Banging the gong: Poor partitions reveal more about the neighbourhood than a survey ever can

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The Independent Online
Noise complaints are up 20 per cent? Anyone living in London will sympathise with that. Yet the number of rows in our poorly sound-insulated hereditaments is strangely an indicator of financial and social worth. You can tell if an area has arrived, is up and coming or in blissful simplicity by your own attitude to the man upstairs who is learning to play the steel pans, or to the cellist opposite. When I bought my Notting Hill flat I was thrilled to have my writing interrupted by a drummer from The Clash. That was 12 years ago.

My first noise crisis occurred in the mid-Eighties. Two young naval officers had moved in downstairs. Property values were on the way up. The baby Nelsons, hopelessly in love, liked to wake up at 6am and play AC DC's Thunderstruck at bottom-wobbling volume. Once, I suppose, I would have said, 'This is karma'. But after the third morning I objected, politely.

The naval officers were not impressed. That night one of them came up to see us. My wife let him in, thinking he was going to say sorry. I was languishing on the settee in a silk dressing gown patterned wIth large pink bunnies. The man did not apologise. Instead he quickly showed us a shoulder holster under his coat and said he had a gun and access to more. He paid a lot for the flat and it was his right to play Thunderstruck.

My bunnies and I eased him out of the door while Alice dialled 999. The chap argued for a while and then ran off when the police arrived, straight on to their shiny guns. We had obviously arrived as an area. The naval officers departed a few days later. 'Nice dressing gown, sir,' remarked one of London's finest.

The real wake-up noise at that flat was quite endearing. The footballer Paul Gascoigne was 'walking out' with a model who lived across the way. Our bathroom joined her bedroom. The partition was too thin even for the most restrained coitus on the other side, let alone an emotional son of Newcastle. As I read my Catholic Herald on the loo I felt like shouting, 'And it's a goal, Gazza]' When he went to Lazio there was a gap in my nights, if not life itself.

I knew it was the moment to get out when a nursing home bought the entire stucco block opposite. Music that had changed subtly over the years now was replaced by Russ Conway and the Billy Cotton Band Show. But still at 100 watts a channel. The oldies would sit outside and turn up their hearing aids, twitching along to Chopsticks and Roll Out The Barrel. Somehow trying to write a novel is harder to serial Roll Out The Barrel than it is to Thunderstruck. It was time to go.

In my new Brackenbury home there is a spirit of tolerance lost among the suits of Notting Hill. Incomers tend to own all of their houses and are rather surprised and pleased about this, and determined not to upset the nice folk next door. But there are exceptions. Suddenly one day, from streets away, the music was so loud you could feel it in your fillings. No one complained and the party stopped only when the hostess set fire to the garden and herself. Estate agents still talk of the area as 'vibrant'.

The worst of all possible worlds must be to live in Hackney, have spent a fortune on one's dwelling place and thus be somewhat miffed at the heave and rumble of the sound systems. 'I can hear those wretched drums again, darling] I just don't know how much more I can take]' one's wealthy Labour friends say at dinner parties.

But there is also the right to make a bit of noise. My friend and mentor Hunter S Thompson once defined privacy as being able to play White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane at full volume while simultaneously ringing giant Burmese gongs at the four corners of one's property with a .357 magnum. The romantic in me agrees. It's all our own fault in London. We buy houses and flats we have surveyed for everything else except noise, knowing we can hear every creak of Gazza's knee through the partition wall. These walls were built without a consideration for any footballer's privacy, only profit.

We need proper insulation as they have in Scotland. Then, with Hunter and Gazza, we will all be able to bang the gong.

(Photograph omitted)

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