The ex expat
Kate Birch gets up close and personal with her neighbour.
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