Never underestimate the impact bad neighbours have on the mood and psyche of a person living next door.
I live in what’s known in England as a “mid-terrace house.” It was built in the Victorian era, around the turn of the 20th century (1912 to be exact) and I bought it – as opposed to renting someone else’s house – twelve years ago, thinking it would give my son and me some stability. The thing with terraced houses is that they are literally joined to each other, sharing a single wall between each property.
I love my home. It has four floors, three bedrooms, a massive attic room where I store all my crafty bits, and nine foot ceilings in most of the rooms. OK, the bathroom is in the cellar, and makes nighttime needs a bit of a pain, requiring the descent of two flights of stairs from the bedrooms. But that’s what buckets/chamber pots were invented for, isn’t it?
The “garden” is tiny, but I managed even to make that a pleasant place to be. Some of you may remember my efforts to build a raised bed (here) and other bits and bobs (here) and add a few mosaics (here and here). And all in all, it has been a peaceful domicile, my safe haven.
Then my next-door neighbours of eight years decided to move out and rent their home. The most recent couple that moved in happened to be related to my neighbours on the other side of me, so I hoped they would be as friendly and respectful as their family members. But I was to be proved wrong very quickly. Within a week, the male of the family (man, woman and toddler) decided to move several “pit bikes” (small motorbikes) that he was fixing up into his cellar only minutes after riding them, and my house was consumed by the smell of diesel – a migrainous odour that seeped in to every crevice of my house (and, I assume, theirs) for several days, even after the bikes were removed.
The couple’s communication seemed to be a long-range affair (shouting at each other from one room to another) and became quickly and progressively hostile. The language grew nastier, and despite my best efforts to keep myself calm in the whirlwind that has become my own life by listening to classical music, crocheting, reading, or writing this blog, my attempts to meditate became futile: drowned out by heavy basslines, screaming arguments, foul language, and the smashing of furniture. Add to this the continued barking of two pitbulls (brought in, no doubt, to ward off anyone tempted to thwart my neighbours’ new business venture of cultivating Cannabis plants in their loft) and you may imagine there was little chance of respite. On one particularly bad morning, hearing her screaming, the child screaming, and what sounded like him beating one or the other or both, I banged on their front door and attempted to intervene – only to be met with a tirade of verbal abuse, threats and warnings to “mind your own f—ing business, you dirty troll” … from her!
God knows I felt for the child. I know I should have called Children’s Services and reported what I heard – but the father was, at best, a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal and, quite possibly (from what I heard from my side of the wall) a misogynist arsehole who had no qualms about physically and verbally assaulting a woman. And I admit I was too scared to pick up the phone. Yet it all seemed so unfair to listen to the cries of that baby, knowing that parents like that were able to keep their children, and I had lost mine for so much less.
The noise and hostility were relentless. No particular time of the day seemed to be off limits. Neither one of the couple worked nor seemed to have any reason to leave the house, so the tempers could fray in the morning, afternoon, evening, and, more often than not, after midnight. I have taken to spending most of my waking hours away from what used to be my home and refuge. I haven’t watched Jeremy Kyle on daytime television in weeks! Instead, I catch a bus into town and sit in the library, or join an activity at MIND, or sit and drink coffee at a local community centre. I have become something of a “bag lady” wandering the streets with my tote full of unfinished crochet projects, books, and a variety of hooks and yarns.
The day-in, day-out anger, aggression, and negativity that has been permeating my once-peaceful house would, I imagine, drain the lifeblood from even the most right-minded person. But topping that with my current state of mind: with my own depressive episodes, my own life trials, my own pinings for my son, and my own hollow emptiness, the daily drip, drip, dripping of hateful emotions from next door succeeded in destroying my soul.
I walked out of my front door yesterday morning to be greeted by next door’s landlord and original owner standing over several pieces of broken furniture dumped on the front doorstep. Apparently, the couple had not been paying their rent for the last few months, and they have been evicted. The landlord was not a happy man, in fact he was fuming, and I felt a little embarrassed for the smile that crossed my face when he told me they had gone. He asked me if I had seen the state of his house, and he showed me inside. I only saw the living room, but that was enough. The carpets had been pulled up, and the laminate flooring was so soaked through and stained it had to be destroyed. The house wreaked of urine and mould where the dogs (I assume?) had used the rooms as a toilet, and the internal wooden doors were shredded, glass frames broken, and shelves pulled from the walls.
I feel for the owners of the property. They are a young, quiet couple who chose to hold onto the property as a nest egg for their daughter when she grows up. They have only had two tenancies since they began to rent their house out, and both have been disastrous. The first couple flooded the upstairs bathroom twice, causing the kitchen ceiling to fall through, and the property had to be fumigated five times to completely destroy a massive flea infestation. Both sets of tenants have been violent, loud, reckless, inconsiderate, and just downright dirty, necessitating major repairs and full redecorations after they left.
I will be selling my own house in the next few months. I can’t afford the mortgage now that I’ve lost my job. More than that, it’s an awfully empty place without my son and too full of memories and unfulfilled dreams of a happy family life. I did consider renting it out myself, but having seen how next door’s tenants have brutalised the property, it would break my heart to think that anyone might treat my home that way – so I’m selling up and moving on.
Meanwhile, the landlord next door already has his next tenant lined up – ETA is two weeks time.
(Have a listen to this song. If only it had been about loud music and stupid laughter! But it put a smile on my face when I listened. Thanks, David)
© Alice through the Macro Lens