When I returned from working in Africa to my house in east London, I saw in the neighbour’s garden an Indian woman hanging out clothes on a line. Having come from a land of beaten housegirls, I had supposed that by her small stature and she being involved in domestic chores she was the maid whereas in fact my English neighbours had moved away whilst I was adventuring in the Equatorial Rain Forest and had been replaced by a family fleeing from Idi Amin.
I was humbled and disgusted with my assumption. That Indian lady was the neighbour of the century: Mrs Parmar, senior,
What a love. She held my children when I went for driving lessons and until her moany husband stopped her doing me that favour. One day when the back garden fence was down and the sunflowers were as high as Jack’s beanstalk, she wended her way in a bright yellow sari carrying carefully a typical silver tray. I was indoors with the French windows wide open. She was bringing me daal and puffy breads. Heaven in a garden.
Thirty seven years later and her legs failed her so she was carted off to live with her married son in the next parish.
Then, the next door banging began as the 1930s house once remodelled in 1986 began a new life as a gutted and freshly adorned dwelling. In moved the most tiresome people I’ve ever known.
On the day the family of four moved in, I greeted them and never even got back a nod. I let them off to give them a chance and of course it was possible that they were out and out racists. Sacré bleu! Days passed and I’d hoped for some chat with the woman of the house and at least a miserable attempt at a smile of recognition from the post- teen daughters.
The family fight all day and into the early hours. The three women rarely go anywhere. The mother hangs out washing daily on Mrs Parmar’s same old line. The man of the house has regular times when he comes in and out.
Such screeching goes on which I hear through the walls to the extent that I almost phone the social services for I imagine beatings and hair-pulling and subjugation techniques. The family on the end recently re-housed from their caravan are bad but nothing as downright unneighbourly. I am a long-standing resident, as friendly as hell and I know that one day next door’ll need me.
I’m used to the grown daughter and father on the other side calling each other effing seeyouentees.
Definitely I am making sure my fences are sound because good fences make good neighbours. Really?