I've just had to go downstairs and change the battery in my elderly neighbours smoke alarm after she plaintively rang my doorbell asking for help.
For most people, this wouldn't be a problem. A sweet little old lady asks for your help - how could you possibly refuse or, indeed, feel any animosity or anger towards her?
Well, in this particular case, it's because she's an arsehole.
"Wait a second there, Dan" I hear you caution, "that's a bit strong isn't it?" The answer is, no. No it isn't. In fact, I was going to use a rather more colourful word to describe her, but decided it might be considered misogynistic.
In order to convince you of my position, I'll have to give you some background...
Dolly (not her real name) lives downstairs. She's an elderly widowed woman who does little else except potter around relatively harmlessly and occasionally speed off on her mobility scooter to buy cabbage which she then boils for approximately 4 hours, filling my flat with an absolutely delightful bouquet that lingers, on average, for about 2 days.
Occasionally, in a moment of absent-mindedness, Dolly will lock herself out and then immediately knock on my door expecting me to help her. I have no problem with this.
Yes, it can be an inconvenience sometimes, but that's the price one pays for being a decent human being. Indeed, some of you may recall the occasion on which I had to clamber over a four-foot fence into her garden and sustained painful injuries in the process, all to get her back into her little cabbage-flat. Again, I have no problem with this.
Many times, Dolly has knocked on my door and, when I've trudged downstairs in my jim jams, explained that the light on her fridge has gone off and she thinks it's a problem with the electrics. I have then dutifully clambered into the cupboard under her stairs, poking my way about in cobwebs, and tinkered with the fuse box until it's worked properly again. Once more, I have no problem with this.
What about the time a spate of strong wind caused her garden fence to bow and hang at an alarming angle, threatening at any moment to crush her under several pounds of wood and overgrown plants? Who ended up with a mouthful of nails and a hammer attempting to shore it up whilst ferociously spiny rose branches whipped mercilessly at his face and hands in almost apocalyptic gales? That's right, muggins. As stated before, I have no problem with this.
Earlier in the year when we had several weeks of reasonably heavy snow, her telephone stopped working. I spent the best part of two hours on my mobile - at heavy cost to myself - contacting the phone company and arranging for someone to come out.
This was a mammoth task that involve me having to remind the idiot on the other end of the phone (please note, they're not ALL idiots, just this particular one) that this phone line was connected to her alarm system so that should she fall and not be able to get up, she can press the button and a signal will be sent. Accordingly, should she be unable to get that signal through, she could conceivably lay there and die in her own house, alone and afraid because THEY were unable to get someone to come round and sort the bastard telephone line out. Not only would this be a failure of their duty of care but it could, by a reasonably good lawyer, be successfully classified as corporate manslaughter if it was demonstrably proven that they'd failed to take appropriate action.
Eventually, they saw my side of things and leaped into action. This involved telling me an engineer would be there by 7 o'clock that evening, and then later claiming he'd "made it as far as the local junction box but couldn't get to the house due to the weather conditions". A completely understandable claim if the junction box was several miles away, surrounded by six-foot drifts of snow and the house was only reachable by navigating a lethal maze of razor-sharp icicles and black ice so dangerously sheer that you could comb your hair whilst gazing into it. A slightly less understandable claim if, as is actually the case, the junction box is 20 feet away from her flat.
But I digress. The problem was resolved, normality reinstated and Dolly was safe once more, even though it cost me an arm and a leg in telephone calls. In case you've forgotten my philosophical mantra when confronted with such incidents - I have no problem with this.
Lest you think I'm being overly critical of this poor, frail elderly woman, I should point out that her daughter lives only ten minutes away and she is on very good terms with the people over the road, so she has no shortage of help - it's just easier for her to knock on my door. And you know what - why the hell not? I'm her neighbour for God's sake. It's all about give and take. Although, to be honest, she does most of the taking.
To give further background, let me briefly tell you about my other neighbour.
She is a homely woman, living with her husband, who has an irritating habit of shrilly and pointlessly attempting to call her cat into the house about twenty-five times a sod-bastarding day, particularly in the summer when I'm sitting on my balcony trying to relax and bask in my glorious solitude. It's now reached the stage where as soon as I hear the word "Monty!" delivered in that insanity-inducing tone of voice, I start to chew the inside of my cheek whilst grinding my teeth and muttering under my breath, a feat of oral dexterity and multi-tasking that Jenna Jameson would be rightly proud of.
In fact, I've been so angered by my cat-beckoning neighbour that I was prompted to write a fictional short story about the matter which is available here and, I think, sums up my feelings on the matter very aptly indeed.
To cut a long story short, Cat-Neighbour is a pain in the hole. There's no need for her to make the noise she does, but that's life. I've never said anything to her about it because, frankly, who needs the hassle?
Sure, if a stranger in the street doesn't bother acknowledging me when I hold a door open for them, I'll happily bellow "You're welcome!" at them, sarcastically, safe in the knowledge that I'm unlikely to ever meet them again. But if you do that sort of thing with your neighbours, it can quickly escalate into the sort of decades-long war of attrition that would cause even Don Corleone to say, "Bloody hell, Dan, just let it go, eh?"
Neighbours, it would seem, are put there to try us. But, throughout all of these tribulations, I've never said a bad word to them, not once. Why? Firstly, because of the aforementioned bad feeling it would cause, and secondly because they're just living their lives as they want to, the same way I am.
Instead, I nod politely, do what is required, turn the other cheek to the strangled yelling of Cat-Neighbour, pull on some clothes when Dolly has managed to do something ridiculous like drop her teeth into a food processor, and go about my business.
And that is probably the apposite phrase - "My business". My business is mine, their business is theirs. Thus, we mutually enjoy our respective homes and don't get on each others tits - or at least if we do, we don't mention it.
Until, that is, a few months ago when my elderly neighbour fired the first salvo in what could potentially signal the breakdown in our previously peaceful existence.
I had my friend Ben over for a few days. Ben and I have known each other for over ten years and occasionally he'll come over for the weekend and we'll spend our time playing on the xbox, watching DVDs and eating a variety of takeaway foods with low nutritional content. This happens, on average, about three times a year.
On the Saturday evening, we invited another friend over, Sarah, whom we hadn't seen in a very long time, and proceeded to make merry. Vodka, beer and wine was consumed, along with some rather good home-made burgers. We had a good time and when Ben fell asleep on the sofa at 1 am, myself and Sarah continued chatting until 3, when she left and got a taxi home.
In all, it was a successful evening of chit-chat, alcohol consumption and music. A rare treat indeed.
Now, ever cognisant of my neighbour downstairs, I made sure that the music was at an acceptable volume so that it could be heard, but not intrude on the conversation. Once the clock reached 11, I turned the music down. At midnight, I turned it down further still. At one, the music volume went so low it was barely audible.
I was displaying appropriate consideration for my neighbour, Dolly.
The following day, Ben and myself were up until a little after midnight playing Modern Warfare 2 on the xbox, working ourselves into an impotent fury trying to finish a particular level, aggravated to a degree that only middle-aged men trying to successfully guide virtual jet-ski's down an icy ravine will understand. Suddenly, I heard my letter box snap shut downstairs, so padded down to see what was there.
It was a note.
Opening it, I curiously read the contents:
Dan, can you ask your mate to cut that noise out. It's non-stop. I was up until three in the morning. You don't expect it to be dead, but he doesn't know when to stop.
I blinked. Once. Twice. I re-read the note. I re-read it again.
I was furious, and I'm going to explain why.
My neighbour's bedroom is directly underneath my living room. It makes no sense that she would have the bedroom at the front and the living room at the back, but that's her choice.
Because of the position of her bedroom, I never watch TV in my living room after 10 pm, concerned that the noise may disturb her. In fact, most of the time I consign myself to the bedroom and watch TV there out of consideration.
In my living room I have a five-speaker surround sound system. It has never been plugged in. Why? Because I think it would be very unfair on her to have deep bass sounds rumbling through her bedroom ceiling. The speakers sit gathering dust because I'm too considerate to use them.
I live alone, rarely have visitors, and make it a priority not to make too much noise and disturb those who live below and to one side of me.
For that reason, as I'm sure you can imagine, I was absolutely fuming about the note.
What also annoyed me is that because she made the assumption it was Ben making all the noise, she'd obviously gone through the following thought process: Normally, Dan is alone and he is quiet. His friend is here and it is noisy. Therefore, the noise is from Dan's friend.
The important part of that thought process is "Normally, Dan is alone and he is quiet." Yes, I am quiet. I go out of my way to keep noise to a minimum and not intrude on my neighbours quiet enjoyment of their homes. I have someone round for the first time in four months and all of a sudden I'm getting spidery, handwritten notes pushed through my door. It simply won't do, you unspeakably aggravating old crone.
I gave much thought to what the correct response should be in this situation and had decided upon the following.
1. I will never answer my front door to her again. Locked out? Fuck you, get a locksmith, you awful human being. Your fuse box is playing up again? Oh deary fucketty dear, get an electrician, you old boot. Garden fence need mending? My heart bleeds for you, get a...fence mending man.
2. Next time Ben comes round, I will put a note through her door a few days beforehand giving her ample opportunity to either a) spend the weekend at her son's house, b) invest in some ear plugs, or c) move house.
3. Umm, that's it. It's a rather sparse but effective plan.
We all want to experience quiet enjoyment of our homes, but guess what? Life isn't perfect. Occasionally we must put up with a bit of noise and try to get on with our lives as best we can. Sometimes it's the people four doors down having a party in the garden until 1am. You don't phone the police, you don't go round and bang on the door in your string vest, you sit back and think about it for a minute, realise that in the five years you've lived here they've never had a party before, and then you try to go back to sleep, mindful of the fact that next time it might be you having the party.
You see, being a neighbour is about compromise. You can either be the considerate kindly one who looks at the bigger picture and says nothing, or you can be the spiteful fuckwit who scrawls little notes and puts them through other people's letterboxes at midnight. It's your choice, but take it from me, if you choose the latter, it's going to cost you a fortune in electricians and locksmiths.
Of course, within a week or two of formulating my battle plan, I received my first knock on the door because Dolly's fuse box was playing up again and, begrudgingly, I clambered into the cupboard under the stairs. Yes, I have my principles, but at the end of the day, no matter how gruff and grumpy I may be, she's still an old lady that needs my help.
I really wish I had no scruples whatsoever.