Rosie Millard: Wanted - a modern etiquette guide for landladies with gentleman lodgers


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The Independent Online

I am in a rainy Los Angeles wondering – rather crossly – why the famous glowering phenomenon that is "June gloom" has arrived two months early, when my day is enlivened by an email from Simon.

Simon lives in the block in south London where we also own a flat. In fact, his flat is opposite ours, which is currently rented out to a charming and scholarly Frenchman. Who has been behaving rather strangely, according to Simon.

"Rosie," he complains in writing, "there is a MAN in Flat 27 whom I believe is your tenant. He has taken to standing, topless in front of the window. And doing something in a rhythmic way with his hands." Apparently Simon is not the only one who has noticed this going-on; "everyone" in the block opposite is aware of my tenant's behaviour. Recently, on a nice bright spring evening, it even "ruined a dinner party".

"Of course, he could be choosing to do something else with his hands," continues Simon.

As the landlady, I feel I need to urge my tenant to modify his behaviour. Clearly, action must be taken. But what? And how?

I can hardly tell the neighbours to pretend it's not there; if you are faced with a semi-naked man performing an act of solitary enjoyment across the way, I have to admit it could make magnetic viewing material.

The whole thing is almost reminiscent of a naughty Rear Window. Carry On Full Front(al)Window, as it were. Made even better by the fact that the central character is French. As we all know, the French are widely held to be graced (or smitten, depending on your viewpoint) with impossibly rampant sexuality, a sort of brazen confidence in their own gorgeousness and a carefree demeanour when it comes to waving it (as it were) about. What on earth is the etiquette when full frontal Gallic sex comes steaming into south London dinner parties?

I email Simon and, as a responsible propriétaire, offer a hand of support. But everything I suggest simply sounds like something from a naughty postcard. "I'll call him if you don't feel up to it," I write, giggling.

My tenant probably doesn't think he's doing anything wrong. Casual male nudity is something of a French national habit, you see. I remember going on holiday to Paris with my parents when I was about 14 and sharing a room in the B&B with my younger sister. We were riveted by the sight of the man in the flat opposite, carefully ironing without a stitch on his body. It was as if those long Haussmannesque windows were made for the sight. Actually it is the only thing I remember about the trip.

Black pepper with your weeds?

I can exclusively report from Los Angeles that the latest exciting Californian food vogue is for thistles. Yep. Without wishing to get all Eeyoreish about it, everyone's munching on thistles over here. Or "cardoons", as they are properly known.

My waiter had no idea if they were truly Scottish, although even the name makes them sound as if they should be. But he presented them with great pride, deep fried and served with a pot of creamy dipping sauce. Or, as one particularly baroque food writer had it, "The cardoons arrive in cocoons of gossamer Parmesan-laced batter with a ramekin of aioli. Combining the robust and the ethereal, they are graced with a hint of fried sage."

There you are. The humble thistle, exalted by the fashionable restaurant Cooks County on Beverley Boulevard to something "ethereal". Whoever knew?