Writing 101: A Gripe

I have a gripe, one of the oldest gripes in history no doubt. A disagreement with my neighbour!

My family and I used to live in our own house a couple of miles away. We fell in love with a dilapidated old farmhouse in the country. We sold our own house, bought the new. But we can’t live there yet as it’s got holes in the roof, boarded up windows, woodworm holes in the beams, woodworm beetle corpses everywhere… You get the picture. It needs renovating. So we rented a small (too small for us by far) semi-detached house near my son’s school. This summer we will be renovating the new house, with the plan of moving there in September.

When I first arrived at the rented house to start moving our things over, the neighbour who’s joined on to us (shall I pseudonym her Betty?) came out of her house and hurried over. She told me she had had 15 years of hell with the woman who owns our house (and is now renting it to us). Apparently she used to bang doors into the small hours, leave lights on, have the TV booming out till 2am, have her grandchild screaming and crying in the garden all day. Betty basically seemed to want reassuring that we were more considerate people who kept noise to a sociable level.

Now, an alarm bell did begin clanging somewhere in the deepest recesses of my brain. I mean people just don’t come running out to their new neighbours asking what their routines are, discussing noise levels, etc. However, being me, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I mentioned her to another new neighbour who suggested Betty got anxious as she lived on her own.

Being me, I was more than happy to oblige a poor anxious woman who had clearly been traumatised by 15 years of subjection to random loud and disturbing noises. I assured her that I would do my best to be quiet after 8pm. I didn’t think this would be difficult. After all, in our previous home my little boy used to go to bed around 8, and my daughter around 9. The toddler sleeps with me and I usually go to bed with him and read, type, blog, etc. while he sleeps. He isn’t a particularly noisy child.

How little did I know that, once we moved, all routine would leave by the window like a burglar running off with his loot! Sometimes I found that my son would be going to bed at 9 and my daughter at 10! This really is very late for children of 7 and 9. I felt bad, and I felt I was letting my children down by not being organised enough to keep to a healthy bed time. But let me be quite clear. My husband works a very demanding job, and is out the house at least 12 hours a day. I run a business. I home-educate my daughter (reasons for this? perhaps I will blog them another time, but reasons there are), I have one son in school and also a lad of 2 years. I also have two dogs, one of which is a difficult breed and the other of which belongs to a friend who couldn’t have him living with him at present. Incidentally there are also a parrot and 4 goldfish in this household. In addition to all this, we have just sold our house, moved into rental, bought another house and are responsible for drawing up plans and renovating it. Now, in my book, we as a family have an awful lot going on at present.

My gripe?

Well, Betty the neighbour is very noise sensitive. She says herself that she has never been able to relax. Apparently her mother says she was never even able to relax as a baby. The houses on this street are said to have thin walls. Our landlady had laminate flooring laid downstairs, so if my toddler drops a toy it makes a far louder clunk than if it falls on carpet.

I believe in children being children. In other words “children should be seen not heard” doesn’t exist in my thought, though obviously Betty thinks differently. I let my son ride his bike around the end of the cul-de-sac. He isn’t unduly noisy. But Betty says if we can hear it it’s too noisy. Well, don’t adults have conversations on the street sometimes that others might hear? Don’t people mow their lawns using a noisy mower? I know Betty has a gardener who comes and uses noisy machines. But surely that’s just part of life!

Don’t children sometimes cry? Shouldn’t they run around? Well, if they run their feet hit the ground with a bang, inside or outside the house. That is very disturbing apparently. Apparently if my children are restless I should take them to the playing field and let them let off steam there (although it isn’t quite clear what the houses adjoining might make of this). But what if I have one child in the bath, one watching TV, and one having a tantrum? What if I do get all three on the field for a good old shout-oh! and then I’m late making the tea, so they get to bed late and make a noise after 8pm?

You know that 8pm deadline I originally suggested? Well, I didn’t realise she was going to take it as a formal agreement and cling to it like a byelaw! I wish I’d never suggested any time for shutting down noise now!

What has really got my goat is that yesterday I was making tea in the kitchen. My son was at his granny’s house, and my daughter and toddler were playing quietly in the garden at around 6pm. I received an MMS message (which means I have to log onto the internet, type in a code just to read a message that could have been sent as a normal text!). It was very unpleasant as below:

“hi isobel i hoped once u had the keys to [new house] that things might quieten down hre a bit. especially in the evenings as i thought the children mite be tired!. i dnt knw why they hve the need to make so much noise all the time especially danny. i want to sit out in the evenings occasionally wen i get hme and relax with a nice drink but its impossible all i can hear is dani! dont they ever go to sleep. he constantly cries or screeches im not sure wat. im incredibly busy in july and august and v tired please can.u try a bit harder to keep the dogs and kids quieter. its embarrasing wen i hve friends round and all we can hear is u?.im sorry to keep on at u all the time but when my evenings and sunday mornings and sumtimes early hrs are being disrupted i dnt hve a lot of choice. with all the noise they give off im surprised thre not in bed at 8 thanks once again x”

OK, re-reading it perhaps it doesn’t look so unpleasant. But I was very confused as to why this message was being sent. Things seemed pretty quiet to me. Really, they aren’t as noisy as she’s making out. My toddler does chat, but not so loud that any reasonable person would find it too much. He certainly is not constantly screaming as suggested. He’s a happy child most of the time. But even if he was crying all the time, what could I do? Gag him? Tie my children up so they can’t run around? If a child has a tantrum and stamps or throws things, I admit it’s undesirable, but I am not physically large enough to physically restrain them and truss them up till they’ve calmed down. And should I if I could?

All she can hear is me? Really, this is utter nonsense! Honestly, me and my family are simply not that loud! I lived 12 years in my previous home with not a single complaint from the neighbours, who were sorry to see us go. I was repeatedly told we would be missed. No one else on the street where we now live has complained or passed any negative comments at all to us. But when Betty is constantly on about the noise it makes me doubt myself. Am I really a terrible neighbour? Does everyone wish we’d move? This just isn’t nice. Betty keeps on telling me it was a quiet street until we moved in. Well, I think she is overly sensitive to noise, has a very quiet house herself so that any noise heard from next door is more obvious.

Anyway, in the few months I’ve been living here I have gone out of my way to keep noise levels low after 8pm. I have inconvenienced myself as I felt unable to put the washing on in the evening even if I’d been out all day. Every time I return to the house I think of her and worry about our noise levels. This has put extra anxiety on me.

So after a brief exchange of texts yesterday evening I have ignored her. I am not going out of my way to annoy her as she texted to ask tonight. To the contrary, I am now refusing to go our of my way to NOT annoy her as I was previously doing. So tonight the kids got to bed late because I was so busy today the schedule slipped. My son had no clean school shirts, so I put the washer and the dryer on and they finished after 8 (though I closed the kitchen door to keep the sound minimal). I ignored the texts, and all was quiet in this house before 10pm.

So love me or hate me? Who’s side do you take? Am I a mean and wicked noisy neighbour? Do you sympathise with Betty because you too have noisy neighbours? Or do you think I’ve been overly tolerant? I’d be interested, because sometimes it’s very hard to be objective when caught up in a gripe.

Anyway, this must be WAY over 400 words, but I don’t know who should have the credit (or blame), me or my two glasses of red.


Writing 101: Diary for a week (fiction)

Sunday: Mum said write a diary practise expressing yourself. She gave me this book to write in. I wrote in it.

Monday: Mum said you don’t know what it’s like having to look after an autistic child all day in school break while you’re at work. My ears hurt because she was loud. Dad was loud too and I had a headache. I jumped in my room. Mum was loud and said don’t jump. She said neighbours complain. I jumped on sidewalk.

Tuesday: Mum was loud. I jumped on sidewalk. Mrs Pauley was loud. People pulled her outside. Everybody was loud. I screamed louder and jumped more. A dog barked. Mrs Pauley screamed. Mum hugged me hard. I didn’t like it. Everybody was loud. I bit Mum. People grabbed and pulled me. Mrs Pauley said he’s frightened I’ve raised six boys and Michael was autistic he’s just special be gentle with him. People went away and Mum let go of me. Mrs Pauley went away with a trolley with things in.

Wednesday: Everybody was quiet. Mum said Mrs Pauley is a dear old lady she didn’t deserve to be evicted her sons should have helped her out. Mum talked a lot but she wasn’t loud. I didn’t jump and I didn’t scream.

Thursday: Mum took me to Mrs Pauley’s new house. Mrs Pauley said I will mind him if you pay me I wish I didn’t have to ask but you know I don’t have anything coming in now. Mum and I went home. Mum said you’re going to be spending a lot of time with Mrs Pauley during school break she’s a dear you’ll love spending time with her.

Friday: Mrs Pauley took me to the library. I liked it. Mrs Pauley said with this card you can get out any book you like it’s a whole new world you can go anywhere you dream of. I didn’t like it. Some dreams are bad and I don’t want to go there. I jumped and screamed. Mrs Pauley said come home now.

Saturday: Mum said you’ve written your diary for a week you don’t have to do it anymore.

Writing 101: My biggest fear (in a different style!)

My first thought was SLUGS!! Nothing personal, just can’t bear them. Not even a dislike, or exactly FEAR. More of an irrational HORROR! When my son was 2 he came to me from the garden with a snail in his mouth. In an act of panic I grabbed him and shuck it out of his mouth. I threw it in the bushes and ran away. Didn’t want to touch him for hours. It occurred to me maybe I needed HELP? But there’s nothing like non-repetition to help us push those kinds of thoughts to the back of our minds.

Anyway then it occurred to me my biggest fear isn’t slugs. Like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, it’s fear itself.

When I was 7 it occurred to me I might go to Hell. A bit heavy for a girl of 7 to handle. My solution was to decide I liked the Catholic idea of Pergutory, so I would only be in Hell for a while and then go to Heaven. Don’t know if this is right, but I was only 7.

In the 80s I was dead scared there might be a nuclear attack and full-on nuclear winter. But I had no control over whether the big red button got pressed. I decided there was nothing I could do about it so don’t worry about it.

20 years ago I forced myself to walk down a pitch dark lane in the dead of night to post a letter. I was scared to the point of that silent scream of panic rising from my stomach. But if I didn’t do it then I would have let the fear control me. That was worse.

Seriously, fear controls us. We have to be good christians because we’re afraid of being damned. But some other guy says we will be damned if we don’t follow the Quran. The bible tells us we should fear God, but I don’t want to live a life out of fear. I don’t want to base my morals or my life’s actions on fear of God’s wrath. I choose to do my best, and not worry about the rest as I can’t control the Big Guy’s decisions.

So I have 2 approaches to fear. If it’s abstract (e.g. will humans become extinct and be all forgotten?) I choose Bob Marley’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy. If I’m facing a fearful situation directly I force myself to face it head-on. But I’m lucky. Not a lot scares me now.

Writing 101: Lost and found

My little boy collects cuddly stuffed turtles – or really any turtle. I had to take the hard ones away a couple of weeks ago as he hit his sister with them. But I know where they are, so they’re not lost.

Nobody knows where Daddy Shelly is. He is a yellow turtle with a brown shell and great big hooded eyes. He’s Daddy because there’s a smaller version of the same called Shelly, and a tiny keyring version called Baby Shelly. Shelly and Baby Shelly are brothers.

We moved house a few months ago, and I think that’s when Daddy Shelly disappeared. We had so much junk in the old house, and most of it is stored in the garage of the house we are now renting. The garage is a solid block of “stuff”. It has a window in the side, through which we can see the baby’s highchair and a multiude of other “stuff”. Could Daddy Shelly be in there? Well, maybe. But I can’t search in there because there is no path in. When I first began putting our belongings in there it seemed orderly, as if we might be able to fetch things out if we needed them. But it is now so full that we can’t enter.

My little boy is very sad about losing his turtle. Each of his turtles is precious and alive, not just a toy. He worries about Daddy Shelly. A lot of the time he seems to forget, but then he’ll have a sad time when he cries for Daddy Shelly. I wish we could find him for my little boy. I don’t see how we can have left him behind when we moved. There is just the dreaded possibility that my son could have taken him out somewhere and dropped him without any of us noticing.

Maybe somewhere there is a “Lost & Found” place with a small stuffed toy turtle, yellow with a brown shell. His name is Daddy Shelly. Please take care of him and treat him well. He is greatly missed, and we hope to have him home soon.

Honey, I bought a house!

The momentous day has arrived. I received a phonecall this morning to say that we had completed. I was free to collect the house keys, which were with the vendor’s solicitor. They used a firm of solicitors in a nearby town, fifteen minutes drive from the house. The particular member of the firm with whom our vendors were dealing has been the bane of ours and our solicitor’s life this past few weeks. We agreed on a completion date, and our poor solicitor has been trying to exchange contracts for weeks. They finally got exchanged yesterday, which I thought was cutting it a bit fine.

I drove over for the keys, only to find the solicitor reluctant to part with both the keys. He couldn’t get his head around the fact that our neighbours won’t be needing a key to our back door! He kept their front door key and one of our back door keys for when the neighbours complete! Nevermind! We’ll probably change the lock (as in fact he advised).

I am now absolutely exhausted after spending most of the afternoon at the house. At least the last of the vegetable seedlings have been planted.

Writing101: They’ve taken over Crufts!!

OH NO!! I’ve just read that the “Make Dogs Suffer” pressure group has bought the rights to Crufts off the Kennel Club! They’ve rescinded the recent rules on docking of tails. All the breeds that traditionally have docked tails must have their tails docked to enter the shows. That’s the end of long bushy spaniel tails, and we’ll be looking straight up rottweillers’ bums again. But worse still, all the other breeds have to have their tails docked too!

Instead of jogging round the ring with their dogs strung from slip leads, exhibitors must have a minimum of three electric shock collars attached to their dogs! If they fail to comply, they’ll have the collars fitted to them!

I would list all the other atrocities, but I’ve got to hurry down to Crufts and get my German Shepherd before they dock and fry her…

Writing 101: When I was 12

When I was 12, I lived in a semi-detached house in Sheffield. In my house it was always noisy. I’m from a large family, and the house was always full of people. Aloneness was a highly-saught-after rarity.

The stairs were good and broad. They performed a right-angle turn two steps from the top. It wasn’t a kite, but what we called “the little landing”. This was a big square area I used to sit in to experience the delight of aloneness. My bedroom provided no sanctuary as it was shared.

I’d head out into the garden. The garden was overgrown and full of trees, and there was one corner where I couldn’t be seen from the house. I spent hours sitting there, hugging my knees to my chest. There was a very tall poplar tree (the trees that look like upside down brooms) at the bottom of the garden. I would sit and stare at it blowing in the wind. In autumn poplar leaves fall, damp and brown, with a very distinguishable scent. Even today, I still remember that smell.