The ex ex­pat

Kate Birch gets up close and per­sonal with her neigh­bour.

Friday - - Front Page -

I’ve up­set my neigh­bour. Again. I placed my wheelie bin in the space on the pave­ment where his wheelie bin nor­mally re­sides. He sent me a let­ter. I’ve added it to the other seven I’ve re­ceived from him since mov­ing into my cot­tage in the Cotswolds coun­try­side just four months ago.

Ac­cord­ing to The Neigh­bour, I’ve com­mit­ted eight mis­de­meanours to date. Th­ese range from ham­mer­ing a cou­ple of nails into my wall in or­der to hang pic­tures one Sun­day lunchtime (it lasted all of 10 sec­onds) to “al­low­ing” sev­eral ap­ples from my tree to fall into his gar­den, sub­se­quently squash­ing his basil plant (the ap­ple tree has been there for 50 years and I have no con­trol over its shed­ding of fruit).

Then there’s the let­ter that ac­cuses me of block­ing his view of the sun­set with my re­cently erected small shed (I can’t re­mem­ber the last time we had sun) and the let­ter de­nounc­ing my not-clean-enough car, which I ap­par­ently park too close to his house (it’s a pub­lic road and a free world). I know I should have been out­raged at that point, but I wasn’t. I was sim­ply stunned. You see, the idea of even know­ing my neigh­bours, let alone mak­ing en­e­mies of them, is an alien con­cept to me.

Hav­ing pretty much al­ways lived in city apart­ments – Lon­don, Dubai, Sin­ga­pore – where peo­ple are not only ‘out’ more than they are ‘in’, but tend to keep them­selves to them­selves, I’ve never re­ally had to deal with hav­ing or be­ing a ‘neigh­bour’. A pass­ing of pleas­antries in the el­e­va­tor was the height of my pre­vi­ous neigh­bourly ex­pec­ta­tions. But here, in a small town in Bri­tain, where houses sit so close to­gether and where peo­ple have lived next door to each other, and no doubt looked out for each other, for decades, ‘know­ing’ thy neigh­bour – or at least their type – is a must.

First up, there’s the Ir­ri­tant: the neigh­bour who revs their sports cars at in­ap­pro­pri­ate times or sticks over­sized in­flat­able char­ac­ters out­side their house at Christ­mas. Then there’s the In­con­sid­er­ate: the neigh­bour who keeps you awake 365 nights straight with their noisy base­ment con­struc­tion.

Then there’s The Avenger: the neigh­bour so riled, not just by the global eco­nomic down­turn rub­bish weather, but by any tiny trans­gres­sion you make that he spends his life plot­ting to make your life for­ever mis­er­able. Fi­nally, there’s The Psy­chopath: the neigh­bour, who doesn’t just plot, but who ac­tu­ally poi­sons your roses, boils your bunny or stabs your child’s foot­ball with a kitchen knife.

While think­ing that only time would tell what side of the fence my own neigh­bour sits on, along came Let­ter Num­ber Six. Out­lin­ing how my son’s foot­ball, ac­ci­den­tally kicked into The Neigh­bour’s gar­den, had dam­aged his rhodo­den­drons, this let­ter was de­liv­ered, pinned to my son’s now-flat ball, which had clearly been attacked with a knife.

This time, not only was I out­raged, I was scared. Not sur­pris­ing re­ally. Af­ter all, I’ve read the neigh­bour dis­pute sto­ries in the news­pa­per in which, af­ter decade-long feuds, neigh­bours fi­nally crack, at­tack­ing or even killing each other. I’ve watched the re­al­ity TV Shows, Neigh­bours From Hell and

Neigh­bours At War, in which bul­ly­ing Brits make their neigh­bours’ lives mis­er­able, with anti-so­cial be­hav­iour. And I’ve seen the stats; a stag­ger­ing num­ber of fam­i­lies in the UK have been forced to move home an­nu­ally be­cause of dis­rup­tive neigh­bours.

And it’s all over the sil­li­est stuff. Be­lieve it or not, some 17,000 peo­ple are, at any one time, en­gaged in turf wars (read fights over over­grown hedges). Take the re­port on Mrs San­damas in Lancashire, who in the process of se­cretly snip­ping away at her neigh­bour’s too-high hedge last sum­mer, was pro­pelled from her lad­der by a blast of wa­ter from said neigh­bour’s hose pipe. Not only did she dam­age her flower bed and her knee, but both she and the neigh­bour ended up in court to the tune of £1,200 (Dh7,285).

But it’s not just the bushes of Bri­tain push­ing peo­ple over the ‘hedge’. There’s noise too. Whether it’s a hun­gry dog yelp­ing or Ce­line Dion’s My Heart Will Go

On on re­peat, noise scores high on the list of neigh­bour com­plaints.

Then there’s bin rage, park­ing, gar­den­ing, build­ing, DIY, pets, chil­dren, and par­ties – any of which can prompt ev­ery­thing from let­ters of com­plaint and costly court cases, to blood be­ing spilt in the ‘burbs.

Some­times I think I’d be bet­ter off in in­ner-city Lon­don, dodg­ing mug­gers and be­ing bur­gled on an an­nual ba­sis. It may not have the views and the coun­try air, but at least you don’t have to worry about re­la­tion­ships with oth­ers just be­cause they live next door.

I was stunned. The idea of even know­ing my neigh­bours, let alone mak­ing en­e­mies of them, is an alien con­cept to me

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