Posted by: J M | December 22, 2010

N is for neighbours

NThere is much derision by those who don’t live in the capital at the fact that not many people in London know their neighbours, as if it is a bad thing and that without the camaraderie of the old East End, you can’t have a fulfilling experience in your ‘community’. I have only briefly seen any of my neighbours in the six-apartment block we all share, perched precariously at the corner of two main roads, with a Nando’s, a McDonald’s and a Pizza Hut within spitting distance. My neighbours’ main contribution to my life is via pollution, be it noise or air or otherwise.

The flat directly below me seems to have changed occupancy in the last two or three months. The deafening silence of my days and nights have now been replaced by thuds, bumps and beats, sometimes not starting until midnight and going on through the early hours. No genre of music is left untouched: dubstep, dance, rap, R&B, classical, TV themes and even the lambada have all, at one time or another, filtered ‘gently’ through my floor, making my furniture shake and sending a not entirely unpleasurable vibration through my couch and up my spine.

My local council advises you against knocking on the door to complain about the noise. I can see the point. If someone doesn’t care about that remix of La Roux blaring through to the entire postcode, they’re probably not too concerned by decapitating the first busybody who comes a-knocking to complain. Instead, you are to call the council, who promise they’ll be there within 45 minutes. And then you have to wait 45 minutes, for the first time praying that the music doesn’t end. I’ve yet to make it through the entire period without phoning and telling them not to bother because I’m going to bed.

I’m now at my mother’s house for Christmas, working at her kitchen table. Since I arrived home yesterday, there have been three or four interruptions by neighbours. Neighbours may look out for each other and give a friendly wave, but most visitors just call in to dump a load of their boring shit on you. My mother is currently engaged in a conversation that I know she’d rather not be having with a woman who on being asked how she’d been lately had replied ‘Ugh not so good; I’ve been in agony’ as quick as a flash. Through the wall I can hear the plaintive tones of the woman interspersed by the short responses of my mother. She’d rather be watching TV, or reading. Or, by the staccato nature of her replies, taking on a pack of fire-breathing dragons with just a tea towel for a weapon.

A sense of community is all well and good, but should you wrong them in any way, be prepared to pay. Were one of my mother’s neighbours to receive a complaint about noise or some other matter, a process of elimination would be set in train that would outdo the Nazis for sheer cold-blooded efficiency. Judgements would be made, accusations levelled and relationships shattered because of the lack of anonymity these so-called communities bring. Growing up, I lost count of the amount of times the neighbours were up in arms over tress that were too big, children who were too loud, vicious dogs, footsteps late at night and all that comes with it. My mother, to her credit, has always shrunk away from this kind of behaviour but it happens around her regardless. There is even a Cold War over when to put the bins out.

And so I think back to my faceless neighbours, who exist as mere shadows or even ghosts, making noise and leaving unpleasant smells in the air, but never making face time, never complaining, never apologising, just being. And even as the La Roux remix kicks in for the fourth time that day, I sit back and realise that I know where I’d rather be. And then I put on a Robyn record loud enough to wake a Los Angeles street drinker.



  1. growing up, i used to be friends with my neighbour and we would play all the time together. i guess it’s different when you’re children.

    more recently, i lived in an apartment building where my neighbours above me would sing karaoke at all hours of the day/night with its bass reverberating through our entire apartment. i’d complained to strata, asked them to please keep it down, and even called the police several times. still, they continued. one day i thumped on my wall so hard that they turned off their music completely and began stomping on their floor on purpose, until bits of our ceiling started flaking down. this caused me to rush up to their door in a mad rage and confront them about the issue, to which they proclaimed that there was no noise at all, that their music was at a soft level, and he even invited me in to listen for myself. of course, by the time i was invited in, the music had been turned down. luckily, as we were arguing in the hallway, the neighbour next door to him came around the corner and confirmed that when their walls shake whenever the karaoke system is turned on and this family starts their singing. i literally got on my knees and bowed down to her in gratitude for corroborating my story.

    so in a nutshell, neighbours suck sometimes.

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