Two months ago, Raoul, the man who lives a couple of doors down from us, knocked on my car window as I arrived home from the chiropodist, and announced that his wife had given birth to a son. "How wonderful," I said, despite the fact that after nine years of living less than 50 yards away from Raoul I had never seen him with any female person at all, let alone a wife. So intrigued was I that I started looking out for evidence of Mrs Raoul and little Raoul Jr but there was none. I failed even to find any when late one night I looked in Raoul's dustbin. Embarrassingly I was caught snooping and in the ensuing conversation I learned that the baby and wife live in Acton with the in-laws - where, they feel there is a better class of neighbour - and that Raoul would be joining them within the week.
And so it was that the flat in the house a few doors down became available to let.
When Matthew found out that I had been snooping round Raoul's bins, he said that no good would come of it. I took no notice because Matthew says the same thing about everything. Matthew's late grandfather Stanley was just the same. Whatever you told him he would tell you back that no good would come of it. When we were buying this house nine and half years ago, Stanley cross-examined Matthew about the roof. "Has it got a flat roof?" he asked, and Matthew said, yes, he thought it did have a flat roof and Stanley shook his head and said that no good ever came of a such a roof. And then Matthew remembered that it wasn't a flat roof at all, it was sloping roof. Stanley shook his head again and this time he also pursed his lips and said that no good ever came of a sloping roof. This approach to life has become known to us as Stanley-ic (pronounced Stanlayic) and while the pessimism is almost invariably misplaced, this time, over the matter of Raoul's bins, Matthew was right.
A week after Raoul had departed for Acton, a new couple moved in to his flat. Matthew took a hatred to them the moment the man screamed triumphantly at his television when Arsenal scored against Spurs. Matthew had screamed triumphantly at his own television just half an hour earlier when Spurs had scored against Arsenal. But that didn't matter, and for the rest of the afternoon it was tit-for tat on the screaming at the television front. Then I took a hatred to them that night when they had a party in the garden that went on until 3am. The music was not especially loud, but there was a lot of drunken shouting. Ever since, they have been holding more garden parties than Her Majesty and I have asked Matthew many times to make a complaint, but he always says that moaning about people having fun is too middle-aged, even for him. What he never admits is that he doesn't hear the noise anyway, because he is a very heavy sleeper, and he has no intention of going near the place while it is inhabited by a man who is taller than Peter Crouch and more solid than Mike Tyson.
After one particular garden party that ended at 4.30, a record, I was entirely sleep deprived. So was Matthew. At about 12.30am the noise had reached a level that even he couldn't sleep. We held a council of war and agreed that any personal approach would be dangerous. I suggested we call the police but Matthew said it was unlikely the police would take any interest at all unless the couple's flat were caught on a speed camera. Then we remembered a news story about how the authorities are driving noisy youths in Sydney off the streets by playing Barry Manilow songs very loudly. We had now embarked on one of those conversations which I sincerely hope will never come to anything but know in my heart is leading to embarrassment and humiliation.
And so it was that the people who moved into Raoul's flat were subjected to "You're Just a Devil Woman" by Cliff Richard at 2.30am the next morning. Matthew positioned himself, with industrial headphones, on the other side of their garden wall with a ghetto blaster turned up very, very loud.
Two nights later it was Charlene singing "I've Never Been to Me" that drove them inside. They took a while to react to Wings the week before last (which is odd), and they seemed to quite enjoy "Agadoo", joining in and inventing a little dance to go with it. The most effective tracks were "A Glass of Champagne" by Sailor, "Sugar Baby Love" by the Rubettes and anything by Celine Dion.
One night during Barry Manilow's "Mandy" Matthew found himself quite moved, and when, as a finale, he played "Wind Beneath My Wings" by Bill Tarmey from Coronation Street, he was forced to wipe away a real tear.
I confess I was wrong when I said that no good would come of this. The all-night parties have now ended, probably because the couple have gone to Slovenia. What worries me is the fact that Matthew had made no trips to any Virgin Megastore over the last few weeks. All the music played on that ghetto blaster was readily to hand.Reuse content