Having been sofa-bound for about 4 days this past week, revelling in the joys of daytime television and doing my best to clear pre-recorded shows off my digibox, I found myself mesmerized by “The Nightmare Neighbour Next Door,” a TV series featuring arguments on both sides of neighbour disputes. If you’ve ever watched this show, you soon find that in nearly every case, neither party to the argument is without some degree of culpability.
(Cue visual distortions and way-back-when swirly effects….)
Eleven years ago, Hubby and I, having lived here in the UK for many years, had got homesick for the good old U.S. of A. Pulling up sticks and changing countries was pretty much out of the question at that point, but, darn it, I wanted a bigger house. (I think this materialistic bent was spurred by one too many holidays to Florida! There is real seduction in plasticated perfection.) More specifically, I wanted a big American house.
And so we bought one.
Well, it wasn’t in America, actually. It was in England, but as American as our budget could stretch to. Our Tilsworth Road house was a thrice-extended 60’s era home in an excellent road, but in the worst possible decorative repair imaginable. It had served as a boarding house for a number of years to a couple whose housekeeping/decorative skills were pretty much nonexistent.
I took one look around the tired wooden kitchen with its grease stained appliances and shelves sagging from leaks and grease and filth and declared: “Honey, I love that it has 6 bedrooms and more toilets than we have backsides, but I am never – EVER – drinking so much as a single glass of water out of this kitchen.”
Actually, he was thinking pretty much the same thing.
Plans were made to gut and refurbish the entire home, a project that would eventually take us 2-1/2 years and a whole lot of money to complete. I ain’t gonna lie: It was, in the end, a really lovely house. The corner lot boasted trees and a mature garden, a grape arbor, 2 ponds and a herringbone brick patio that ran two sides of the property.
Keeping with our American theme, we invested in a hot tub.
Now, I would like to say that we did it for our children, who were teenagers at the time, but truth is, we just wanted one. The Hubster and I spent many, many an evening bubbling away under the stars. We hosted Sunday basketball games at the local leisure center, so after the games (and showers!) that tub was full to overflowing with friends of all ages. The kids had hot tub parties regularly, and anyone coming to the Augustines knew to bring their suit. Ah, good times. We loved that hot tub.
Sadly, the neighbour who lived opposite did not.
From the moment we rolled our turquoise and wood luxury tub onto the patio, our neighbour opposite had it in for us. The first inkling of trouble was a handwritten and slightly hysterical-sounding note pushed through our letterbox. According to our neighbor, Mr. M—, the pumps were droning at all hours “day and night” and disturbing the peace of his once peaceful road.
On receipt of the letter, I crossed the road and had a polite word, apologizing for any inconvenience our spa caused, but that – if he thought the low drone of a spa pump in December was unbearable – just wait until summer! We had teenagers, friends, an active social life. (He informed me that he did not. Strangely, this was not much of a surprise.) I said there would be barbecues. There would be dancing.
Mr. M— shifted his weight from one foot to the other and cast his eyes about frantically, looking at my hands, my shoulders, my house beyond – anywhere but my eyes. “That NOISE is keeping me awake,” he said sharply, still avoiding my eyes. “I haven’t slept a wink since it started.”
His nervousness and aggression were starting to worry me. After explaining that a hot tub needs to be kept HOT and that you can’t just plug it in like a kettle and heat 700 gallons of water in 5 minutes, I said, “Look. How about I put it on a timer so that it won’t recirculate during the night hours. Will that help?”
“Yes, yes. Anything to stop the noise.”
I got to wondering exactly what sort of noises he was truly hearing inside his head. Out here in reality-land, I heard my spa kick on just then, a low vibration 50 yards distant and nothing more. Seriously?
Things went from bad to worse. On a number of occasions I found him pacing my fence line, cocking his head to listen for the drone of pumps. I would get notes scrawled across backs of envelopes and shoved through the letterbox about the “unbearable” sound of my spa pumps, the times they kicked on, the times they kicked off. Precisely. One particularly memorable Sunday morning, Mr. M— pulled his car across our driveway, opened thedoor and got out, laying his hand on the horn for the entire time it took us (and the rest of the neighborhood) to get to the door. Hubby invited him in to discuss the matter, but Mr. M— preferred shouting from the street.
Seriously?? Who does that?
About 9:30 one Friday night when hubby was out and I was home alone, I heard banging on my front door, despite the fact that I had a perfectly functional doorbell. A lighted doorbell.
It was Mr. M—, standing about 20 feet away from my door, shifting his weight nervously as usual. I opened the door. “I need you to come here,” he demanded.
“Right now. Follow me.”
I looked down. I was in my jimjams, but they were decent enough. Sure, he was a tad on the crazy side, but I have a very loud scream, and there were plenty of people nearby. I sighed. “Oh, let me guess what this is about,” I grumbled sarcastically. “It’s all I’ve heard about for a year now,”
“Oh?” he asked hopefully, “from who?”
“Only you,” I said. It was true. No one had complained but him.
Mr. M— and I made our way in the dark across my front lawn, across the road, across his front lawn and we were then standing on his doorstep. We turned and faced my house. “Stand right here, and listen to that,” he demanded.
I listened. Hard. But sure enough, I could hear the faint, low hum of pumps recirculating water in my spa.
“This is making my life a complete nightmare,” he declared. “I have tried everything… earplugs, white noise…”
I wanted to suggest that he have a glass of wine with his wife for a change and perhaps get a life, but somehow, I don’t think that would have been very well received. I gritted my teeth and forced myself to be civil. “Honestly. I can barely hear it.”
Mr. M— shook with anger and snapped, “YOU DON’T LIVE IN MY HOUSE!”
He was right. This was a fact for which I was eternally grateful. “The spa is directly underneath my bedroom window and I can’t hear them,” I explained. “The pumps are set to switch off at 11 and on at 8 a.m. I am pretty sure this falls within sociable hours.”
“But the vibration…oh the vibration! This. Is. Ruining. My. Life.
I have been accused of many things in my own life, but this is not one of them. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Just a little. “Really. You can’t be serious.” (He clearly was.) “Look. They are on a timer and do not run overnight. There is not much else that can be done. We are NOT the neighbors from he**. We really aren’t. We have done all we can to solve this…”
“I’ll do anything,” he pleaded, taking a step further into my personal space. “I’ll maintain it… I’ll turn it on and off for you… ”
Now, this WAS crazy. No way was this man stepping foot in my garden. “That won’t be necessary.”
“We could… we could call the manufacturer! We could go to the store where you bought it. I’ll drive you… we’ll go down there together!”
We could? We? WE? As tempting as the thought of getting in a car with a man of some questionable mental status was, I had to decline. He insisted. Strenuously. By this point, he was looming over me. He was… he was bullying me!
Mental illness is one thing. Bullying is quite another.
I drew myself up to my entire 5-foot-4 and felt my jaw go hard. I took a step back and gave him 2 palms to talk to. “Ah – no. I appreciate the offer, but I do not want you any more involved in my life than you are already.” I was truly angry now, and perhaps a trifle scared. “You think you have it bad? I can’t leave my house without your curtains twitching and you making note of our every activity. I feel like you are stalking us, and I, for one, have had enough…” I probably apologized again for what we could not fix and would not change, I don’t remember. What I do remember is stomping back across the street and closing my front door, shaking with temper and feeling more than a little rattled.
When hubby came home that night and I told him what had happened, he was furious. Hubby does not get furious. He is the very definition of calm reason on virtually all occasions, but this really upset him. I do not know how, but he put an end to the madness. Literally. My white knight of a husband crossed the road the next day to have a word with our neighbour. I have no idea what was said, but I do know we had no further trouble with Mr. M—.
It is true that every pancake has two sides. From the standpoint of our clearly unstable and obsessive neighbour, we WERE the neighbours from he**, even though he was the clear aggressor. Things did get better over time. We were never, ever going to be best buddies, but by the time we sold up and moved, the curtain twitching had stopped. Or perhaps we just learned to ignore it.
We no longer have the flash house or the hot tub and we don’t miss them. In downsizing to a little country house, we feel like we have traded up in a way. And while our decision to live rurally was not entirely dictated by this particular event, it certainly had a bearing on it. Once you have dealt with a nasty neighbour, you realize that anywhere you live is only as comfortable as your neighbour will allow you to be.
Obviously, you don’t have to be a horrible person to be perceived as such.
p.s. We really are very nice people, you know… 🙂
Feature photo credit: shutterstock
Insert photo credit: hottubcabin.org
© motherhendiaries 2014 all rights reserved