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Next-door nightmares

Big fences make for better neighbours, but in an era of apartments and common stairwells, whatever can you do? Alan Stewart reminisces.

Bad neighbours can turn any home into a hell.

Bad neighbours can turn any home into a hell.

I’ve recently become a homeowner after a decade of living in rented flats around the island, a lovely apartment with a view in a newly-constructed development in a rural town.

When I first got the keys and started my explorations of the dusty, shell-structure apartment that would one day be full of the collected detritus of my accumulated existence, I prayed for one thing above all else: please let the neighbours be cool.

I grew up in a quiet part of Ta’ Ġiorni, in a locale filled with British ex-pats and aged widows and very few children my age. My mother, a contentious person with a sharp tongue and a long memory, frequently came to odds with the nearby residents and I often felt it difficult to make any connection to the local tribe as a result.

I grew up barely able to name the people who lived in my street, and knew them for the negative qualities and incidents that my mother would recite at dinner like a mantra. Suffice to say I grew up suspicious and weary of those-that-lived-next-door.

My first foray into home independence led me to a curiously-shaped apartment two floors up from a pizzeria. My landlord lived in the flat beneath mine, a short and quiet man who communicated with me via his boisterous wife.

I was lucky that they had some nightmare tenants before me: one family had been excessively rowdy, banging doors and running up and down the corridor, never letting them have any peace. The second family burnt the kitchen to a cinder. As a result, my solitary existence proved to be a balm – they limited their stairway chat to a nod and a smile and left me alone, content that I was the lesser of all evil that had befallen them.

Eventually I had to move. Some sort of family issues arose and they needed to sell the apartment and thus began my exodus.

The next apartment block I lived in was chosen out of necessity (read: cheap) rather than convenience and the quality of life reflected this. The walls seemed to shake with arguments and shouting at all hours of day and night. A group of Gozitan students, tired of being woken from their hangovers by the doorbell, opted to rip the thing off the wall and in doing so, short-circuit the common area parts of the condo.

Hearing of a friend leaving the island I thought to move into their vacant flat. On day one, the first neighbour I met as I moved in boxes gave me seething looks, clearly indicating that whatever grudges and negative qualities they bore my friend have now been bequeathed upon me in some sort of feudal bestowal. This was not a good start.

Aside from more yelling and arguments (this seems to be cultural) another neighbour frequently forgot to take out the garbage on time and opted to store it in the shaft, until this became the standard way to dispose of things. I found out he was doing this the moment the summer heat came in to ripen and ferment the contents.

Another neighbour frequently opted to store the garbage in the shaft, until this became the standard way to dispose of things

Suffice to say, I did not befriend any of these people. I knew them as “fat guy in number 4” or “the blonde with crazy eyes” and other such monikers. I avoided them in the street and averted my gaze in the corridor. They probably felt just as cordial and warned their children away from me. I moved.

This time I found a quiet apartment block. Things moved along swimmingly until the notes began to appear on my door. Apparently, in this scenario, I was the crazy neighbour.

Bearing a thick moustache only found in 1970’s pornography, my rake thin deliverer-of-missives took umbrage at the fact that with this move I added a dog as a co-habitant. It’s not a big dog, but it is canine in appearance and nature. My neighbour disliked the sound of barking.

This was reasonable. I did my best to ensure my furry companion was on his best behaviour, but occasionally I would be out of the apartment and return to find a note taped to my door saying there was an insane level of noise. I began to record my pet in my absence, assuaging my conscience that a couple of barks would happen, but no different to a car passing by with a loud stereo.

The notes increased, adding new crimes to the board – malignant odours, threatening sounds, the fear of inviting people over to his apartment above, and so on. This would translate into cruel jibes when we crossed paths in the stairwell. I’d have kicked more of a fuss had I not known my then-landlord was very difficult and more keen to move on to a new tenant without pets. I bit my tongue and waited. This took a few years.

As I write this I receive a call from my new neighbour downstairs. He’s checking in with me about some lift maintenance fees. My prayers thus far have been answered – my current co-habitants are tolerant of dogs, friendly and, so far, and reasonably sane.

Knowing this has increased the value of my new apartment tenfold. This time I can’t just move if the people next door are a source of stress. I’d have to reach for a shovel and prepare some holes in a field far away. Still, there is still one vacant apartment in the block waiting to be sold. Time will tell.

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