I'm someone who, unless it's birdsong, just stand the noise of music in other people's gardens. Or, indeed, my own, unless it is firmly plugged into my ear. Gardens are for peace and quiet, not Radio 2. But there is absolutely no point in Kath's moving until she has screwed up her courage and at least asked her neighbour to turn her radio down when she's in the garden. Or, since she's got environmental law on her side, she need only get the signatures of a few neighbours and make a diary of times it plays to justify visits from an officer who may well be able to tell the neighbour to turn her radio off without involving Kath at all.
I've asked masses of people to turn their music down, and it's astonishing how many will do as you ask. They have no idea they're being a nuisance. It's important to address them face to face; a letter, however polite, looks aggressive to some people, who see it as "official" in some way.
But why Kath can't simply go round and ask her is beyond me. I know how scary it can be, but maybe she could get together with other non-aggressive neighbours and face this creature together. Each individual may be shivering like a little mouse as they stand on the doorstep, but five or six gathering politely to ask this lady to turn her radio down is not against the law, and yet can look as if they mean serious business - simply by their sheer numbers.
My last success was with an extremely aggressive drunk who had fallen into a stupor while playing his radio. As I said "Excuse me!" very loudly and politely over the fence, I was astonished when an upstairs window in an adjoining house was flung up and, in the belting tones of a fishwife, a complete stranger screamed: "Oy! You!" This woke up the drunken radio- player and before he knew where he was the poor man was trapped in the middle of a two-pronged attack, one below from patient, rational old me who addressed the man with great formality and civility, producing lawyer-like reasons for turning the radio off, and one from above, a hysterical tirade of abuse. The finale came when he lurched up and yelled that I couldn't tell him to do anything, it was his garden and he could do what he liked. I replied that, until I could get the law enforced, which I had no intention of doing unless driven to it, as I wish to remain friends, I wasn't telling him, I was begging him. Whereupon the creature in the upstairs window shrieked down: "Can you hear what she's saying? She wants to be fucking friends! She's not fucking telling you, she's fucking begging you, you fuck-face!" Between us we silenced him for months, until he was killed in a stabbing incident with a friend to whom he owed a tenner.
Perhaps Kath could enlist the help of someone with more nous than her, while she addresses the environmental health and legal arguments on the one hand, the other could express the emotional side of the issue in more vocal language, good policeman and bad policeman style.
A professor has recently claimed to invent a machine that, by sending out silent sound waves, can blot out the sound of neighbourhood radios. Until then, Kath has to send out her own personal sound waves - reasoned conversation and calls to the environmental health office - to shut her neighbour up.
what readers say
Try asking her to stop
We have suffered from a similar plight involving a noisy neighbour who, during spring, summer and autumn for the past two years, has regularly opened the patio doors and turned on either music or a keep-fit video. This seems to create ideal acoustic conditions for the sound to bellow into our garden and adjoining property.
I suggest the following possibilities, which I and my partner have tried with varying success:
1. Use an intermediary: speak to the neighbour's partner or a mutual friend or acquaintance. The comments can be put in humorous terms - "change the channel", or "turn it down".
I have spoken to the neighbour's child (in exasperation one Saturday morning): "please ask if they can turn it down". It worked immediately.
2. Open your window and play The Archers full blast. Provides immediate relief - but you lose the moral high ground.
Approach the authorities
I can sympathise a lot with Kath. I would advise her to keep a diary of disturbances when the noise again becomes a regular occurrence.
She should note the date, "tune on", "tune off", a description of the noise and details of how it disturbs her. After two to three weeks she should review her diary and if she still feels aggrieved by the noise she should approach the Environmental Health officers, who investigate allegations of noise nuisance.
This may lead to the EHO serving a notice on the perpetrator of the noise under section 80 of the Environments Protection Act 1990.
I note that Kath describes the perpetrator as "very aggressive" and she should warn the EHO of this. With any luck, if the neighbour is as bad as Kath says, she will already be known by the council for some reason. They may have received other complaints about noise, for example. (That would be lucky.)
If a notice is served, it will require the perpetrator to cease causing the nuisance. Contravention of the notice (which would have to be witnessed by the EHO) can lead to a number of punitive measures including seizure of the offending equipment, and prosecution. Fines imposed by the magistrate's court can be up to pounds 5,000 per offence from domestic premises.
If Kath moved, she might find herself in a worse situation. She should be objective, and not get obsessed. It could be that she is too sensitive to noise, and completely neurotic, but she should definitely contact an EHO for advice.
Be more neighbourly
I wonder what sort of neighbourhood Kath lives in.
Is it one where everyone "keeps themselves to themselves"? Kath's radio- playing neighbour may be irritating other people, too, but maybe it's the sort of area where no one feels it's their "place" to say so.
Difficulties with neighbours are often exacerbated by lack of contact. In our inner city neighbourhood people make it their business to try to make a connection with all the folks living around them, so that problems have solutions. If people feel part of a larger community they are less likely to cause trouble in it.
Rather than moving away, try moving towards your neighbour and your neighbourhood. As you rightly point out, Kath, it could happen wherever you are. Good communication and kindliness are often a basis from which day-to-day living issues within any community can be tackled and resolved.
Gillian Booth (Ms)
Give her a Walkman
For less than pounds 30 Kath could buy a Walkman with radio. She could then send it anonymously to her noisy neighbour under the pretext that the latter has been fortunate enough to win it in an obscure, random prize draw. With any luck Kath's neighbour will use the Walkman instead of her normal radio and peace will reign at last. Cheaper than moving house, and no messy, stressful confrontation involved.
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