My excellent next-door neighbours are leaving. Selling up and skedaddling. Not to a bigger house, but to a smaller house with a bigger garden, because my excellent next-door neighbours are the sort of folk who keep a bounteous outdoors space with verdant lawns, "spare fruit" up for grabs, and an automatic sprinkler which irrigates everything with a soothing, hypnotic hiss.
They informed me of their plans – because that's what excellent neighbours do – and I wished them well, before closing the front door with heavy cheeks and my voice reduced to a tiny, tearful crackle.
Because for a decade, I've had excellent neighbours. Perfect in all the things they didn't do as well as those they did do. They didn't like loud techno, but they did like sedate Algerian folk music. They didn't invite a legion of shriekers to summer barbecues. They did cook excellent stews, and then sent plated rations around to me.
They didn't let on that they could hear me through Victorian terrace walls when I was shouting, sobbing or shagging (not all at once). But they did notice whenever the glassiness of my expression suggested that my personal life was an unfathomable mess, and they responded by watering my box hedges unasked. They tolerated my cats sunning their fat bellies on their shed roof. They owned one small car. And if I was visiting the wheelie bin in pyjamas, they pretended not to see me at all. That's neighbourly for you.
And this, I know now, is why Morrissey croons, in the song "Death of A Disco Dancer", "I never talk to my neighbours, I'd rather not get involved." Not because Morrissey is a great honking curmudgeon, although he is – and I love him for it – but because if one gets involved with neighbours there's a good chance that house prices will shift and they'll sell up, making the world feel a slightly more fearful place.
I allowed myself to imagine – catastrophise, a therapist might call it – who might buy the house, settling quickly upon a flinty-eyed City trader who would immediately drill loudly down into the cellar to install an adult ball-pond in which he would loudly frottage underage sex-trafficked girls. All the flowers in the garden would be flattened to make space for his Jacuzzi which he'd cavort in at twilight and never clean until it was a cloudy primordial stew.
But then, rather a playboy neighbour than a fusspot. I once lived next to an elderly confirmed bachelor who was so fixated with the noise made by my washing machine that he one day presented me with a list of times suitable to his schedule in which I might wash my pants. "No spin cycle after 5.30pm!" the laminated note read. "But I don't understand!" I shouted, eventually. "How you can even hear the machine unless you lie on the floor of your utility room with a glass to the wall!" Rebuked, he transferred his energies to gathering cat turds into a Tesco carrier bag before returning them to my neighbour Rose's home, with the faux-cheery war-cry: "I think your cat has left these in my garden!"
At least a playboy goes on holiday sometimes. The fuss-pot stays put, quietly monitoring the Hadrian's Wall of wine bottles in one's recycling, and melting with stampy-footed rage over car-space allocation. My excellent neighbours – now departing – did none of these things, which is why I've spent the week listening for potential buyers shuffling their way up the path, before rearranging my blinds to snoop, and, if caught, falling to the floor like a human skittle.
"Grace is a very good neighbour," I've heard them assure possible purchasers. It is telling that at one stage in life I'd have taken this as something of a slight. In my twenties, I wanted the neighbours to be thin-lipped over my misdoings. I wanted old farts everywhere to be simperingly furious about 3am gentleman callers chucking pebbles at my window, Kiss FM blaring at a nosebleed level, alarm clocks put on "snooze" 17 times through paper-thin walls, missed bin days, and "gardens" that were just places for flatmates to spit and throw fag butts. It would be delicious karma if someone exactly like me aged 20 moved in next door, but also terrifyingly kismet, as I'd likely knock on the door after the first loud party and punch her squarely in the face.
Nowadays I'm just the neighbourly sort of woman with the stupid labrador who listens to excruciating Radio 4 comedy each night at 6.30pm. I'm the sort of neighbour who, if I turned out to be a serial killer, local residents would inform Sky News that I'd kept myself to myself but seemed really polite when I put out my wheelie bin.
My excellent, almost former, neighbours say that they have sold their house to a young couple from Ireland. I can't say the most neighbourly thing for me to do is cogitate over their arrival in a national newspaper, but I don't raise hell, own off-road vehicles, or collect cat turds, so in the next-door stakes, I'm practically as good as it gets.