A woman clapping during the lockdown in Spain

A woman clapping during the lockdown in Spain.

11-07-2020Enric Fontcuberta - EFE

It’s fair to say that we got off on the wrong foot with our current neighbours. Without consultation, their gardener hacked our dividing hedge down from 20 foot to six foot, completely destroying our precious privacy in the process. Livid was the word. What utter jerks. Relations thawed when, having spotted I’d had major surgery, the female of the household brought round a placatory bunch of flowers. There followed a series of get-togethers and we gradually became BFF.

It makes me emotional just thinking about how we bolstered each other through the proper prisoner-in-your-own-home part of lockdown. We ranted, we raved, we cried, we laughed, and a hideous amount of empty rosé bottles found their way into the recycling. Hell, we even chopped the hedge a bit more so we could see their lovely faces across the two-metre divide. We’ve made them pinky promise to never move house, ever.

The Bible preaches ‘thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ but, at least in my experience, it’s not always so straightforward. My earliest recollection of dodgy neighbours was actually in Majorca. I, my sister, parents, aunt, and grandparents were spending summer in the family holiday home and our neighbours had allowed their teenage son(s) a lads’ weekend. The loud music and foul language was already intolerable but, when a balcony ketchup fight attracted an army of ants, my grandfather grabbed a broom handle and marched round to give them what for. I’m not entirely sure what he planned to do with the broom handle. For good measure, he then clambered on a stool and reached over to secretly turn off their stopcock. Although a lack of water certainly wouldn’t have helped clear up the ketchup, it made Grandpa feel better knowing the louts were living in shower-less misery for a day or two.

From the age of around 12 to 18, we shared our boundary with a charming family of five. My sister and I would often be asked to babysit, and we’d regularly pass the youngest curly-haired blondie over the fence for cuddles. Suburban bliss. That is until my uncle passed away and Dad inherited his over-sprung air rifle. Each weekend, he’d stack up tin cans and together we’d fire pellet after pellet until they ran out. One day, a blackbird appeared on the neighbour’s chimney and Dad thought he’d scare it with a warning shot. Trouble is, the sights (and his sight) were off and, before we knew it, there was an ear-piercing wail as aforementioned blondie found a blood-splattered bundle of feathers outside her kitchen door. The situation was slightly salvaged by hosting a dignified burial in the back garden, although she continued to eye Dad suspiciously thereon in. I also blotted my copybook by selecting dark fantasy novel The Witches by Roald Dahl as a bedtime story for the six-year-old. She proceeded to have nightmares and wet herself. I had to hose her down and change her sheets. The lady in question is now an acclaimed singer-songwriter living in LA, so hopefully I didn’t damage her too much.

Aged 21, I moved into the holiday home and worked as a bargirl in Magalluf. My new neighbour was a devastatingly handsome Spaniard. Our bathrooms each had jalousie windows separated by a ventilation shaft. Coincidentally (coincidence my ass), each time I showered, he’d magically appear in his birthday suit and gaze lasciviously at me through the glass slats. We never exchanged a word, but it made for a deeply uncomfortable summer.

Safely back in the UK, my then boyfriend and I settled in a two-up two-down terrace in southwest London. We were blessed with the sweetest elderly Italian couple as neighbours, and they nigh-on adopted us. If we pottered in the garden, chilled cans of beer would spontaneously be passed over the fence and, after a long day at work, platefuls of pasta would miraculously appear on the doorstep. They didn’t even fall out with us when my other half forgot his key and was tipsily hollering at comatose me in the wee small hours. As he resorted to throwing stones at the upstairs bedroom window, the dressing-gown clad Italians emerged with a spare key. We showered them with chocolates and apologies in return. It was a sad day when we moved on and hugged them goodbye.

It’s not always easy to live harmoniously with your neighbours but, before you reach for the broom handle, remember they’ll be your only company if, heaven forbid, we get that dreaded second wave.

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