The house is a dream. The neighbour is a nightmare

Angela Lambert withstood abusive calls, blaring radios and spying. But then came the brick through the window...
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The Independent Online
I suffered a bad neighbour for 12 years, and although I may never love another house as much - the perfect, rambling, tall and many-roomed Victorian family home - our neighbour (let me call her Alice, which wasn't her name) drove us away in the end. She was spiteful, cunning, obsessional, opportunistic and devious. In retrospect, I think the sad truth is that she was probably just desperately lonely and deeply envious of our noisy, busy family life.

Alice was a single woman in her fifties when I, then a young divorcee, moved in to the house next to hers, along with my three children and our caravan of cats, rabbits, au pair girls, friends and followers. Our new neighbour came, I suspect, from what used to be called "a good family"; at any rate, she bore a famous surname.

Although her house was large and double-fronted - twice the size of ours, with at least eight bedrooms and four grand reception rooms - she lived alone, and never had visitors. In the early days, when I still believed that a sensible chat over a nice cup of tea would surely sort things out, I sometimes knocked on her door. I think I set foot inside the house once, but never got beyond the kitchen or saw into the other rooms whose curtains were usually drawn. She even gardened by torchlight, and seemed to be a complete recluse.

Alice pretended that a number of old ladies lived in her care, although I never saw any; not in the garden (which was large) or the kitchen (whose window faced ours). If they did exist, I pity them, but they were probably a figment of her imagination, used to add weight and self-righteousness to her complaints about our behaviour.

Our two houses shared a party wall, and Alice evidently slept in the bedroom adjoining mine on the other side. She must have spent hours with her ear pressed to a glass pressed against my bedroom wall; at any rate, her frequent telephonic abuse (often in ludicrous disguised voices) betrayed a startlingly accurate knowledge of what went on in there. When she was particularly exercised about some imaginary misdemeanour of mine she would get up at 4am, stand on the other side of the wall inches from the head of my bed and rattle a teacup in its saucer, saying piercingly to some imaginary old lady, "Here you are dear, I've brought you a nice cup of tea!" Then she would switch the radio on, tune in to Radio One and leave it to blare fortissimo until she caught sight of me in the kitchen and was satisfied that I had been roused.

After more than a year of this I tried taking her to court for breach of my right to enjoy the quiet pleasure of my home. This was a mistake. The dawn awakening by teacup and Radio One became worse than ever, and she counter-sued for disturbance and noise. On the day of the court case she withdrew her claim and I, scenting peace, agreed to withdraw mine. I was wrong. Her attacks redoubled, until the very air of my rooms vibrated with the intensity of her hatred. I felt she watched us night and day - nor was this paranoia, as her lengthy missives proved. She spied on all our activities, abusing my teenage daughter with most unspinsterlike obscenities as the poor girl kissed her boyfriend goodnight on our front doorstep, hurled insults at my mild-mannered son and tried to electrocute our pet rabbits.

She made phone calls to the police. Once she claimed that my son and several friends were on the roof, hurling tiles and lumps of earth and moss into her garden. The police arrived on our doorstep - more for the protection of the boys, I think, than in response to Alice - and rang the doorbell. As luck would have it, the door was opened promptly by my accused son, Johnnie. A policeman asked to see his hands. Baffled and innocent, Johnnie extended palms that, for once, were spotless. "All right, sonny. You ever climb on the roof, by the way?"

"No" said Johnnie, with the air of one upon whom a great idea has dawned.

"Well don't, will you? It's dangerous." said the policeman as he left, winking sympathetically at me.

None of this made any difference to Alice, whose persecution grew increasingly demented. She would deliver elaborate letters, typed entirely in capitals. They assumed a tone of heavy irony along the lines of: "Well, Mrs Lambert, perhaps now you're satisfied! Four old ladies now live in terror of your approach, persecuted by you and your dear children. That must be very gratifying to your self-esteem." There would be pages more in the same vein. She even hurled a brick through my beautiful late-Victorian stained glass door, and then called to provide a detailed description of the "street- urchin" who, she said, had done the deed.

That was the last straw. I thought her next violence might be directed against us. We felt we had no option but to give up our much-loved home. We moved far away from Alice. Her feud against us had always seemed pointless. Only now can I regard her with some sympathy. It does seem perfectly obvious to me that she was stark-raving crackers. Noise and its effects on your health Accordng to the scientific experts, noise can have serious detrimental effects on health. It causes stress, anxiety and depression; heightens aggression and deprives the sufferer of sleep and relaxation. Very loud noise (over 60 decibels) can increase t he heart rate, leading to palpitations or even angina and heart disease. Some believe it has a greater physical effect on the body than any other pollutant. A survey carried out by the Building Research Establishment last year found that up to two thirds of the population are regularly exposed to levels of noise above the 35-decibel limit recommended by the World Health organisation.

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