Rebecca Tyrrel: Days Like Those

'My concerns are centred around what our new neighbours will make of us, or more specifically, Matthew'
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The Independent Online

Our next-door neighbours of the past 10 years are moving out at the end of the week and, sad as we are to see them go, our thoughts, naturally, turn to their successors. "I just hope they are nice, quiet, sane people," Matthew says, around 30 times a day, "You know I can't be doing with noisy eccentrics."

My own concerns are centred around what our new neighbours will make of us, or, more specifically, of Matthew. Even though the two houses share no party walls they will certainly hear him noisily and eccentrically screaming "52! 20! 65!" every weekday at 5.15pm, as he tries to guess the ages of the contestants on The Weakest Link, a nano-second before they announce it themselves. Later he can be heard just as noisily and eccentrically shouting "95! 60! 100!" as he takes to his dart-board, and then it is only a matter of a few minutes before he embarks on his impersonation of Sid Waddell, darts commentator: "Matthew, you require 146." And eventually, as the game draws to a close, "Yaisss, game shot and the leg, Matthew!!!!"

From the upstairs window at the back he can be sighted leaving for work at 9am, (you can set your clock by this event) shuffling up the garden path to his office shed, sometimes shielding his head from the rain with the pink, plastic Barbie umbrella left behind a few years ago by a small, female visitor. And from the front, as they pass to and fro, going about their daily business, the new neighbours may be fascinated to note that the sitting room window is wide open on the coldest days of the year, despite (or as Matthew would have it, because of) a log fire that he has constructed, blazing away in the grate with an intensity to match Windsor Castle.

* If the newcomers to the 'hood ever return home after midnight, they may well catch a glimpse of a sinister, rocking silhouette at the downstairs, front window. This will not be Norman Bates dressed up as Mrs Bates, it will be Matthew watching over the front garden because he believes passers by are stealing his logs. And in high summer the pieces of string stretched across our windows, from which dangle the corpses of wasps, can be clearly seen. They are there to ward off the wasps brethren. Matthew has a wasp phobia.

I pointed all these factors out to him this evening during the brief hiatus between Anne Robinson and Sid Waddell, and he smiled at me sardonically and said, "Oh yes, I'm the weirdo, you're just the one who fixates on the departing neighbours chattels and raids their skip in the middle of the night."

* Matthew is quite right in saying that I have made the odd foray to the skip that has been hired by the departing neighbours. But I don't believe this is eccentric; indeed I think I deserve praise, rather than this ridicule, for demonstrating precisely the same commitment to economising as I do when I make my frequent trips to Oxfam. And while it is true that I have been obsessing slightly over the four willow-pattern vases sitting in a row on the departing neighbours' upstairs landing window sill, which we can see every time we journey up or down our own stairs, there is a reason for this preoccupation.

Those vases have been a source of comfort to me over the years; a symbol of permanence in an ever-changing world. I will miss them when they are gone and the fact that they seem to be being removed one by one on a one-per-day-basis is making it all the harder for me to come to terms with the idea of a future without them.

I imagine their gradual removal has to do with the careful wrapping and packing process, for I doubt they will be making their way into the skip, which is a shame.

Still, swings and roundabouts; I am very happy with the white soup bowls I recovered last night. I am making a Tuscan bean soup to celebrate and we'll have it for supper, after the darts, with a bottle of Orvieto.

Matthew is looking more demented than ever today. He has a plaster on his top lip that curls around either side of his nostrils. This is because he cut himself while sipping from one of the white soup bowls which, on closer inspection, was badly chipped. This is probably why they were consigned to the skip.

I 'm fairly sure the new neighbours will have seen him with his plaster, indeed will have seen both of us as we made a journey up the path late this morning. Matthew had phoned me in the house to say that he was marooned in his office shed without his Barbie umbrella and could I come and collect him, bringing it with me. The two of us just fitted underneath it.

Then this afternoon they definitely saw us as they returned from a shopping trip. I was, by this time, actually in the skip, right inside it, shouting loudly for Matthew to come and help me out.

I introduced myself and said it would be nice if they popped over sometime for a drink. They muttered something about getting back to us on that.

* And then they disappeared through their front door, into their new home, but not before I shouted excitedly, "I've found it! I've found it! A willow pattern vase! Slightly chipped but no matter. And look - here's a black umbrella, only two spokes missing, you can get rid of Barbie!"

"What's wrong with Barbie?" asked Matthew, as he hauled me out of the skip, "She keeps me dry."

I told him the black one would be more suitable. "We don't want the new neighbours thinking we are odd."

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