I bumped into Mary in the village today and she confirmed something that I already suspected: she had made those delicious muffins yesterday just for me; they were not ‘left over from a big bake’, as she explained when she knocked on my back door at two o’clock in the afternoon.
Mary never seems to have any visitors and she told me a while ago that she does not have much contact with any of her relatives so I wasn’t surprised to learn that the little cakes were intended solely for my enjoyment. ‘I felt a little sorry for you, Napoleon,’ she said. ‘I’ve never known anyone as unpopular as you.’
‘It’s a sort of distinction,’ I told her.
I made her laugh. ‘A badge of honour?’ she asked.
‘I wear it proudly.’ I winked and bade her good day.
People are so wonderful sometimes.
My elderly next-door-neighbour Mary knocked on the door about an hour ago and handed me a plate full of honey and raisin muffins. ‘I made too many,’ she said.
I was touched. Mary is incredibly tolerant; she never complains about the noise being made in the studio and is always gracious and maternal towards Audrey and me.
I made some fresh coffee, and while we greedily tucking in to our delicious home-baked treats, I said to my happy little dog, ‘Life is good, isn’t it, monkey-face? The sun is out, the birds are singing, we have cake, and twice nineteen doesn’t matter.’
‘Woof, father!’ she agreed, licking her lips.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I looked out of the bedroom window at 6am this morning. Walking along the dark street in the middle of an arctic thunderstorm was Mary, my elderly next-door-neighbour.
The rain was mixed with snow and it was falling so heavily I could hardly make her out. I could see that she was carrying a large, hi-visibility shoulder-bag; she was delivering newspapers.
‘Incredible!’ I said to Audrey. Mary must be at least sixty-five. And she was singing. I surreptitiously opened the window slightly and caught a few bars of her song: ‘Onward Christian so –o –o –oldiers, Marching as to war.’ I began to weep – so much so, in fact, that I thought I might have to fetch a bucket from downstairs.
I bumped into her later on and told her that I had been spying on her and how proud I was to have such a charming neighbour.
‘Well, dear, you have to keep going, don’t you,’ she told me with a wink. She asked me if I had seen the devastation caused by some of the local hooligans who had earlier in the week playfully set fire to two caravans parked at the end of Lansbury Avenue. I told her that, regrettably, I had.
‘If you ask me,’ she said, ‘they should all be rounded up and blasted off into space.’
‘That’s an intelligent idea, Mary,’ I agreed. ‘After all, logistically speaking, it wouldn’t be that difficult to achieve, would it?’
‘No, dear,’ she continued. ‘It’s not rocket science is it?’
The middle-aged couple who have moved in next door were in the throes of loud sexual congress for about two hours last night.
The man – whose first name I have just learned is Maxwell – and his wife were making more noise than was strictly necessary for a windy Sunday night in a quiet street on the outskirts of a small village in Derbyshire. (I knew a young chap at school called Maxwell. He was so posh that when we went on a cross-country run, he would wear a cravat – Ed.)
I don’t know what my neighbour was doing to his partner but he sure was making her squeal and moan. Sex-noises sound distinctly odd in an East Midlands accent: ‘Fookin’ ell, Max! Oooh, Max. Fook! Oooo . . . Maxwell!’
And Max, calmly in control: ‘I know, duckie, I know.’
I had a large glass tumbler positioned on my bedroom wall so that I might listen more effectively to their antics and at one point, I considered calling for an ambulance or an accident investigator because it sounded as though he was torturing her in some despicable fashion, her shrieks reaching almost 98dB on my hand-held metering device.
As the hours went by, I was terrified that he may seriously harm her and that I would be held partly responsible for failing to act appropriately. I was in two minds as to whether I should call the emergency services or report him to the relevant authorities. I am also aware, however, that I do have a tendency to make pompous and ridiculous predictions that do not come true: ‘He’s going to kill her, you know.’
I found the whole thing very annoying and frustrating, and after a while, I had to stop licking the wall quite so enthusiastically because it was beginning to severely irritate my tongue.
A handwritten note was pushed through the letterbox early this morning. On it was scrawled: ‘Dear Mrs, Please not to make so much noise. We old. OLD.’
Although it reads as if it were written by a person of oriental origin, I am fairly certain that it is from my next-door-neighbours – not Mary, who is a lovely and very tolerant woman, but the couple who live on the other side of me at number 35. They do not hail from China or Japan or any other Far Eastern location, but from a nearby region of Derbyshire – Tibshelf, I believe.
Imagine my disappointment when I arose this morning to find what I thought could be a missive from some exotic being, was in fact a predictable message of complaint from yet more members of the local moron population, people who are by definition ugly and stupid – a bitter unification of general disability.
That aside, however, I do feel an act of necessary contrition coming on: I shall knock quietly on their door later today and offer my apologies.
‘Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way!’
That is what I hear about once every hour when someone calls at the house next door. My neighbour Mary has installed her special Christmas doorbell just as she did last year at this time and by the end of today I shall most likely have taken my favourite sledgehammer to it and smashed the bloody thing into little Chinese plastic smithereens.
I knew that there would inevitably be some sound isolation problems by moving the studio into the spare room but none could be more annoying than this little beauty. Ours is only a small terraced cottage and although the walls are of an old-fashioned and substantially hefty build – a good solid 18 inches of Derbyshire red brick – cheap and high-pitched electronic melodies from the Far East travel very well from one building to the next; indeed, so interminable and piercing are they that I fancy they can be heard from outer-space.
When you eventually get to hear some of the recordings that we are presently working on, listen out on some of the quieter vocal tracks for the annoyingly bleepy monotone refrain that goes: ‘Oh what fun it is to ride on a one-horse open sleigh!’
Pure f***ing festive magic.
Brian, an old friend from years ago paid me a surprise visit last night. He made me go to the pub and get drunk. You can’t say no to Brian. He is a bluff and hearty Glaswegian and very strong and very persuasive.
‘I don’t really get drunk anymore, Brian. Apart from the physical crapulence, it leaves me poisoned by depression,’ I pleaded with him. ‘I no longer have any purchase in that world.’
‘Och, shut your cakehole, you pretentious old recluse,’ he told me. ‘You’re coming with me and you’re gonna get pissed and you’re gonna enjoy it.’ So you see: I had no choice.
It was a lovely evening and went by in a flash. We talked about old times and absent friends. We reminisced about the days we both worked as Bingo callers in Mansfield and how we were required to learn CPR, due to us having to attend regularly to old-aged pensioners who would suffer massive heart attacks whenever they came close to winning the daily jackpot. Every month, some old dear would get over-excited while waiting for one number and suddenly collapse in agony and die. How we used to laugh!
On returning to the house around midnight, we were surprised to see that the young couple who live opposite in number 84 were doing a midnight flit – moving out of their house under cover of the night. There was a huge van parked outside the little terraced house which was being filled very steadily and very quietly with their furniture and modest belongings. Being the helpful and gregarious soul that he is, Brian could not resist crossing the street to give them a hand. ‘Don’t, Brian,’ I told him. ‘You’re completely rat-arsed. It will only end in disaster.’
‘Ahgrr-ahhr och-aye the noo, ya big Sassenach,’ he hissed, flapping his arms in irritation.
I decided not to join him, but watching through the lounge window, I was immensely relieved to see the whole enterprise being conducted in a very efficient and capable manner. Brian had quickly taken control of the situation and his presence was clearly appreciated. My fears were allayed.
The affects of the alcohol in his system seemed to have disappeared – he had suddenly become quite lucid. He was busily organising everybody and ordering them around with potent enthusiasm and, at times, a certain amount of bald Scottish aggression. I heard him return to the house about 3am.
When I arose this morning, he was gone. There was a note on the kitchen table that said: ‘See you in another ten years!’ Next to the note was a big bottle of whisky with a garish tartan ribbon tied loosely around its neck.