in a small 1970’s mock-Georgian one. I used to think of it as a hall-of-residence for grown-ups. The houses were so small that baby monitors worked several doors down. Encumbered by sleeping children we could still socialise on special evenings confident we could hear our offspring’s every cry.

Now I live in a real Georgian town house, part of a pretty curved row. Our front doors open onto the street. We are a real community. We have neighbourhood watch, a book group, even a holiday cat-feeding rota. A few years ago, after my elderly neighbour, Josephine, died, her daughter stood on my doorstep and handed me a beautiful picture painted by her mother. She thanked me for helping to look after Josephine, enabling her to live in her own home until the end of her life. I was overwhelmed as all I had done was take her to the supermarket every Friday morning for about a year, which wasn’t very onerous.

Josephine was an excellent and prolific painter, commended by the RHS. Her family gave everyone in our row a painting to thank them, because everyone had helped. Giving her lifts to medical appointments. Shopping for her. One neighbour heard an ambulance pull up outside her house at 2am one morning, after she had been suddenly discharged from hospital, and got up to help her get undressed and tuck her into bed.

Neighbours; pain or pleasure? Nosiness or community?

Silence is pain. Community is pleasure. In this time of Covid-19 I think we have all found out how painful isolation is, and how much we need each other.