Rebecca Tyrrel: Days Like Those

'I am determined things will be different. Matthew is determined they will be exactly the same'
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The Independent Online

We have new neighbours in the garden flat next door and Matthew's response to my suggestion that we pop round and introduce ourselves is to look at me suspiciously and say, "Have you gone mad? This is the crack-dealing tourist centre of Shepherd's Bush, not Ambridge."

He also pointed out that this time last year we had new neighbours in the house on the other side, and that aside from exchanging the odd plastic smile we have had nothing to do with them since their arrival 12 months ago. While this is true, I would like to think that it would be extremely hard to get off to quite such a bad start with these fresh new neighbours on our left, the ones on the right having arrived to find me stuck and flailing in the skip that had been parked outside their house by the previous inhabitants. I had been foraging for some willow-pattern vases and white soup bowls and was waving a hardly soiled black umbrella at Matthew to come to my rescue.

"Well, that's that," I said forlornly as they had walked, speechlessly, into their new house, "they won't have anything to do with us now."

"Good," said Matthew, "because we certainly won't be having anything to do with them. They have a 'Little Person on Board,' sticker in the back of their car that I find almost as offensive as a swastika."

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In the light of that debacle, I would like to think that the new arrivals in the house on the left bring with them the opportunity for redemption and peace. Ever since 93-year-old Peggy died seven years ago, her garden flat has been home to a succession of increasingly noisy, barbecue-loving Australians and I am hoping that if we get off to a good start with these latest incumbents we can negotiate some kind of timetable that will rule out any rowdy Fosters-drinking activities after 9pm. Matthew has never been too bothered about the noise, although he did have sharp words with one young man who had screamed triumphantly when Arsenal scored against Spurs. "So," I tell him, "a quick introduction and a chat could be fruitful. You could sort out any sporting differences in a neighbourly way before acrimony sets in."

But while this time I am determined things will be different, it would appear Matthew is determined they will be exactly the same. I have popped round five times recently to introduce myself and, to his smug satisfaction, the new neighbours have yet to answer my knock; although I am sure they have been in.

"They're obviously not fools," said Matthew when I returned from my latest visit. "Most people need at least an hour of knowing us to decide that they hate us. This couple have come to the right conclusion without so much as exchanging a single word. I am impressed."

I then put forward my own theory that the couple on the other side with the baby sticker had already been round to introduce themselves and probably warned the new neighbours about the skip-scavenging madwoman.

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"What I don't understand," said Matthew, "is why you are going to all this effort. You are the most antisocial person in history. You make Howard Hughes look like Christopher Biggins during the Christmas party season. Come on, I'll pop the last of the sake in the microwave and we'll drink a toast to our magnificent isolation and swear a solemn oath never to introduce ourselves to our neighbours ever again."

Sake (hot Japanese rice wine) is Matthew's latest obsession. He says it makes him feel love for everyone, and he so enjoyed getting mellow on it recently that he has ordered several cases from the Japan Centre in Piccadilly. These have yet to arrive, and he rings the store two or three times a day to check their progress. Eventually, he is told that they will be with us sometime within the next 24 hours and, sure enough, the following afternoon we return home to find that Parcelforce have left a note. It seems the new neighbours have kindly taken in the sake for us.

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"You'll have to go and get it," says Matthew, "I've sworn a solemn oath."

"So have I."

"I swore it first."

And so it went on until I stormed upstairs.

I came down several hours later after having taken an afternoon nap to avoid watching Matthew watching rugby and found that he was sitting next to a stranger on the sofa and they were both singing what I later learnt was a Swedish folk-song. When they saw me they stopped singing and Matthew introduced me to the stranger in a voice very like that of the Swedish chef from the Muppets.

"For sure I am pleased for you to meet Peter," he said, "This is being Peter and he lives next door and this, Peter, is being my wife Rebecca, the mad skip lady." Then he told me, "Peter is from Stockholm, which is being the capital city of Schveeeden you see? He moved to London, OK, with girlfriend to be working in computers."

From all this I gather that Peter has handed over the four cases of sake.

"Hello Rebecca," says Peter with a slightly discernible trace of a Swedish accent, "Pleasure to meet you. Matthew has been entertaining me with English rugby and Japanese rice wine and I have been teaching him some Swedish songs. You have a very beautiful home."

I thank him for this obvious lie and return back upstairs to draw up a timetable that will ensure that all rowdy sake drinking-related activities end before 9pm.

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