Trunky Want A Bun?

A peculiar email from our old nosy neighbours snooping Susan and deflated Dick landed in my inbox today.

Our favourite curtain twitchers (details here) may have moved out six months ago but it’s reassuring/ slightly frightening to know that they’re still keeping tabs on the comings and goings of our apartment block – from their new abode several miles away!

Hi Katy,

Thought I would send best wishes for 2015, particularly for happy relationships with your neighbours.

I had a brief phone conversation with Bea (Apt 2) recently, who told me about the party in our old apartment: held by son of new owners, with police being called, she thought. She also thought the police had been back looking for the previous woman tenant of no. 4, but she was a bit vague about it.

Here in new apartment: all quiet, reliable and pleasant neighbours, all owner-occupiers with one exception – and that tenant sleeps here during the week only, and we have never seen him since our arrival in July!

Best wishes,

Susan and Dick

I re-read the email and am still completely baffled as to its purpose.

Is it that they merely want to boast about the serenity of their new domicile?

Do they want me to tell them how hellish it is living here, in order to justify their move?

Or are they simply hoping I will provide them with insider information about their erstwhile neighbours – to feed their insatiable appetite for gossip?

Answers on a postcard please…

* Trunky want a bun? – possibly my favourite-ever phrase to describe a nosy person (trunky being an elephant sniffing out a bun).

Space Rage

Just when I thought things had settled down at our apartment block, I’ve found myself in a Cold War over parking with Slovenly Sonia, the lazy new tenant at Apartment 8.

There’s an unofficial parking space by the side of our apartment and while it’s always been offered up on a ‘first come, first served basis’ the husband and I have been getting first dibs on it for the last few years (bar the occasional wrangle with Belligerent Bill from Apt 2).

We parked there so often, in fact, that we had begun to think of it as our own private parking spot.

This was before Sonia and her cream Mini arrived. She descended on our apartments a couple of months ago and now hogs the space ALL of the time. This is largely because a. she doesn’t appear to ever be at work and b. she never seems to leave her apartment.

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Another resident apparently asked Sonia if she could please park in her allocated spot down the hill and leave the spare spaces for those who had two cars. Slovenly Son refused, muttering something about the car park ‘being a mess’.

After a few weeks of seeing her cream Mini parked there, I began to get rather resentful. Sometimes, when I walked past, I had an irrational urge to kick the car – or in wilder moments I imagined beating it with a tree branch (a la mad Basil Fawlty in the opening episode of Fawlty Towers).

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Then one evening, on sighting the cream Mini smugly nestled in its usual spot, I decided enough was enough.

I grabbed a Post-it note, scribbled, ‘Why can’t you just park in your own space and stop hogging this one?’, hared back out and slapped it on her windscreen.

The next day there was an ‘all residents’ email from Sonia herself.

‘Hi, whoever put the post it note on my car … Could you have the decency to contact me direct …. Tenant or owner we all have the same rights ….the space is directly at the side of my apartment and it is an unallocated space and I was informed it is whoever gets there first? If I am in that spot and my space is empty I don’t have a problem with anyone parking in my spot… But I have plantar fascititus so find it easier on my foot to park at the top.

Thank you and kind regard.’

Plantar fascitius?? I hastily Googled this condition and discovered that it’s basically a sore foot usually suffered by people who wear poorly-fitting shoes or lead a sedentary lifestyle.

‘Sounds about right,’ I huffed to the husband.

Plantar fascitius is quite similar to Policeman’s Heel, which I rather like the sound of (the name, not the condition).

Later that week, I actually saw slipshod Sonia heading out on foot. I gave her a cheery wave: the kind of cheery neighbourly wave that I hoped said, ‘Hello friendly neighbour; it wasn’t me that put a passive aggressive Post-It note on your window!’.

It didn’t escape my notice that she was wearing a pair of high heels and appeared to be clopping along at ease. Surely a true plantar fascititus sufferer should be in a sensible pair of Clarks brogues? Policeman’s Heel, my ass!

The next day, I returned home to find the much-maligned space vacant and cream Mini nowhere to be seen.

I was then caught in a dilemma. Do I make the most of Slovenly Sonia’s absence and snap the space up while I can? Or, in taking the space, am I effectively advertising, ‘I’m the person who put the Post-It note on your car. I’m the friendly neighbour who’s not so friendly after all!’

I spent so long dilly-dallying that wranglesome Sonia arrived home and zoomed straight in. I’d lost out again!

A week has now passed since the Post-It note and I’m determined to reclaim the space. It’s simply a matter of lying in wait for her next trip out.

Once I’ve secured the spot, it’s going to be difficult to give it up again. I might have to leave my car in situ and take public transport for a few days.

‘You can spout all the fancy foot conditions you like at me, Sonia,’ I thought, grimly.

But one thing’s for sure, I’m going to reclaim that space. I’m in this for the long run.

Park Life

It’s 8.37pm and I am sitting in a freezing cold church hall with 12 pensioners, discussing the best way to plant daffodil bulbs and how to tackle a voracious weed that goes by the name of Himalayan Balsam.

How I came to be here is another story but right now two things are going through my head: 1. The husband is going to want feeding and he has no idea where I am. 2. When on earth is this meeting going to end?!

In hindsight, pitching up unannounced at a committee meeting of Friends of The Park was a very foolish manoeuvre indeed. The rationale behind this madness was that as the house-that-we-bought-but-have-yet-to-move-into is on the edge of the park, it would probably be prudent to actually become a Friend of the Park.

So when I received a generic email inviting all Friends of the Park to their quarterly meeting at 7pm on Wednesday, in the spirit of neighbourliness I thought I’d bob along.

I imagined scores of friendly locals filling the hall, discussing local matters – such as the new bar down the road – over coffee and biscuits.

But as I walked through the door and took in the scene that greeted me – namely a cavernous and chilly church hall with a handful of silver-haired octogenarians shuffling in the shadows, I realised that I’d made a terrible mistake: I’d unwittingly stumbled across a real life episode of the Vicar of Dibley.

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To be fair, I couldn’t have been given a warmer welcome. After the initial shock of someone at least thirty years younger suddenly appearing at one of their meetings, the Friends of the Park flocked round me like bees to a pot of honey.

‘As you can see we’re not the most sprightly of groups,’ said a kindly woman called Sue. ‘It’s great to see someone young here.’

I perched at the edge of the table trying to look as inconspicuous as possible as chairman David gave his round-up of what Friends of the Park had been up to.

He started with litter picking, before moving on to tackling rampant weeds, malfunctioning drainage systems, slippery stepping stones, budget-busting building work… On and on he went, in his strangely soothing drone.

As I glanced around the table, I noticed one grizzled attendee had fallen asleep; another had a coughing fit, disappeared into the darkness and never re-appeared.

‘…. it was only once my initial indignation had abated that I decided to respond to the claims that I should have ordered 6,000 daffodil bulbs and not 3,000… ‘ David was saying.

And off he went again.

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Just as I was snatching a quick glance at my phone under the table and considering what sort of excuse I could give to GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE, there was a break in David’s monotone.

I looked up to find 12 sets of hooded eyes staring eagerly at me.

‘David was just saying we REALLY need someone to help with the website – someone youthful with a better handle on media stuff,’ said the woman called Sue.

In my experience of these meetings, Rule Number One is never to agree to help with anything. As my mother would say, once you’ve GOT INVOLVED, you’ll never be able to escape.

‘I’m afraid I’m utterly hopeless at anything related to ICT,’ I stuttered. ‘I’m just not the person for the job.’

Sue looked so crestfallen that I felt the need to offer a consolation prize.

‘I could take a look at the website though,’ I offered. ‘A fresh pair of eyes to make some suggestions?’

Sue seemed happy with this but David peered at me over his spectacles suspiciously.

‘I think we should get a designer to help us,’ he said. ‘We’re frightened of spending money but this is one thing that we really should spend money on.’

‘Perhaps we should have a meeting to decide on the content and look of the website first,’ I suggested. ‘And then we could find a designer to put it altogether?’

‘But a good designer would do that for us,’ argued David.

‘Maybe,’ I said. ‘But it’s probably better to approach them with an idea of the content we want first.’

David merely scowled at me.

At 9pm, the meeting finally began to draw to an end. I picked up my bag and shuffled to the edge of my chair in a manner that I hoped indicated that I was ready to leave.

My phone flashed with a text from the husband, no doubt racked with hunger: WHERE ARE YOU?

‘Is there any other business?’ asked monotone David.

‘Well,’ said kindly Sue. ‘As many of you can probably see, we have a new member here tonight…

‘Katy, would you like to properly introduce yourself?’

As I glanced in desperation at the door, the Friends of the Park settled back in their chairs and smiled at me expectantly.

Silver Surfers Crash The Party

It’s Monday night and the residents of my apartment block are gathered in Apt 11 for a meeting. With extreme nosy neighbours Susan and Dick no longer at the helm, we have become a rudderless vessel, flailing in a sea of overflowing bins, badly-parked cars and uncooperative bin men.

Following the departure of SuDick and others, there are quite a few new faces around the room.

Desperate housewife Diane – fan of the feather duster – is perched like a small bird on the sofa, her big eyes scanning the room anxiously; Valerie – a kindly-looking pensioner, new to Apt 5 – nestles next to her. She is sporting flesh-coloured pop socks.

Ironically, one of the main reasons SuDick sold up (apart from ongoing feuds with the bin men, gardeners, cleaners and the management company) was because they felt the apartment block was becoming overrun with party-loving young professionals. At this latest meeting, it appears the demograph has shifted; we now seem to be housing a horde of down-sizing retirees. I couldn’t be happier.

For some reason, I seem to still be receiving the occasional email from Susan, boasting about her harmonious new neighbours. ‘There are only eight apartments here and everyone gets on wonderfully,’ she wrote, with barely-contained glee.

‘I’ve already been asked to be the director of the management company!’

Her new neighbours clearly have no idea what they’re dealing with.

Back at the meeting, the slovenly solicitor from Apt 8 – Sonia, I learn – has sent her apologies. She is not, I note, apologising for permanently hogging the only free parking space with her cream Mini. In fact, when challenged, she purportedly outright refused to use her own space further down the car park.

Over in the corner, Belligerent Bill from Apt 1 is brandishing a sheet of paper; it’s a letter from the management company fining him £250 for refusing to park in his allocated bay. Allegedly, Bill received this letter after a litany of complaints from some unnamed residents. SuDick might be long gone but their legacy lives on. Slovenly Sonia had better watch out.

Florid-faced Bill isn’t happy. From time to time, he makes occasional puffing noises and folds his arms angrily. I can’t help but think this is retribution for my own parking wrangle with him last year.

One of the new down-sizers – Tony, I think – leans over and pats Bill reassuringly on the knee. ‘Don’t worry mate,’ he says. ‘No-one expects you to pay that. We’re all behind you’.

I say nothing.

Tony and his wife Pat sit ramrod on their hardback chairs. They haven’t even moved into their apartment yet but seem alarmed by the tales of resident woe: unruly tenants, all-night parties, pesky Dick almost arrested for harassing the noisy nuisance-makers in Apt 4.

I chip in my own tale about a recent visit from a pair of Bobbies on the beat. The aforementioned noisy nuisance-makers from Apt 4 are wanted on drug charges, I say.

The room falls silent.

‘I always thought I could smell marijuana,’ I add, warming to the drama.

Tony and Pat look positively horrified.

There was some discussion about the bin men. SuDick had fallen out with them so spectacularly that they are now refusing to empty our bins at all.

I am just beginning to wonder who might want to take SuDick’s mantle as chief complainant when George steps forward, husband of Diane.

‘This is ridiculous,’ he says. ‘I’ll lie in wait for them next Friday and get this sorted once and for all.’

‘Oh, George is terrible when he gets worked up,’ trilled big-eyed Diane. ‘Once he gets the bit between his teeth, there’s no stopping him. Bins, parking… he’s going to be the Victor Meldrew of the apartments!’

Eva from Apartment 16 and I exchange a look.

‘I don’t think he can be any worse than his predecessors,’ says Eva. ‘Susan and Dick were on a whole new level.’

‘Those are some very big boots to fill,’ I agree.

George merely grunts and folds his arms.

Those bin men don’t know what’s coming.

Everybody Needs Good Neighbours

I never thought I’d type these words but I miss our nosy neighbours Susan and Dick. Every time I pass their apartment, I have a little pang of sadness that I won’t be able to feast on their moans and groans any more.

In a small tribute to Dick, I trotted across the road and half-heartedly picked a few blackberries off the neighbouring property. Dour Dick loved that bramble bush. He even carried his step-ladder down the road to reach the higher branches.

Although Dick’s long gone, I’m half-expecting to see him back at the blackberries in the next few weeks. He was never one to miss out on some free fruit.

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I’d like to say that SuDick’s departure was a ceremonial affair but in reality they just kind of sloped off quietly. Susan sent me a final email with her special ‘Welcome Pack’ attached (DON’T make any noise after 11pm but DO close the gate to the bin compound), should I wish to continue her tradition of passing it on to any new neighbours. (I think she saw me as a potential protege. I can’t think why!).

She gave me a final round-up of local goings on: ‘Apartment 6 is laying down new carpets as I write,’ she said. ‘Apartment 5 has a new owner; I think they might be retired.’ etc etc.

The woman who has replaced SuDick is very peculiar indeed. She’s straight out of Hollywood Housewives: heavily made-up, with big anxious eyes, hair permanently in rollers and constantly spring cleaning in a pair of marigolds. Her name is Diane. She looks like a Diane.

I had to knock on her door the other night to see if she’d taken collection of a parcel I was waiting for. Knowing that she spends most of her days dusting her apartment by the entrance gate, I told the parcel people to deliver it her flat.

I knocked on the door and waited.

There was a lot of clattering and eventually the door creaked open. Two huge doleful eyes peered back at me, marigolds donned and feather duster poised.

‘I was just wondering if you happened to take delivery of a parcel for me,’ I said, cheerfully.

‘Oh, I’m in a terrible mess here,’ she cried. ‘I did see a parcel man at the gate but I don’t think he could get in so he just drove off.’

Knowing that my parcel was only a few feet from her but she did nothing to help was very annoying indeed.

I decided ‘Marigolds’ was clinically unhinged so I left her to her dusting. On their second attempt, I asked the delivery people to try Apartment 8 instead.

Apartment 8 houses an inert tenant, who claims to be a solicitor but actually spends most of her days sitting on her balcony, chewing the fat. She seemed the perfect candidate for a daytime parcel delivery.

When I got back the following evening there was a message from the courier saying that Apartment 8 HAD taken collection of my parcel. Bingo!

I expected the woman at Apartment 8 to sign for the parcel and then leave it outside our front door. But there was no sign of it and she appeared to be out for the night.

When I got back the following evening, there was still no parcel. I found this weird.

‘Wouldn’t you sign for the parcel and then go and put it outside our flat?’ I said to the husband. ‘It’s odd that she just took it with no further communication.

‘In fact, how does SHE know that WE know that she’s even got it?

‘She’s effectively taken our parcel hostage!’

I went round and knocked on her door.

‘Do you have a parcel for me?’ I said.

She looked blankly for a moment, despite the fact my huge parcel was taking up most of her entrance hall.

‘Oh, that parcel,’ she said breezily. ‘Yes, it’s here.’

‘Thank you,’ I said.

The reason that I wanted the parcel fairly urgently is that it housed a new bathroom cabinet for my old rental flat down the road.

My latest tenant has moved out so I’ve been busy sorting the flat out. This loosely involves: the bi-annual chore of re-oiling my real wood worktops (note to anyone thinking about getting real wood worktops – DON’T DO IT), lovingly touching up my Farrow and Ball walls, ordering a new Brabantia bin (along with the aforementioned bathroom cabinet), and having all the carpets shampooed.

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I even went as far as buying a vase, a big bunch of flowers, and leaving a ‘welcome to your new home’ card for my new tenants.

They moved in last Saturday and I’ve heard nothing since.

‘Don’t you think it’s weird that they just moved in and never acknowledged the flowers and the card?’ I said to the husband.

‘Aren’t people strange?!’

A couple of days later, I drove round with the husband and sent him into the communal entrance to the flat to leave the bathroom cabinet outside the door (ready for the handyman to fix it to the wall at some point this week, the husband being unfortunately incapable of such high-level manual tasks).

While the husband was lugging the parcel up the stairs, I peered up at the window trying to work out whether my flowers were still in the cellophane in the vase, as I had left them – or not. I toyed with getting the binoculars out of the glove compartment – SuDick-style – but decided that might be a bit much.

The husband re-appeared and climbed in the passenger seat.

‘All done,’ he said.

‘Did you put your ear to the door to see if they’re actually in there?’ I said.

‘Why would I do that?’ said the husband. ‘That would be the behaviour of a mental person.’

‘To check that they’re in there!’ I said. ‘TO CHECK THEY GOT THE FLOWERS.’

Twisted Fire Starter

Drama at my Uncle Stephen’s house this week after his neighbour set fire to his runner beans!

‘He’d been nurturing those beans for months,’ said my mother, recounting news of this terrible incident. ‘He’d grown them since they were little seedlings.’

It emerged that Uncle Stephen – quite the eccentric himself – was tucked up in bed when his pyromaniac neighbour decided to strike.

But having taken out his hearing aid, Uncle Stephen was oblivious to the fact his prized vegetables had gone up in flames.

‘I was in me jim jams snoring my snout off, when I heard lots of banging,’ recounted Uncle Stephen.

‘I peered out of the window and the whole street was full of people.

‘They all waved back at me!’

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This isn’t the first time Uncle Stephen’s crazy neighbour has started a fire. On five separate occasions, she’s burnt down her garage, her back wall, wheelie bins, compost bins, and a row of conifers.

With his runner beans and bins reduced to ash, Uncle Stephen now fears for his onions and Brussel sprouts.

‘She’s a tiny woman but she does a lot of damage,’ said Uncle Stephen.

‘And when you tell her off, she just shrugs. She’s barmy!’

Living next door to a pyromaniac is real worry, mused my mother.

‘Mrs Smith, the neighbour, wants to remove those other conifers,’ she advised. ‘They’re too tempting for a local arsonist.’  (see video clip below!)

‘You’d think her husband would come round and apologise,’ my father chipped in.

‘For emotional damage as much as anything else!’

‘Her husband’s ugly as sin,’ said Uncle Stephen. ‘He’s the ugliest man I’ve ever seen.’

Broken Flowers

Who needs Coronation Street when you can enjoy a real-life soap opera at Caffè Nero?

Last week, I popped in for my usual latte to find Nero’s perma-fixture Porridge-Loving Pensioner remonstrating angrily with a scantily-clad woman, before throwing a bunch of flowers at her and stomping off.

Let me backtrack slightly.

Porridge-Loving Pensioner first appeared on the Nero scene about a year ago, pitching up at 7.30am, scoffing mounds of porridge all day and gazing mournfully out of the window, before departing at closing time by taxi.

He oscillates between being a curmudgeonly octogenarian, who guards his seat in the corner like a rattle snake, to acting out a scene from Wether’s Originals, handing out sweets to the kids and generously splashing out on coffees and milkshakes to all and sundry.

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More recently though, he’s regressed to being a bit of an awkward old bugger. Fellow Nero stalwart and Mallorca-mad retiree Malcolm recently brought him a suit and told him he needed to ‘smarten himself up’. I’m not sure he liked it.

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And when I chatted to another retiree-at-large, Peter, he told me he’s been giving Porridge-Loving Pensioner a wide berth.

“I’ve got enough dependents as it is,’ said Peter, who was recently widowed from his sweetheart Brenda but still takes care of his mother. ‘Take it from me once you open the door, it just opens wider.’

‘Legs always talks to him,’ he went on.

“Who’s ‘Legs’?’ I asked.

‘You don’t know Legs?’ exclaimed Peter. ‘She’s always in here. Beautiful girl, got a degree in sport or something. ALWAYS wears shorts.’

‘Of course, Malcolm always makes a beeline for her!’

‘I bet!’ I said.

I’d never come across Legs before but when I walked in and saw Porridge-Loving Pensioner in a heated debate with a girl in very short shorts, I just knew it had to be Legs.

I’ve had to remove her face for reasons of anonymity (but you can see how she gets her namesake).

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It transpired that Legs had got Too Involved with Porridge-Loving Pensioner – to the point of actually driving him to his hospital appointment the day before. Porridge-Loving Pensioner then wanted her to drive him more places.

When she said she couldn’t, Porridge-Loving Pensioner got very angry indeed.

Peter was right: when you open the door, it does get wider.

The argument ended with Legs giving the flowers back to Porridge-Loving Pensioner and marching out.

When Malcolm and Peter arrived for their morning coffee, I quickly filled them in. Porridge-Loving Pensioner was stomping around furiously in the background.

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‘I can’t believe Legs actually drove him to the hospital,’ I said.

‘She’s a very pretty girl but I wished she’d get dressed when she came in,’ muttered Peter.

‘If you’ve got it flaunt it by all means, but there is a stopping point.’

Suddenly, Porridge-Loving Pensioner appeared, brandishing the wilting flowers.

‘These are for you,’ he said, looming over me and grabbing my cheek. ‘I wondered if you’d take me to the hospital.’

I looked at the hand-me-down flowers and then took a look at his letter. The appointment was for September 1.

That was quite a while off. But my experience of old people is they gradually become obsessed by hospital appointments. Their lives revolve around them.

‘I can’t take you because I’m at work that day,’ I said, quite truthfully. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘The best thing to do,’ I added firmly. ‘Is to call the hospital and ask them to send a car for you. They often do a chaperone service.’

Porridge-Loving Pensioner threw the flowers down and shuffled off.

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Malcolm and Peter looked aghast.

‘You handled that very well,’ said Peter.

It was only after the furore had settled down that we noticed Porridge-Loving Pensioner was finally wearing Malcolm’s suit! Malcolm confessed he’d been giving him a selection of shirts too.

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‘What he really wants is company,’ I said.

‘We all do,’ said Peter. ‘We all want someone to talk to. The Italians have a name for it.’

‘Enjoy life while you can,’ added Malcolm. ‘One day, all you’ll have is memories.’

‘It’s true,’ said Peter sadly. ‘But when you’ve lost someone, the wound is so great that even memories can’t fill it.’