Thursday, 16 June 2011

Love thy neighbour

Do you like your neighbours? Actually, scratch that. Do you even know your neighbours? We've all heard our parents talk about the good old days, when they could head off for a week at the seaside and leave the front door wide open, without a second thought. Back then, everybody knew everyone else's business and watched their comings and goings through a set of immaculately kept net curtains. How times have changed.

Back in April, when Kate and William tied the knot, the papers did a great job of trying to convince us that the entire country was going to be hosting parties in every street. Trestle tables as far as the eye could see, laden with the finest party foods that twenty quid and ten minutes in Iceland could muster. The only flaw in their plan was the fact that these days, we know more about the Orange call centre employee who activated our new number, than we do about the people next door. For most of us, the neighbour's name is "that fucker who's taken my parking space again".

Barry Crocker used to sing that "everybody needs good neighbours". It's a sentiment that might have suited the temperate climate of Melbourne, where the biggest worry on anyone's mind was the occasional exploding caravan. Here in the real world, it takes more than the Ramsay Street Olympics to bring neighbours together. 

It probably doesn't help that, as our population continues to grow, we're finding ourselves living on top of one another, which makes comfortable cohabitation that much more tricky. Especially when we view the people next door with the same kind of distrust that a Daily Mail reader would reserve for a halfway house full of ḥijāb-wearing single mothers.

Strangely, the closer we find ourselves, the further apart we seem to be. If you've ever lived in a terraced house, you'll know what I'm talking about. When you're separated from the family next door by a wall that's thinner than the plot of Twilight, you find yourself kept awake by the sound of their sickly kids trying to gulp down their Benylin. 

God forbid you ever find yourself, as I did, sharing a party wall with a house-full of Afrikaans-speaking backpackers. I say speaking - in fact every mangled syllable was yelled at a volume that could drown out an air-force fly-by. And if that doesn't drive you mad, the twat who decides to show off his bongo-playing prowess at three in the morning just might.

And yet, despite having endured more than my fair share of problems, it still gives me no comfort to read that Which? has published a new report suggesting that five million other UK households are blighted by troublesome neighbours. Apparently, four in ten people have their sleep disturbed by inconsiderate shitheads, with many of them choosing to fight fire with Earth, Wind and Fire - attempting to drown out the din with their own music collection. 

Occasionally, the animosity even spills over into violence. One Swedish man decided 'if you can't beat them, stab them', and murdered his teenage neighbour. As Which? executive director Richard Lloyd observes, "Three in ten Brits get annoyed with their neighbours. That so many people are losing sleep, getting stressed and struggling at work because of noise from next-door shows the damage this does."

However, it doesn't have to end in bloodshed. If you want a peaceful life with the nobheads next door, you could always extend the olive branch. Or at least offer to cut it back if it's overhanging their pergola. Lloyd's advice is to work on a resolution face-to-face, but in order to do that, you probably need to be able to pick their face out of a line-up. 

If you're lucky enough to have a garden, try inviting the locals over for a barbecue. And keep an eye on what they bring to the party. If they rock up with a couple of cans of lager, then head straight for the nearest bottle of champagne, just don't invite them back. Either way, at least you'll know their name in case you ever need to scream it through their letterbox in the middle of the night. 

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