Monday, 1 June 2009

Neighbourhood Watch

Things have been so hectic I haven't really had a moment to tell you about my neighbours. Having neighbours is a new thing for me. The previous hovel had no neighbours at all. The nearest house was three quarters of a mile away and I liked it like that. The new hovel has a house on the other side of the road which was one of the things on the 'con list'. However I decided that since we weren't in eyeline of one another and this location was remote enough as it was I could live with neighbours.

Then I met them.

It took a few days. With moving and everything I simply didn't have a moment to go over the road and introduce myself. When I finally made it over one evening it was an interesting experience. The neighbours, let's call them Bob and Peggy, had just arrived back and I called out a cheery 'hello' over the fence. Bob turned around with a friendly smile but Peggy ducked behind the car. I know that I'm not an earth shattering beauty or anything but I've never had anyone duck and hide at the sight of me before.

Bob came to the gate to chat and some minutes later, Peggy followed. She apologised profusely for hiding and announced that 'she thought I might not want to meet her so she had hidden.' This isn't normal behaviour but she was effusively friendly from this point, almost disturbingly so. She told me she was a mental health worker and that she housed unwanted horses, which I was welcome to ride at anytime. I admired the horses and after five minutes of chat I left and retreated to my garden.

We didn't particularly see much of one another for the next fortnight. A quick hello here and there, the perfect lack of communication as far as I was concerned, and I was just starting to feel at home in the new hovel. Life was looking good. The night after my birthday I was having a Mrs Tiggywinkle moment and hanging sheets out to dry on the line. The washing line is in the one spot that is in eyeline with the neighbour's house. Within moments of starting to peg out my washing I hear Peggy's voice shouting over the road.

"Hello there, I hope we didn't disturb you last night?"

I turned and smiled in her direction. She was hanging out of a window beaming at me.

"No, I didn't hear a thing" This was almost true. I wondered if I had heard some shouting earlier that morning but it honestly didn't intrude. My walls are 70cms thick. It would take a Harrier Jump Jet landing on the house for me to hear it. I waved and turned back to the washing.

"I've been up since 3.30 this morning you know. I haven't even had a cup of tea yet"

I'm not sure what to say to this but I call back in as cheery a manner as I can muster. "Perfect time for a cup of tea now though"

"I like mine black and weak. Haven't had it yet though". There is a disturbing note to this conversation. We are virtually shouting to each other and she won't move from the window. The word I realise I would use to describe her today is manic.

"Did you have a good birthday dinner last night?"

"Yes, thank you I did. I hope we didn't disturb you" I'd mentioned to them that I was having friends over for my birthday earlier in the week and she had latched onto this

"No, not at all. I wish I'd known it was your birthday..... I must get you a present. What colour horse do you like?"

With a faint feeling of horror I realised that she might actually mean this. She houses horses for people and all credit to Peggy they are fantastically healthy and happy horses, but she does collect them in the same way that some people buy reduced books at the supermarket.

"No need to get me anything" I call back with a desperate note in my voice but it isn't enough.

"What's your favourite colour? Tell me?" There is a demanding note in her voice. I don't want to get on the wrong side of her. There are rumours in the village about her. It seems she isn't a mental health worker but a mental health patient and like a small child, she doesn't like to be thwarted. Tales abound of the odd revenges she has taken on those who have displeased her. Most of them are probably exaggerated gossip but it isn't a truth I want to discover for myself by vexing her.

After more shouted 'casual conversation' and persistent questioning I said that I liked Black horses and scarpered back to the house. The whole conversation had made me feel horribly nervous. Suddenly my hovel felt less secure.

The next day a friend came with her children for coffee and a nose around the new house. We decided to walk down the forest track to the lake. As we left the garden a voice yelled out of the window. "I haven't forgotten. A black horse. I won't forget!" Oh dear I am in trouble. More shouting followed us as we walked away and I realised that now I was nervous of seeing Peggy, or being seen by her, and getting caught in conversation with her. I wondered if she would start stalking my garden and presenting me with horses every time I came out of the door? My hovel suddenly felt a lot less like home. I decided to try and catch Bob and mention to him that I did not want a horse but the moment did not arise.

I hated feeling nervous in my own house about going outside and getting stuck in conversation. There are millions of different types of people that you can end up with as neighbours. People who become friends, people you never talk to, people who will water your lettuces while you are away, people who will steal your lettuces when you are at home. It seemed I had got the bipolar mental health patient with nothing else to do but sit at the window and wait for me to emerge from my lair. The only good thing was that she was apparently too shy to emerge from her house and actually descend on mine.

This morning, resolved to catch Bob and talk to him about Peggy's disturbing longing to give me a horse I emerged from the house to see Bob and a friend sitting outside the gate. To their right was a police car and another car was parked along the verge. Bob came over to me and explained that Peggy, who was 'not well' had been getting increasingly worse and had that morning let all the horses loose onto the road, and had been getting increasingly upset, and he had had to call the police and the doctor to her. It seemed she was being sectioned as life had got to be too much for her.

My overriding feeling was one of relief. I feel as though a weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I can live in my house without looking over my shoulder every minute. I feel bad for Bob, though it seems he knew this was coming. He is a quiet and gentle man and he obviously is very fond of her (she is his girlfriend of some years and technically lives in the village though her horses live with him). He said she has 'two sides to her and unfortunately the wrong side was ruling at the moment'.

I am now feeling giddy with happiness that she is gone, and correspondingly guilty to be so happy about her misfortune. If I am being honest, I am also hoping that this is a long term solution. I know this makes me a terrible and selfish person but if you are living in the middle of nowhere on your own the one thing you don't want is a mentally unstable neighbour. God, that makes me an awful person but I can't help it - I feel as though a great big burden has suddenly been lifted and I look out of the window now and feel happy.


Anonymous said...

Phew. I bet that wasn't on the estate agent's particulars! My neighbours are slightly nuts, but more an in eccentric rather than an inbalanced sort of way.

notSupermum said...

I used to live next to a bi-polar woman, and we lived in terraced houses so even closer than you are to your neighbour. I have to say that I lived there for about 12 years and she only became a problem when she stopped taking her medication for whatever reason. The rest of the time she was tolerable, and even nice sometimes. I used to keep it very abrupt I'm sorry to say, and not get into a real conversation with her. You have to try and get some 'control' in the meetings with her, so she is not overwhelming you with questions and requests. Good luck, I'm sure you'll be ok.

Francesca said...

This post made me laugh so much-it's wonderful. Has all the makings of a short story or weird art film (preferably in French (or Welsh) with subtitles. I'm sorry, it must have been slightly irksome for you and I hope that it's resolved but the telling of it is great.

Francesca said...

Just want to put on record that i don't for one moment think it's OK to laugh at mental illness- nor do I want to underestimate your discomfiture. i just love your writing.

Anonymous said...

Don't feel bad, I would feel just the same - overwhelming relief! Like you I would feel sorry for the lady. You have gone through so much angst in deciding to buy your house (with all of us saying 'you'll soon get it how you want it') that it would be a great disappointment to have it spoilt
by the neighbours.
Wendy (Wales)

Home Office Mum said...

Marvellous. A house is not a home until it has a barking mad neighbour to surprise you when you least want to be surprised. Well done.

bevchen said...

No need to feel bad. I would feel relieved too.

katyboo1 said...

I really feel for you, but am so unutterably relieved that we don't live near someone who likes giving away horses. Our garden would be full of the bloody things.

I don't blame you for feeling relieved. It is not easy managing someone who is not responding well to their meds and you didn't sign up for that.

Mrs Trefusis... said...

You just made me laugh so much I snorted tea through my nose. Apologies for such an inelegant detail. And thank you so much for your comment on mrs trefusus: found it hugely heartening. And more apologies for not commenting more often: I do always read and enjoy so hugely, but often am Reading on blackberry which makes adding comments just impossible
Erm more explanation than you needed. I should send the black horse I ordered for you back to the horse shop should I?

Welsh Girl said...

Mud - not a word from the agents or the previous owner. Funny that.
Not Supermum - so there is hope for amicable relations then?
Francesca - ooh - perfect I shall set up my cameras immediately and will be at Cannes before you know it! Actually, she (the mad neighbour) could be played by dawn french as she is a similar shape and size to her....
Wendy - thanks for that. I suppose I will have to work out how to get used to it and then it will become part of the charm of the place!
Home Office Mum - It is the perfect finishing touch isn't it!
Bevchen - phew, at least I am not a mean freak for feeling relieved - or I am, and you are too!
Katyboo - I think it is just what your garden needs, a small herd of horses...
Mrs Trefusis - I can't believe you have ever done anything so inelegant as snorting tea through your nose! Now, cancel that horse order IMMEDIATELY PLEASE!!

The Singlutionary said...

NO MORE CRAZY NEIGHBORS. Is Bob your only neighbor now? Gosh your life is so opposite mine! I just love hearing about it!

The Singlutionary said...

I want to amend my last statement. My life is different because I have many neighbors and you have only one.

My neighbors are crazy. All of them more or less so and all in unique ways. I enjoy having a house of my own and not an apartment so I can more easily hide from the crazies. Although they tend not to bother me. When I lived in an apartment, all the men in the complex were in love with me. I think that they assumed that I was available and interested just because I was obviously going in and out of my apartment alone. Sigh. I was not interested in THEM. They were crazy and punched holes in the walls.

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