Our house is not overlooked, it faces a dene with a babbling brook and energetic squirrels. This vista is spoiled, however, when we descend our front steps. To the left of the dene is Eric’s house. Most of the houses in the neighbourhood are rendered and painted white and gardens are colourful and well-tended. Eric’s house is painted grey and he has paved over his garden. We have lived in close proximity to Eric for a full three years and nothing – smiles, offers of ‘good morning!’, even the birth of our child – has ever elicited a word from him.
As I locked the house on Tuesday morning, I noticed that Eric was in his front garden/yard, gripping his picket fence. There was nothing unusual about this – he does take occasional breaks from watching the television to put pizza boxes into his wheelie bin, or watch his wife carry the shopping in from the car.
‘Excuse me!’ I was amazed to hear Eric’s voice for the first time.
‘Morning!’ I took this as neighbourly contact of some sort. Unfortunately Eric then launched into a tirade about thoughtless parking blocking his gate on a regular basis and insisted that he should be treated with a little more respect as the street’s resident of longest standing. I offered an apology and vowed to be more thoughtful in future. This did not placate him and he began to literally jump up and down and wave his arms in rage. I didn’t think he had such energy and his animated form reminded me of an old public information advertisement in which a hopping mad farmer is viewed through binoculars by some litter louts from the city. If I remember rightly they mistake his rage for ‘country dancing’. Eric’s ‘country dancing’ was followed by some incomprehensible mutterings as he stormed out of view and back to his TV.
I drove away through the leafy bends of The Villas, but my morning had been tainted by such unpleasant intercourse. I turned back and gave Eric’s door a firm, but unconfrontational, knock.
He seemed a little taken aback and instinctively raised his fists and assumed a boxing stance. His SKY remote control fell from its holster at his hip and spilled its batteries. The batteries rolled off the step and came to a stop on the paving.
I picked the batteries up and handed them back to their owner.
‘Eric, I really don’t want us to fall out about parking. Let’s talk about it.’
Eric had clearly not shaved for a couple of days and I felt a bit sorry for him. He relaxed a little and seemed happy to have a chat. I was soon apprised of the parking crimes of the last 20 years on the street. I assured him that we were accidental offenders and never intended to cause him any upset. I toyed with the idea of asking him if he remembered the public information film with the hopping mad farmer, but thought better of it.
Yesterday morning I was in the usual hurry to get Aurora to the childminder. I wished Desmond good morning and he said some kind words to the baby. I couldn’t help noticing that the nose of Desmond’s van was just encroaching on Eric’s drive. I presumed that Eric was not at large and that a resident of Desmond’s long standing might be able to impose a little.
I installed the baby in her car seat and got into the driver’s seat. As I did so I heard the rumble of a wheelie bin – this was strange as our rubbish is collected on a Tuesday. The noise was coming from Eric’s drive and I adjusted my rear view mirror to see the poor man flying down the slope towards Desmond’s van. Eric had smeared his face with dirt and was wearing a bandana – he was pushing the wheelie bin as a makeshift battering ram.
Desmond is a little deaf and didn’t notice a thing.
Desmond waved a little wave at Aurora as he pulled out into the road and made off for another day of cheerfully fitting carpets. Eric’s momentum took him across the road and into Desmond’s garden wall. He didn’t appear to lose consciousness. I thought it best not to draw attention to such indignity. Aurora and I set off with our usual sing-song start to the day:
‘The wheels on the bus go round and round…..!’