The retired university lecturer idling on his patio pompously removed his spectacles, folded his Guardian, and strolled toward the intruding vehicle. 'This is private property,' he shouted over the pounding of the car stereo. 'Yeah,' I beamed, clutching a box and kicking the door shut: 'We're your new neighbours]'
The new kids on the block had arrived.
My brother and I had completed our student days in Leeds so it was time, we felt, to live in surroundings commensurate with our new salaries. The prospect of another hot summer in our squalid rented house was unthinkably unhygienic. The plumbing was 'in need of some modernisation': the toilet could only be flushed by the contents of a bucket, and in winter a bath in two inches of water from a lethal-looking gas heater was unbearable if you were bare. Best to keep your T-shirt on.
The washing-line in the back yard bowed under the weight of dead mice hung up by their tails as testament to the daily terror of us tenants. 'Who'd live in a house like this?' exclaimed our father. He wasn't looking through the keyhole. The door had fallen off.
'It's time to put your money into bricks and mortar. There's nothing like it,' he droned on, as he perched on the broken settee in his overcoat by the dangling gas fire. A slug was crawling over his shoe and we could see he was talking sense.
So we went to the Leeds and came out smiling at their offer of a 100 per cent mortgage on Flat 3, Redhill. There was a 'tastefully converted Top Floor, comprising a huge dining kitchen and spacious reception with exposed beams and feature fireplace', and two elegant bedrooms - 'all great for entertaining' (nudge nudge, wink wink). For the same money we could have had a terraced place with a garden, but Andrew and I agreed we didn't want to live near children and we needed the floor-space for parties. So we moved in lock, very little stock and several barrels of Tetley's.
Stamp duty and solicitors cleared us out, so we were down to pounds 100 for furniture. I'd had my eye on a jukebox so, in complete agreement over our priorities, we splashed out on a 1963 Rockola Capri and a camping stove. This left enough for a few basics. Our shopping list for the house-warming read 'booze, fags, light bulbs'.
We didn't invite the neighbours because they looked like parents. But on 1 January 1984 I was awakened by Mrs D from downstairs goose-stepping past the door of my 'large sunny master bedroom with fitted wardrobes'. As I collected my thoughts and clothes from the floor she bellowed that she'd been forced to adopt this gait in order to demonstrate the impact of rhythmically pounding footsteps on bare floorboards which was bringing down her lavishly Artexed ceiling.
I couldn't deny the success of the previous night's 'select soiree' of about 75 mates, many of whom were still sprawled semi-naked and semi-conscious among the cans and fag-ends on the 'ample floor space of the large central entrance hall with feature window offering views to the rear'.
I made a mental note to invite her to the next bash - in a couple of months, for Valentine's Day. After all, she was reasonably well-preserved and we had her down as a bit of a swinger because of her beefy Yorkshire gentleman caller. He'd arrive every Friday evening after a hard week's graft as a bloody self-made man. They'd softly play Perry Como LPs into the night and on Saturdays enjoy what we were convinced was a post-coital session on their luxury sun loungers, topping up their tans between holidays in the Med. It was rumoured that he had a little cabin cruiser and so we courted his friendship on the 'sweeping communal dog-leg staircase' on the off-chance we'd get a free holiday afloat.
Ironically it was some dog's leg that sank that plan. When the Ds visited their usual sun-trap on the lawn one weekend Mrs D put her open-toed gold sandal in something quite inhuman. Nobody in the flats had a dog but as we were 'the only children', the blame - and some of the evidence - was laid firmly at our door. We were used to being accused of everything else - the door mats hanging in the trees (it had seemed amusing on the way home from the pub), the nicked light bulbs from the stairs (we'd never got round to buying those essentials), and urinating on the patio (actually our guest didn't trespass, he did it from our living room window) - but this just stank.
We refused to move the offending pile of poop and sprinkled it with sugar strands to make it easier on the eye. The Ds were just as stubborn so we queued up at our bathroom window for a peep at the couple sipping cocktails either side of what now looked like a steaming great birthday cake.
Our neighbours had the last laugh. We were summoned to a residents' meeting. It was held in Hi-Fi's flat, so called because he was always telling us to turn ours down. 'Actually it's a 1963 Rocko . . .'
He tiptoed between the carefully arranged Stag furniture, meanly trickling sherry into tiny glasses. On the settee, which was the dock, all eyes were on us as we were treated to lemonade - in sherry glasses.
With his back to the once-grand fireplace that now housed his shaky two-bar electric fire, he opened the proceedings by accusing us of sending smoke down our chimney to persecute him.
I'd gone along to suggest we dig up the lawn and put in a swimming pool but I was too gobsmacked to speak. That he could claim our fire defied gravity defied belief. But he was the lessor and he was going to revoke our lease. Before we called his bluff we called the estate agent.
We'd both got jobs in London and we were on the move again.
I was pleased that most of the flats around my new one 'in a desirable residential area of north London' were inhabited by groovy-looking single professionals or young childless couples. Again I went for interior space. 'A two-bedroom conversion with rear south-facing garden' would have cost me the same as my 'four-bed duplex'. I moved in with my boyfriend and several other chums, reflecting my continuing commitment to a sociable open-door lifestyle.
Now, when we had parties, the neighbours just drifted in. They'd all come to the capital seeking bright lights and this time I'd bought bulbs as well as booze and fags. Traffic pounded the road outside at all times of the day and night. This was the heart of the city and their stereos were its beat.
In hot weather I'd take my ghetto blaster to the park or open- air pool and mentally congratulate Haringey council for spending the sky-high rates on the upkeep of facilities for the common good. I got a warm glow on learning that the new poll tax was funding more nursery places than in any other borough. I had community spirit even though I had no children.
Then I had a child. Suddenly I felt caged in my first-floor flat. The park suddenly seemed splattered with dog shit. The pool was dangerous, the schools derelict. The filthy exhaust fumes from the relentless stream of cars was poisoning me and the baby. The boisterous neighbours constantly woke him up.
I complained about the hi-fi downstairs and I leant out of the 'elegant sash window with Victorian etched glass' and screamed to a bloke hammering next door to 'shut the fuck up]'
I was crushed by the possibility that I was turning into Mrs D. Perhaps my needs had changed and I could no longer dwell in the past. We needed a garden, open space where Sam could run and pick buttercups, not bottle tops. We needed farm animals not party animals and a good school before a good wine bar.
Our new 'des res' in an unspoilt corner of the shire counties is 'within easy access of a BR fast link to the city and within walking distance of the village hall'. Good, at least I won't miss the tea- towel competition or posy-in-an-egg-cup display. It's 'in need of extensive replumbing and deinfestation treatment' and the rooms are a bit poky. But the 'secluded extensive gardens' will be just right for a marquee and if we put the jukebox on the patio next to the bar . . .
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