Neighbourhood Watching – Part Three

I made another cake yesterday for my lawn-mower, not my lawnmower. He was out fishing all day but came round later to say thanks for the cake, we had a chat about the landlady about to move in next door (between us). He let slip a gem or two – his wife Candy is a Mason – (oh gosh)  the Landlady found out and asked to be nominated, she was desperate to join. She got her way and was inducted into the sisterhood. Not long after that her trouble-making character worked its way to the surface and she accused Candy of slashing her car tyres. Hard to imagine as Candy is fairly round and doesn’t bend in the middle easily, so she would have to use a long-handled knife to reach down to slash.

When I awoke this morning, it was quiet, no-one else was awake and it was silent next door. I remembered that Stomper had gone from number 45, he had saved up his empty bottles to throw into the recycling at 1:21am the night before last and I had seen him cross his back garden in the late afternoon yesterday but no goodbyes, I was up a ladder painting the bathroom ceiling and couldn’t have run down in time. I had hoped to wish him well, thought he would knock to say goodbye but I guess he had plans.
All the pots of dead plants have gone from the garden, if you can call it that, its more like a car park really, 5 years ago the Landlady had every blade of green removed and replaced with pink concrete car park, reaching from the house to the garage at the end and from fence to fence, side to side. Not a good look for a suburban back garden but mercifully the pinkness is less shocking now, lichen, dust and moss have arrived and made it their own. Although now there are numerous circles and squares of brighter pink where the pots once stood, to remind me of his time there, that and the welcome silence in the small hours.

Its Jubilee Weekend, so in traditional British fashion, the weather has turned grey, damp and cold. All plans to strim the 3ft long grass in my back garden have been put on hold and I have retrieved my winter cardigan from the back of the wardrobe.

On Saturday I went to a party and met a woman I hadn’t seen for 30 years, she had been a spinster whilst we were all marrying and having kids. Dilys looked almost the same, at 25 she had looked 50, now at 60 she looks comfortable as though she has reached her proper age. Later I found out that for 15 years she’s had a lover, with whom she doesn’t socialise but keeps entirely to herself. He is a one-eyed Jamaican ex-convict.

I felt around in my bag for the  turquoise rubber pod that keeps the keys from scratching anything. At midnight, there I was at my door, worse for wear after more than a few glasses of red wine, no-one at home, the neighbour with my spare set always retires at 10:30pm. I tipped the contents of my bag out onto the lid of the rubbish bin, whilst waving my hand above my head to get the PIR sensor to turn on the porch light. No keys to be had, which of my neighbours could I approach for shelter, the Shouters wouldn’t hear, the “Widow” would be petrified to open the door, I didn’t want to wake the newborn twins, I was  too wary to ask the Assassins even if they had been there. Stan would still be up but I think I’d only go there as a last resort. I found my mobile phones, called a friend who I knew would still be awake, a 10 minute walk and I was tucked up safe and warm. In the morning  my daughter and I found the keys lying on the side-table just inside the door.

At the corner near the flats, there is a lamp-post, it seems out of place standing alone in the corner of the lawn, a while ago, maybe two years back, someone tied a child’s lost scarf around it, hoping that the owner would come past again and find it there. It too was bright pink like the paving at number 45 but has faded and greyed over time. My daughter and I see it most times when we walk past and feel the urge to just untie it and throw it away but hesitate to actually do it, somehow it would feel wrong.

Chatting to a friend about my theory of the Assassins, explaining how they each have an eye that looks odd, she suggested “maybe they spend too much time peering through telescopes  or down the barrels of shotguns, watching and aiming and their eye muscles have become contracted causing each of them to squint”.

The quiet of Thursday afternoon was broken by a flurry of noise and motion. The Landlady had turned up with her kind, quiet husband and was shouting about something, we couldn’t make out what exactly. My daughter noticed that Shouter was out there too, ‘minding his own business’, kindly cutting the hedge of the father with the broken shoulder, as a cover for eaves-dropping on The Landlady. The gap between the hedges has been improved but now that it rains everyday, the pink flowers of the opposite hedge spray you with water if you get too close.
My dog-walking friend called today asking if I’d like to join her on a walk. We set off and on the next corner met the very short man coming back from a run in a gaudy orange and black track-suit. Despite many attempts I have never managed to engage him in conversation. Today was no exception, the tersest of nods and he was gone. My friend had challenged me to stop and ask him about his overgrown hedge but I didn’t have the nerve.

When Ken came to thank me for the cake, I mentioned that I was nervous about getting embroiled in confrontation with The Landlady, she can be difficult, we have adjoining gardens and my fence is very dilapidated, I’m waiting for a friend to help me replace it. The thought of trouble brought out Ken’s macho New Zealand  character  “If she gives you any trouble at all, just let me know and I’ll sort her out” Ah my knight in shining armour.

On Wednesday morning as I left the house I met a woman walking past, we grumbled together about the hedge. She lives around the back and across the road on the ground floor of some council flats. It used to be filled with couples and a few families who’d all been there for years, they kept it clean and filled the beds with flowers and helped each other out. Now she, at 86, is the only one who clears the drain so that the tarmac area doesn’t flood. And it is she who puts up with someone from the flats above throwing nappies out of the window aiming for the communal bins – and missing. Her parting remark, typical of that generation who suffered the hardships of WW2, “I feel so sorry for all those people who lost everything in the floods last week.”

There’s a man I often see out walking, he walks with an odd gait, very short steps, almost a shuffle. He has only a few teeth and habitually smokes roll-ups, in rhythm with the puffing on the fags, he puffs out his chest like preening bird. He is a jolly man always happy to pass the time of day with a smile and a toothless chuckle.

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