• Tilly Rivers

Neighbours in Lockdown

The funny thing about lockdown, if you can call it funny, is that the neighbours spring into focus in the most startling of ways.

Mum’s house is like Switzerland in that she has neighbours on all sides, but they’re normally hidden behind high fences and hedges so they're both invisible and eerily silent. But with the Easter weekend upon us, all that has changed with a bang.

Literally with a bang, in the case of the neighbour to the North, let’s call him Mr Angry, who this morning, as I was out having a cuppa in the sunshine, flung open his back door and shouted: ‘Do you know what? You’re boring!’ and slammed it again drowning out the quacking response from within. Their fence is impenetrable, so try as I might I couldn’t see if he was pacing around fuming, lighting up a fag or punching holes in the wall. Probably all three.

Then to the West we have Mr DIY who, has decided that now is the time to get that handy pneumatic drill out of the shed and spend all day and every day digging up his concrete yard. If there’s anything designed to shatter the calm of a warm Spring day, it’s a jackhammer thundering away one foot beyond your hedge. Mum wasn’t overly bothered because she can take her hearing aids out, but I was absolutely livid.

‘Who is he? What’s he doing? We have to stop him!’ I squeaked at her as she was clearing away the breakfast things. ‘This is the fourth day running. ‘I mean for God’s sake who does their gardening with a bloody pneumatic drill!’

I’m not sure, dear. They only moved in a few months ago. You can go and complain I suppose.’

‘I’m not going round to complain! You know I hate confrontation!’ I yelled. ‘You go!’

‘Oh. Well yes, if you want, I could do. It’ll be a chance to meet them, won’t it?’

I nodded eagerly, so an hour later she put on her hat, took up her stick and I watched from behind the kitchen sink, nibbling my nails nervously, as she pottered off into the fray. To give me my due, I had offered to go with her but for some reason she decided to make the visit alone.

Five minutes later the drilling stopped.

Twenty minutes later she pottered back and took off her hat.

‘What happened?’

‘Well, his wife was sitting on the doorstep shelling peas, so I told her how lovely her garden was looking. She seemed pleased and I think that’s why she thought I’d come up the drive, so we got talking about how well the camellias are doing just now, and then her husband, hearing us I suppose, stopped drilling and appeared around the corner and we all started talking about the camellias.’

‘And did you ask him what on earth he was doing upsetting all the neighbours?’

‘No. I didn’t have to. He apologised for all the noise and said he was digging up the patio but would be finished today. That’s lucky isn’t it? We all had a nice chat and they said I must come for a cup of tea when this self-immolation business is over.’

So, that was one problem solved. Meanwhile, the neighbours to the East who I shall call Mr and Mrs Incredible, have been fielding the boundless energy of an extremely frustrated four or five-year old named, of all things, Patience. The drama of keeping young Patience entertained, plays out off-stage, behind a high hedge with endless parental permutations on the theme of distract, deflect and delight.

As a mother myself, the obvious solution of downloading the Disney + app seemed to have completely eluded them. Three hours into a morning which alternated with tears, squeals of laughter, play-time with Daddy being a unicorn and screams of anguish, (hers,) I was about to offer them a user account on my Disney + account, when Patience finally reached the end of her tether.

‘I hate you, Daddy!’

‘Why do you hate me?’

‘I told you I want cheese-and-onion Wotsits!’

‘We only have salt-and-vinegar Wotsits, Patience, and we can’t get any more from the shops can we, because of the long lines?’

‘You’re not listening to me!’

‘I am listening, and I do understand, but why don’t ­– ‘

‘It’s so unfair! It’s not right! I’m never ever going to talk to you again! And how will you like that!’


Then a voice presumably, Mummy, floated through the hedge in a voice as calm as Daddy’s saying that she’s having trouble filling the paddling pool and can Patience help, but to be sure not to spray the cat.

I was weeding the patio at the time and from that moment on, all I could hear was the tinkling of water and occasional feline squalling.

And talking of cats, my daughter has been having problems with her neighbour too. She moved into a ground floor flat in Streatham with a small garden (that she and her flat-mate can barely afford,) purely to cater to the needs of a stray kitten they had found a few weeks earlier. The two of them rent a three-bedroom apartment, one of which is for Meeko, and their outpouring of love for him is frankly disturbing.

And yet Lucy texted me a photo she’d taken of a handwritten note slipped through the door from a ‘concerned neighbour and cat lover.’ This note is evidence, if we need it, that people really don’t have enough to do during lockdown.

Concerned Neighbour lives in the top flat next door.

‘I saw you two on the lawn the other day,’ she begins, ‘and when your lovely ginger cat approached you didn’t give one flicker of acknowledgement because you were too busy drinking and on your phones. It makes me wonder how much you actually care for him.’ There followed a page long rant where she questioned whether or not they were feeding him because of their substance abuse and callous personalities.

And then came what was, to me, the crunch. ‘If you would like to pop around and talk about it, I’m always home. Xx’

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