When I moved in 20 years ago, a pretty woman from up the street arrived with a line of guff anticipating that I was “her” whom she had thought, remarking “Oh I can tell you all my sexual problems !” to which I replied I’d rather she didn’t. This same woman confided some time later that, although we would probably never be friends (what she meant was “nqocd” ie “not quite our class, darling) we would make good neighbours and we have. We have done each other small kindnesses, exchanged cards, run errands and occasionally agreed when we met in the street. One requires no more of neighbours.
Literally next door has been a very different story. The upper flat belongs to the freeholder, a kind woman called Sarah. There must be a story about the lower flat (there’s always a story), owned by a disagreeable man is only interested in the cheque. And over time Sarah and I became horribly familiar with the council “noise line”. The first lot of Aussies never spoke if they could squawk and the Poles, who followed them slept in relays, ate noisily outside and were eventually driven out by the mice and the damp. When the wonderful Max (a prison nurse) and his flatmates (ads for gaydom) moved on, we mourned the end of nearly 2 years’ peace, and in came Aussies (2) who were eroded by exposure to the Big Smoke, getting paler and crosser till they left. Two or three new girls arrived around Christmas. Sarah and I waited.
A nice note was sent to Sarah saying they were giving a small party – this is already an almost unheard of courtesy – so we waited. The party was considerate (gold star) until I was going to bed much cheered when I heard a thud, quickly followed by two more. I went out into my paved garden which abutts theirs and asked with as much humour and patience as you can put into a human voice “What are you doing ?” “I am trying to open a bottle,” said an apolgetic young man’s voice out of the dark. “What with ?” I asked. “A boot” he said sweetly. “God’s teeth,” I exclaimed. “Haven’t you got a bottle opener ? I though you were doing someone harm …” He said they hadn’t, I got mine and passed it through the fence, he introduced himself, we shook hands. He asked where he should leave the opener, I said on the wall, he went back inside to a small cheer and I went to bed.
So a couple of weeks later, there I am, swathed in a dressing gown at 8.00 pm, when somebody knocked at the door. And when I opened it, there stood the owner of the male voice who introduced himself with some fluency as Dan (not his real name), the boyfriend of Lindsey (not her real name) who lives next door and they brought me a pack of named chocolates, to say thank you. And I swept them in.
Living alone and wanting to be liked makes me try too hard and I don’t know when to stop. I did learn that Dan is in recruitment and would rather be in advertising, while Lucy works for a prestigious publishing house. They met at university. And I didn’t have a glass of anything in the house to give them. I offered tea or coffee which they declined so I walked them through the joys of my little apartment and we laughed about opening a bottle with a boot. They have a bottle opener now – I said I was glad, I couldn’t count the times I’d been with people who had the bottle but no way of getting into it. And the house is full of books which they liked. And when they left, I realised that I had been so excited at the thought of them coming to see me and bringing chocolates, that foolishly I couldn’t remember their names. And I had rattled like rain on a roof. So the next morning I found an organic red which I took round and under the not entirely welcoming gaze of Lindsey’s flatmates, I handed it to her, apologised for talking too much and checked their names. Which I wrote down when I came home so I can’t forget again.