Good neighbours

22 Nov 2019

Most of us will have neighbours at some time in life. There they are, over the fence, long after children have left home, marriages ended, partners died.

This connection has been in mind lately, as a sad vignette of human frailty played out.

I have mentioned Anne, she of surplus marrows, binoculars focused on my kitchen. When I moved here I was warned she was a busybody. Within days I found her going through my bins. When Spock painted our porch, she called out, "About time you did that". I have seen her peering through neighbour's windows, rooting in back gardens when no one is home. She is the local Neighbourhood Watch, there's always a handy excuse.

She's endlessly mowing and strimming. It matters nought that others want a lie-in. "Bone idle, still in bed at 8 a.m."

I detect some autism, certainly OCD. She loves animals, cares for injured birds, that is how we have found an accommodation over 25 years. I am a sucker for anyone who makes me laugh or is kind to animals. She is pretty humourless, but she baby-talks her rescue cats.

She's in a maisonette next to my house. Five years ago a young couple moved in adjoining her. She has made their lives hell, with numerous provocations. She blocks their car in, tips their bins over, pours weed killer on their garden, watches their every move. You have seen cases like this in the paper, ending up in court. They are nice people, and have not retaliated.

Her best friend lived nearby, a lovely woman who was scared of Anne. She died recently of cancer, I assumed Anne would be upset. It turns out she had accompanied her to chemotherapy sessions, shouted at her for being nervous, making her cry, then stopped calling.

I took a magazine round last week, stopped dead outside the shared veranda. Anne was swinging a large sledgehammer, surrounded by piles of wood and smashed crockery. The woman neighbour was filming on her phone. They moved a dresser Anne placed over their storage area. She went mad, fetched the hammer and proceeded to smash her own furniture and ornaments into smithereens.

We got the hammer off her, and she stomped into her flat. I phoned later to see how she was. Unrepentant, she said she hated them.

Further revelations have emerged. The 30-year estrangement from her children and grandchildren, following divorce, was not of their making. She refuses to see anyone who speaks to her ex-husband. A previous neighbour gave her keys for emergencies, only to find clocks and ornaments missing. An allotment holder herself, she has been stealing and damaging tools. " Retirement" from her nursing job was after warnings, and numerous complaints from patients.

Today the For Sale sign appeared. I can no longer defend her, make light of her conduct, yet it gives me no pleasure to see her go. I should be delighted, but I feel such sadness. For 25 years she has been there, living her life yards from mine.

We baked cakes for each other, took in parcels, exchanged books. She will, with her eavesdropping habits, have overheard some spectacular arguments from our mad household over the years.

She has seen me with a face-pack on, hair in rollers, vomiting when ill, probably, through binoculars, seen me starkers. Like it or not, some intimacy exists. I never thought I would say this, but I will miss her.


A Moodscope member.

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