When we first moved from Oxford to Witney, some five years ago, we found the chattiness of neighbours almost stifling; having got used to that, we experienced it all over again when we moved to Eynsham village. It wasn’t that our neighbours weren’t lovely: but they were far more talkative than city dwellers, especially so in the village. Now, moving back to the larger town again, but being used to a village, we’ve found our neighbours almost reticent in comparison.
I was reminded of this when I met the charmingly eccentric Graham Chuckle in Focus some time ago. Graham was our neighbour when we were in Witney last time around, and was a cheery soul who greeted me like a long lost pal. It also reminded me that, despite being in a new house for over six months, I’ve barely mentioned the nearest denizens of the estate here.
On one side there’s a middle-class family, captained by Brian Quietchap and Hearty Sharon, each about five to ten years older than us. They’re nice enough, although he’s hard to talk to because he’s so quiet, while I don’t have a great deal to say to her. Their children are almost as quiet as them, and the only sound we ever really hear from their house is a bathroom-ceiling pull switch being ter-clonked several times anywhere between 5.30 and 7am while one or other of the parents gets ready for work.
On the other side are Hugo and Chavette, with their baby Foghorn. When we bought this house, that one was occupied by a frail and somewhat deaf old lady: the ideal neighbour in many ways. But she overdid the frailty rather; indeed was so frail that her daughter convinced her to move out and rent the property. Cometh the move, cometh the renters: Hugo arrived first, as presumably Chavette was still enceinte, but now they’re both here and you’d certainly tell it from the noise through the wall.
The occasional appearance of an overpolished 4×4 driven by—you guessed it—a small blonde woman (who we think might be Hugo’s mother) makes us think he’s pleached below his natural perch in this life, although his conversation is pretty much exactly that of the typical native of the A40 corridor: lots of loose vowels and the only safe ground being talk about football. Chavette doesn’t really speak many words at all as far as we can tell, and Foghorn communicates using just one long and periodically varying note. Hugo and Chavette watch television in the bedroom, and hoot and bellow at it occasionally, until at least 11pm: between them and Brian we’re not guaranteed a great deal of sleep. Oddly, given his demographic, Hugo has no car in his drive (but then oddly, given mine, I do.)
Finally, immediately opposite is Confused Bananaman. He’s a genial old chap who when we first rang the bell to say hello answered the door clutching a banana and a walking aid, with his flies at half mast. Charming enough, he managed to pass a lot of his confusion onto us when he swore blind that Brian and Sharon’s house was that of his god-daughter; Sharon certainly never mentioned it when I talked about him, and the generations seemed a bit odd: it turned out he was pointing his banana at the next house along.
Neighbours are what you make of them, though, and anyway we’re not quite sure what this lot makes of us. Brian and Sharon have been kind enough to look out for the house when we were away, shuffle bins off the pavement onto the driveway for us, that sort of thing; they’re nice to talk to, when you do talk to them, and I’d like to think we’d be neighbourly to them too if they needed us. Hugo and Chavette we’ve more or less given up on: chatting to them from one driveway to another you start to feel like you’re making encouraging noises over a five-bar gate and not getting a great deal of response. We look forward to their television exploding. And Bananaman is peripheral enough to be no trouble at all, making an appearance only very occasionally, and despite the name we’ve given him almost invariably without a banana.
It could be better, but—partying Chechens, taciturn Chinese faux gangstas, overenthusiastic visiting students and other people our houses have shared boundaries with—it could be a lot worse.