Neighbours, I see, are in the news again. Another row stretching back across the years, this one distinguished by the first recorded use of a laughing clown puppet dangling from a window with its cackles amplified by hi-fi speakers. Reprehensible, of course, but probably better than the more popular but less inspired choice of weapon of torture, Whitney Houston and "I Will Always Love You".
The British are not alone in having bad neighbours, of course. The French, with a rich tradition of poison-pen letters, have their claims. But the belief that the Englishman's home is his castle was always going to have its obverse effects. Nevertheless, it is not my way, nor is it the way of this newspaper, simply to accept the status quo. It would take a bold commentator to propose a reform of attitudes and to issue some practical and helpful proposals for instituting a higher standard of neighbourliness, but so be it: The Neighbours' Charter, 2003:
1. A complete ban on laughing clown puppets.
2. A Whitney Houston recordings amnesty.
3. Weekly meeting to work out mutually agreed playlists, disputes to be arbitrated by a panel consisting of John Peel, Herb Alpert and Sir Simon Rattle.
4. The following phrases, employed in neighbourly exchanges, are also banned on the grounds that repetition over a period of years will eventually drive the recipient into a snarling frenzy of hatred and might well lead to the appearance of a laughing clown puppet: "Warm enough for you?"; "How's tricks?"; "Mustn't grumble"; "Lovely weather for ducks"; "Ah, well, got to go and earn a crust"; "How's the world's worker, then?"; "We're going away this weekend - could you feed the cat?"; "Crispin's oboe playing is really coming on, isn't it? I hope it's not disturbing you too much, but we're hoping for a scholarship." "Well, we wish Crispin had stuck to the oboe, but you've got to admit his drumming's really coming on."; "Tyson! Tyson! Don't worry, he's just being friendly. But don't make any sudden movements"; "We're just having a few people round for a barbecue"; "Whitney Houston's coming. She's a personal friend and we're hoping she might sing."
5. Would you want to use a lawnmower if the Government provided every lawnmower with a complimentary sheep?
6. Well, it's either that or some compulsory decking from the TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh and the Ground Force team.
7. Actually, now I remember, Alan Titchmarsh and the Ground Force team are also banned on account of the noise from putting in all that decking.
8. And Diarmuid Gavin. And that ghastly fellow with the floppy sleeves, and the smug woman who does the furniture adverts. Have you, like me, ever wondered what it's like to be a neighbour when all that business is going on, and afterwards, seeing as Diarmuid seems always to install floodlights and an outside PA system? Enough, finish.
9. Leylandii. A delicate one. Some of you are not quite as keen on this rugged and energetic frontier pine as I am. One possible compromise: they all have to be chopped down and taken inside at Christmas and covered with little lights and things; and then new ones can be planted every New Year's Day.
10. Borrowing and lending. Tricky, too, as it can bring neighbours together. The embarrassment and resentment come from the delay in return. Our solution is to have an independent third party who will ask for it back, drawn from another panel. Initial thoughts include Bernard Manning, Paul Burrell, Uri Geller, Chris Eubank, Davina McCall, Liza Minnelli and her soon-to-be-former husband, Michael Winner ("Hello, dear, I've come for the foot pump"), any Conservative MP, the ghastly fellow with the floppy sleeves and the smug woman who does the furniture adverts.
So there; nothing that can't be solved by boldness and imagination. Next week: the Anglican schism, cold fusion and the reconstruction of Iraq. Sorry? The Northern Line? Don't be ridiculous.
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