My new neighbour
As I mentioned in my previous piece, I have a new neighbour. I will call him Ben, and he is in his late 50's and is short and has white hair. He has a lovely deep voice, which I can sometimes hear through the joint walls. He works as a property developer, so when he bought the house we neighbours all thought he would do it up and sell it on for a huge profit. He is divorced, but is friendly with his wife who lives on the next block, next door to my bridge friend whom I shall call Amy.
He has two daughters, one who lives and works in Manchester and the other lives abroad.
I started out with high expectations about him. "Ben is such a good neighbour," Amy said. "When my husband was ill, he was here all the time, doing jobs for me, and making casseroles." He doesn't still live with his ex-wife, but in the garden of the property where she lives, they are jointly building a house from scratch which the ex-wife will live in. Then the plan is to sell the big expensive house and share the proceeds. I get my insider information from Amy.
Ben bought the house, which I thought was greatly overpriced as £320,000 for a small one
bedroom semi detached with hardly any garden, about November. He may well have got the price down quite a bit as there seemed virtually no interest from anyone else in it. At that stage of my life, I had just had another huge nightmare - drains blocked up and filling up the space under my house.
I really have to explain the geography of the area. We are three identical semi-detatched
properties, built in the early 60's. All the drains from the other five house go together down the bottom of the front gardens and in my garden, they join and meet up with the main sewer. We did have a situation a few years ago, when the other residents of our group (but not me) had backing up drains, but they had to get the water board to investigate from my garden, so a huge mess and smell resulted, but it was solved fairly quickly. But of course, it wasn't really solved at all, because what they didn't know is that the pipe which joins our group to the main one was broken, so all the effluent was enriching my soil
Back to November, we didn't know we had a sewer problem, we just knew we had a smell. Those of you who have read my work before will know that I have been plagued with smells of one sort or another over the past few years, and I decided that the problem in that case was due to our central
heating management system not having been put in properly. That finally got sorted out - after months of arguing with the company.
The smell didn't seem to me the same, but it did come from the same place - the central heating cupboard. And it seemed to get worse when it rained - and also when the heating was on. So I called in lots of plumbers and central heating experts (the people who put it in initially had gone
out of business) and nobody thought of the drains, until finally one man came through the door and said without looking anywhere, "It's your drains," and opened the trap door to the cellar, and what
do you know. Several weeks of effluent had backed back up our drain from our neighbors' leavings. There is a sewer drain cover, but the cover itself had been lifted up by the pressure of the fluids. The
floor was about half covered, and it wasn't more than a few inches deep, but boy did it stink.
It was because of the major job that had to be done on the sewer pipe in the garden to mend the problem that my garden was dug up, and the beach hedge taken out for about three feet, and sections of grass and many of the plants destroyed. So in compensation, the water board offered to put in a gate to fill the gap, or replace the hedge. My children and I considered it for a long time - all the various options, and ended up going along with my daughter who likes to clean's idea that I should have the whole garden redone at the same time, to get rid of the evidence of another nightmare - my badger set.
But my first contact with my new neighbour was for me to send a note through his door saying welcome, and that I intended to trim the joint hedge, and was that all right? He was still living in his flat in a nearby block but he visited the house every few days and found my note and came over.
First of all he wanted reassurance about the sewer situation, and I confirmed that there was
nothing for him to do about it. All was well. He then said that he was happy for me to trim the joint hedge. He seemed very friendly and I thought things might work out between us, but then as was leaving he said, "We hopefully won't have many shared problems." So I said, "the previous neighbour, Alan, complained about the noise from my grandchildren and my telephone, but for the most part we got on by being respectful of each other."
"You mean you can hear things through the joint walls?"
"Oh yes, I said, "I could hear his TV and no doubt he could hear mine but as we mostly both had them on at the same times, it didn't matter."
Suddenly the look on his face changed, and I almost think he was regretting his choice in buying the house.
My next contact with him was sending him a Christmas card, and in it I again mentioned that we were hiring a gardener and probably the work on the hedge would start in a few weeks or so. A few days later, he called to me over the fence, and said he had had my card, and that he didn't want
to discuss anything regarding the hedge at the moment. He was abrupt and annoyed sounding - as if he thought I was expecting him to pay part of the hedge trimming process.
Then a few days after that, he talked to my son in the garden and told him to tell me that he was getting his builder to put sound proofing on all the joint walls.
It was about this time, mid January, when the mouse situation came up, and I phoned Ben as the pest man had told me to. He replied that he was off on holiday and would call me when he got back. He also asked if my son had told me about the sound proofing, and I agreed that it was a good idea.
Fast forward a few weeks, and as Ben hadn't called back, I rang him again, in the evening, to give an update on the mouse situation. He answered the phone and had no idea who I was, and when I told him, he said he was in a meeting and could I call back another time. But he was abrupt and rude and that made me not want to share anything more with him.
You are most likely wondering by now where this ramble is taking us. It was St Patrick's Day, and I was awoken by loud voices next door. I wasn't frightened, and knew immediately that it was Ben's voice I could hear so clearly. He was with a woman, who I assumed at the time was probably a girl friend - and they were just getting into bed. She obviously was concerned about the thinness of the joint wall - and his response was to say, "She is such a troublemaker. Three times she has called me trying to get me involved in her life. Three times!!"
I then had the quandary as to whether I tell him that his sound proofing was doing no good at all, or to pretend I hadn't heard. Most people are asleep at 3 a.m. But I worried that I would have the problem of having to overhear his love life for who knew how long. So the next morning, when I took my son a cup of tea in the morning (he shares an even closer wall with Ben) I said, quite loudly. "Did you hear those people last night?" and he agreed that he had. "Do you want to move to another room?" and he said he was happy where he was.
I think either Ben or the woman heard the words, for a few weeks later, the next thing from Amy was "Ben has decided to sound proof the ceilings too."
All his changes and such like meant that he didn't move in until early this month. He sent a note through my letter box saying that having his path spray washed seemed to have put some dirt on my windows. He offered to come and clean it off. I wrote back, "No thank you, I can do it myself." and I did. It was a small enough job.
So there we are.
Yesterday I overheard him first of all talking in the house to a woman, so much for his sound proofing. Then I heard him tell her, obviously a gardener he is planning to use, that our joint hedge was dead and a mess but it couldn't be touched, in a very hard done by sort of voice. I was trimming said hedge which is far from dead on my side. . Somehow I feel I have to respond to that. So I have to go and see him.
Wish me luck.