Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Brothers and neighbours

It was good to see my brother at the weekend, over from Paris with my sister-out-law, Danielle.

It feels like a good omen that she has the same name as my wife of thirty years. Good basis for an excellent relationship, I feel; certainly my Danielle has proved to have just the qualities I need to support me most the time and knock me into line some of the time.

Unfortunately our guest Danielle had her visit slightly spoiled on Saturday night by our neighbour from hell. She chose to have another of her all-night parties, starting with gaiety and Karaoke, and degenerating as the night gave way to the small hours into recrimination, anger and fighting. Par for the course for us, unfortunately, but a bit of a shock for our visitor.

The following morning the father of our neighbour’s child (as opposed to her present partner) turned up and had trouble getting any response to his repeated knocking on the door. He therefore resorted to his usual technique of yelling through the letterbox. My brother, unused to this endearing pattern of behaviour, opened our door to find out what was happening.

This being a family-oriented blog, I have subtly disguised some of the words in my record of the conversation, to avoid giving offence to more sensitive readers.

‘What the fudge do you want?’ said the shouter. ‘Shut the fudging door.’

My brother is completely unfazed by scintillating banter of this kind, and simply quipped back in kind.

‘I’ll shut the fudging door when I fudging feel like it.’

To everyone’s surprise, his interlocutor reacted with a beaming smile.

‘I like it,’ he said, ‘like your attitude.’

He all but offered his hand, perhaps put off at the last moment by my brother’s obvious disinclination to shake it.

Later that same day, Sunday, we travelled to see an old and recently-widowed friend. The visit went well, and in the course of it she told us about her new neighbours, millionaires from one of those sectors that do so much to bring joy into all our lives, such as financial services.

They had bought the house next door for the equivalent of about a quarter of a century’s income for anyone on normal earnings, and then spent a colossal amount more on major re-building. They would often clear off while the work was being done, and at one point the builders called on our friend.

‘Could we have some water?’ they asked. 

She assumed they must be wanting to brew up some tea or something, so she connected their hose to her tap, only mildly irritated by the fact that the neighbours had clearly turned their own water supply off before they left.

The following day she heard a cement mixer chugging away. She looked out of the window and saw the men using her water to mix their cement.

She disconnected the hose and offered it back to them.

‘But... how are we supposed to work without water?’ they asked.

Our friend gave them a polite reply because that’s her style. It’s a pity my brother wasn’t around; I suspect he would have said, ‘how the fudge is that my problem?’

Feed me, feed me! Who cares who's paying?
The neighbours did come round to apologise profusely, in time. They offered to pay for the water they’d taken. They also offered to pay for the damage the builders did to our friend’s fence, and to her electricity supply which they somehow managed to cut off. No payment and no repair work has been forthcoming so far.

It seems that a delightful insouciance towards to the concerns and comfort of others is not limited to a single class. Our neighbour, drifting along somewhere on the marginal fringes at the bottom of society, or our friend’s neighbours lording it over us from the top, share exactly the same indifference to the inconvenience they inflict on others.

Which is a sort of comfort, when you think about it. Wouldn’t it have been depressing to discover that only the poor behaved badly? It’s much more reassuring to confirm, as if confirmation were needed, that arrant selfishness exists across all social boundaries. That accounts for much of the behaviour of government, for example: it’s made up of people who accurately reflect the society they ostensibly lead, or at least its lowest common denominator.

Come to think of it, that also helps explain quite a lot of the puzzling awfulness one so often meets out there.


Anonymous said...

Lovely equation.


David Beeson said...

Thank you San. But like all the best equations, it's not easy to find a solution.