Monday, 30 November -0001

Neighbours... Can't live with them

A bore over the fence or a friendly face at the gate? VG Lee finds there’s no escaping those significant others next door…

Written by VG Lee

I don’t like my new neighbour but then I didn’t like my old neighbour, either. Joan began every conversation complaining that the local cats running across her conservatory roof every night were affecting her blood pressure. Joan’s been dead a year now (heart attack), and a young woman called Bobbie has recently moved into her garden flat.

I overheard Bobbie telling Ted (neighbour on my other side) that she’s a garden designer. I dawdled closer to the party wall, pretending to inspect my climbing hydrangea for white fly infestation. ‘I can’t wait to get my shears on that woman’s bay tree,’ she said. For a moment I wondered which ‘woman’s bay tree’ she meant, before realising I was staring at the unkempt bay tree in my own front garden.

‘You have a point,’ Ted said. ‘It is a ruddy eyesore.’

My earliest bad neighbour memory is of Benjamin Derham. Actually he was a chocolate-coloured, standard poodle, but when you are eight years old, animals seem more real than people.

‘He loves to play. She’ll be okay with him,’ Mr Derham told my mother as Benjamin knocked me over in the long grass that the Derham family called lawn, and tried to mate with my summer sandal.

Later there was Rene who lived above me in Dollis Hill. Obsessed with all matters Royal, she referred to the Queen and Queen Mother as if they were her closest friends. I spent many claustrophobic evenings in Rene’s cluttered front room drinking sherry and being taken through her commemorative plate collection. Enough was enough when she began to treat me like a servant, imperiously calling down from her bedroom window, ‘If all you’re doing out there is sunbathing, can you at least whip round with the mower?’

Ted has a cat; Dylan the Villain. He has orange eyes and long white whiskers (Dylan, not Ted). Dylan sneaks into my house and copiously sprays my computer wiring, the fridge door and once even my ankles when I fell asleep in a chair. Ted found this highly amusing. ‘What can you do with him, he’s a sod.’ Ted said.

Well, Ted, you might try smacking him lightly on the snout with a rolled newspaper, telling him off or even clearing your throat in an authoritative manner!

In London, I lived next door to Janet who owned four rescue greyhounds named after famous footballers, her favourite being Alan Shearer. She spied on me from her kitchen window. Every time I went into my garden she came out in hers. After a few weeks she began to come out further, till she was so far out, she and Alan Shearer had actually climbed over my fence and were inside my flat.

‘We’ve stocked up your fridge. We’ve oiled your kitchen scissors. We’ve changed the washer on the bathroom tap.’

Janet always spoke as if she and Alan Shearer were an item. They’d make themselves comfortable on my sofa while I brought a chair in from the kitchen and we’d watch Countdown together.

From London to Hastings, as neighbours go, Ted isn’t bad, although there are frequent awkward moments that sometimes last the best part of a month. Ted is artistic with a fondness for the nude female form. One winter he was obsessed with papier mâché and made me a mermaid, naked from the fish tail upwards, to hang in my kitchen. Friends said that facially the mermaid resembled me. ‘But I don’t have tiny eyes and a lantern jaw, do I? Well, do I?’

One afternoon as I was browsing the various artefacts in Ted’s front room I picked up a piece of polished tree root from the coffee table. ‘This is lovely, Ted,’ I said, stroking it with my thumb.

‘It’s Apollo and the nymph, Daphne,’ Ted said.

I realised I was holding two headless people sexually entwined. I was actually stroking Apollo’s left buttock. Not wishing to seem prudish I stroked for another 30 seconds before replacing it on the coffee table.

‘Charming, Ted.’

The new neighbour’s garden is on the corner of my road. In Joan’s time it was laid to tarmac, now it resembles the grounds of Downton Abbey in miniature. To reach me, friends and family have to first pass her stone and terracotta urns, troughs and decorative planters. Raised beds have been built, gravel paths meander, a stable door put in and painted a Farrow & Ball shade of grey-green. Not that I’m snooping, I just happened to spot the empty paint tin in her dustbin.

‘Bobbie’s having a veranda,’ Ted said.

‘You mean a patio?’

‘No, a veranda.’

Bobbie also has four cats! My own front garden has been turned into a cats’ ensuite.

‘They’re fine-looking chaps,’ Ted says admiringly. ‘They get on with Dylan like a house on fire.’

I’m beginning to have a better understanding of the late Joan. I imagine my blood pressure, like a cloud of hot steam rising up through my hair follicles as I snap, ‘It’s not your perennial geraniums they’re wiping their bottoms on!

Maybe it’s time for another move. ‘Wanted. House or flat with paved garden in isolated location to suit female author of sensitive disposition. No neighbours with pets within a radius of at least three miles.’

Always You, Edina by VG Lee is out now. Published by Ward Wood Publishing, priced £9.99.

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