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.

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One thought on “Writing 101: A Gripe

  1. I think you are obviously a saint. I would have started by giving her a much uglier pseudonym, then I would have purchased a very loud drum kit….and tap shoes….and one of those giant gongs. Good grief. Betty needs to have more than one drink in that garden. Perhaps you could leave one of those jumbo packs of earplugs on her stoop? Fingers crossed for a speedy renovation!

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