Saturday, 17 April 2010

With a little understanding, we could find the perfect blend.

Faithful readers will know how things stand with the folks next door. If you’re a newcomer, I’ll sum up the situation. They do a fabulous job of point blank ignoring me unless they want something, namely a package I signed for while they were out, or the return of one of the many Frisbees, balls and other missiles routinely hurled over the fence by their excessively shrieky children. Am I happy with this arrangement? No, not really, but I have the common sense to accept that, after nearly five years, it’s one of the things I can’t change - much like the continued presence of Ant and Dec on prime-time television.

That was the status quo until I brought home a new arrival of my own. After months of consideration I got a puppy, who is unspeakably adorable and annoying in equal measure. For a split second I contemplated worrying about his little squeaky bark disturbing them but dismissed it after remembering the solid 20 minutes of screaming that goes on every single day, without fail, at 6.45am the other side of my bedroom wall. Let them understand how annoying noisy neighbours can be.

It was about week later that lady from next door came round to collect another of her infernal packages. Sod’s law, she caught me still in my dressing gown, hair looking like I’d licked the toaster and mascara streaked across my face. Pitifully I tried to explain that I’d been struck down with an especially virulent strain of food poisoning (OK, fine I’d been out drinking until 5am but who needs to know that?). She nodded, but her eyes were fixated on my ankles.

“Ahhhh you’ve got a puppy!” she exclaimed, and even more shockingly, smiled. “We thought we’d heard something! He’s so sweet.” Picking up the wriggly squirming creature before she batted him around his tiny face with her giant hand, I darkly warned “Yes, but he’s still a little nippy.” Damn my nice side which made me feel a little guilty and relate the details of his name, breed, age, etc. She left and I thought no more of it.

A few days later, while in the middle of something important, the doorbell rang; in my porch stood man from next door with his own pack of beasts in tow. “Can we come in and see your dog?” he asked. Well, what kind of a person can say no to the hopeful little faces of two small children? In they came while I was forced to stop what I was doing, offer teas, make small talk and generally feel awkward in my own kitchen. Smashing.

Nonetheless, I tried to be as polite and friendly as possible while concealing my utter disgust when I was asked outright how much I’d paid. If we’re not on good enough terms for you to say hello to me in the street, we’re certainly not close enough to explicitly discuss money. Still, they left and I got back to work.

The next morning when yet again I was still in my pyjamas (honestly, I do have normal clothes and wear them a lot of time; it’s like they have a sensor for knowing when I’m not ready to receive people), the bell went again. This time the idle so-and-sos just sent the kids. Too lazy to come over and face yet more small talk I bet. Once more I invited them in. But the thing is I’m terrible at talking to small children. Never knowing exactly what they do and don’t understand I invariably end up speaking to them slowly and loudly in one syllable words as if they’re lost tourists asking for directions. Fifteen minutes of this merry hell elapsed before a parent came and retrieved them.

I don’t blame the kids. Their manners, up close, were better than expected. They’d brought me a picture of the dog. Very sweet, even though they think he’s called Baxter. It’s Dexter, actually. But still, it’s bit much to send your offspring over, totally uninvited, to pester the same neighbours you studiously ignore. Why not come round and actually spend a few minutes getting to know me? I’m pleasant enough to talk to. But not even the mother of all ice-breakers, a baby dog, is enough to strike up any form of acquaintance.

Instead, as the weather improves and I’m outside more, hanging out washing, playing with the dog or just taking time to enjoy the sunshine, two little heads routinely pop up over the garden fence shouting: “Baxter! Baxter! Baxter!” And once more I have to stop and talk to them (at least I’m improving with practice).

One of the joys of having no relationship whatsoever with the neighbours was feeling you could do exactly as you pleased in your own garden unconcerned by what they thought. But now, despite still being shunned, I no longer feel like I can sunbathe in my bra, or have a sneaky dry sherry with my al fresco lunch as I never know when the floating heads will reappear. I think I’d rather go back to being invisible. Read more by Rosie.

Image (people with dog cushions)
Image (washing line): Mantas Ruzveltas /