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You guys need to know that there's a row of council houses facing the back of my house. They are nothing like the ugly bee-hives we are so familiar with, festooned with jumbo-sized knickers and granddad tank tops, permanently drying on the washing line..... This is Chelsea for goodness' sake!
These ones are quite pretty.
Now, before you start accusing me of being a snooty bitch or worse, let me tell you! When I first arrived in London 13 years ago, and before I made a fortune out of my good looks, I used to live in a council house, or tower block in east London. For 4 years!!!
There is absolutely nothing pretty you can say about those places, apart from the fact that the rent was cheap and that my 21st floor flat afforded me an amazing view over London and the Thames, the place was always smelling of curry and BO. I've never personally been able to make out which is which.
The stairs, the lifts, the lobby.... I used to get to work and smell like I just sprung out of an indian takeaway box.... Not pretty.
Furthermore, my eau de toilette, never EVER mixed well with onions....
So I can say whatever I want because I've been there ok? I'm a survivor.
Well, there is this old lady living across the road in said council dwelling, you can almost always make her out hiding behind the white (ish) lace hangings at her window, looking out.
She is the type of woman that you see coming back home at 7.00 in the morning from church, all dressed up with white gloves, handbag and a hat.
She is always checking out the goings-on of the neighborhood and, when we have dinner on the terrace, the day after she can confidently list all the courses, in the order they were served, the wine we drunk and the time we retired indoors. All this in spite of the fact that my terrace is three floors up and she is on the ground floor, and that when we dine outside is always by candlelight.
She either has superpowers or night-vision goggles on and, knowing her, the second option is probably not so far fetched after all.
She even seems to know so many details of what we do during the day, if we took the big car or the small one, how much shopping we came back with and so on.
When me and Gabriel went to Italy in the summer, she even approached Steven asking him if he was ok and how he was coping with us leaving him.... Seriously.
"Oh my darling.... It must be so terrible...." she pounced on Steven at seven thirty in the morning, he was on his way to the office
"What?" he just replied, screwing up his face
"The boys leaving you... Do you have time for a cup of tea?" she just said in a whisper, stroking his arm in a patronising way,
"Oh! Ah, yeah, I miss them a lot.... I'm reaching them next week!" Steven smiled
"What? Why? Do you fancy a cup of tea?" she said, screwing her face up
"What do you mean why?" Steven was baffled, still trying to ignore her invitation
"Are you going to try and convince him to come back? Come now, let's have a cup of tea..." she just said coming closer
"What are you on about? They are on holiday.... And I have no time for tea, thanks... I have to get to work now...." Steven shrugged her off and went on his way.
Obviously, this did not convince her at all, and she spent the rest of the summer asking around about us, if anybody had heard anything, if I had taken the baby away.... We were told that she even tried repeatedly to knock at our front door to see if we were back!!
The woman is very eager.
Imagine our stupor when, once back after 6 weeks, we kept bumping into neighbours asking us if we were ok, how the baby was, if we finally worked things out....
Can you believe it?
Me neither!
On another occasion, the same nosy lady told me about a neighbour of hers that she likes to 'keep an eye on' because she suffers from a mild form of Alzheimer's and lives on her own. Apparently, after two days of not seeing her, my neighbour called the police and pleaded with them to knock the door down to find out what had happened.
"I AM TELLING YOU! I CAN SMELL HER!! AND SHE AIN'T FRESH NO MORE, YOUNG MAN!!" she said she yelled at the reluctant officer.
Obviously the poor man was insisting on the fact that, just because you haven't seen your lady friend in two days, it doesn't mean she is hanging from the ceiling in her dressing gown, right?
But she insisted and, upon knocking the door down, they found the poor old lady half naked, in a state of shock, covered in bruises and all sorts of bodily excretions as she had fallen from the stairs, broken her hip and shoulder and was so weak and dehydrated she couldn't even move. She had been lying on the floor for two days.
See? Nosiness saves lives.
"Oh my God! She could've died!" I exclaimed in shock
"Oh no my dear..." she replied to me "The old mule is so stubborn she wouldn't just kick the bucket like that..." and laughed to herself merrily.
I have to admit, the prowess of my neighbour was not totally unpleasant. I found it amusing and, in a weird way, almost comforting.
Let me explain.
I grew up in the hills of the roman countryside, in a village that counts (including cats, dogs and farm animals) almost 7000 souls. I won't go as far as to say that they are all related, that would be just as good as calling myself an inbred (and 'The Hills Have Eyes' springs to mind....), but we do all know each other and each other's business. I've stressed this point enough in older posts. I know, stop yawning.
It used to bother me, but I have to say that, knowing that my elderly parents live there, surrounded at every waking moment by the people that know all about them, it's quite a reassuring feeling. I know they are protected.
They are 'looked at and looked after'.
Example: my mum needs to go food shopping but dad and his old car is nowhere to be seen yet, so she'll go on foot because she knows that she'll meet someone that will give her a lift.
Please refrain from thinking of my mum as a trampy hitchhiker. She is a very respectable woman. It's true though, she will always meet "So and So" that knows her and will happily give her and her load of shopping a lift back home.
Here in London it would NEVER happen! But I guess in every big city it's the same.
So, when something like this happens, when some outrageously nosy neighbour of mine starts fishing for dirt, it makes me feel like I am not transparent, people are really noticing what's going on in my life.
Ever since we had Gabriel, I find myself being paranoid about stuff I never even thought about. One of this things is my fear of dying.
Well, not fear of death itself, although, now that I fit into my size 30 jeans, it would be a pretty damn waste, but fear of what might happen to my little one.
You know, my partner Steven travels a lot for work, he is our super hero and a very dedicated daddy and husband, but, nevertheless, me and Gabriel spend a lot of time on our own and sometimes I can't help myself but think of what might happen if I was to 'just drop dead' one day, maybe in my sleep, or while I cook Gabriel's lunch....
Who would knock my door down? Who would rescue my son? Would they really find me half eaten by my cats and find my son in a state of shock and starvation?
My mum tells me that if I allow myself to think about all the things that can go wrong, I will end up driving myself insane. She also said that people don't just 'drop dead' like this, and that I am only 35 years old (...but look at Steven Gately... God rest his soul...).
I know she is right, and yet, I have not been able to put together a good contingency plan that would cover this most unpleasant eventuality.
Maybe I just have to grab hold of my pants and hope that it never happens.
Somehow, trying to teach Gabriel to dial 999 at 17 months seems out of place, so what then?
Well, I just try to ignore the issue.
I go out with my son as much as possible, we take toddler's classes together, we socialise with other prisoners (ahem... stay-at-home parents...) and I just encourage the development of good, neighbourly relations.
I try to stay within the good graces of the nosiest of them and make time to give them some good detail of what's going on in my life when I bump into them. Small price to pay for a sense of 'surrogate safety'.
I know it all sounds like a paranoid delirium, but perhaps it's my strife to make sure my son is taken care of, perhaps it's my control-freak-ishness, my desire to ensure everything is in place. Or maybe I am just like any other parent that, purely due to logistics, cannot count on a reliable 'hands-on' support of the immediate family and sometimes panics, trying to find a contingency plan.
The bottom line is, no man and, most surely, no family is an island. It cannot be.
So, God bless my nosy neighbours for knocking doors down just to make sure you are ok, bless my sister in law for driving for hours like a lunatic across London whenever I need her and
bless my new found friends and their screaming little ones, because they are there to always remind me that, even with 4 hours sleep at night and looking like shit, I am not alone...
And because they confirm that, even when you pass 35, and you are busy and sometimes cannot be bothered, you can still find new people you have a lot in common with, even if it's only the fears and paranoia you are ashamed to talk about.



Jason and Adrián said...

My mom is that woman! She's always watching the neighbors. Except she never talks to them. Dunno if that's a good or bad thing.

Francesco said...

God.... do I know that 21st floor? do I remember that lift where more than often we found....