I found out last night that my next door neighbour died a few days ago. There was an ambulance outside his house but, frankly, we didn't think too much of it because he had a history of illnesses and his tearaway daughter had also been known to self-harm, so emergency service activity on our quiet estate had become fairly commonplace.
I have to say I couldn't bear him, as he was the archetypal middle-class misery. He complained and interfered constantly; about overhanging hedgerows, conservatories and particularly the sound of dogs barking. If one of the Bassets made even a mild grumbling noise at 3am he'd bang like billyo on the wall, waking us up from deep slumber and terrifying us until the first few seconds had passed. My nature has never made me punch or threaten anyone; yet he pushed me so damned close.
If a dog barked during the day, while at play or to warn the window cleaner not to do anything daft, we'd hear a curt "shaddap!" from the garden next door. The dogs didn't care less. Neither did we. We did all we could to prevent his wrath - locking the dogs in at night even though we's constructed an enclosed dog run with hatch to give them freedom - but it was rarely enough.
When I moved in ten years ago (alone - the house was initially my bachelor's home) he welcomed my parents to the area instead of me because they were first to run up on the day I moved in, helping lump stuff in because I couldn't get the day off work. I'm told that his face dropped towards the earth's core when my dad said "Oh, it's not us - my son's moving in. He's a DJ." However, his daughter - then probably 16 or 17 - seemed suddenly interested in her new neighbour at this point, which amused me when I heard so afterwards...
Things were okay initially. But in the last seven or so years since having the dogs we've had numerous threats of action on environmental health grounds because of the supposed noise. Notes from him had been pushed through the door, promising such action. This was noise which no other neighbour, either on the other side of the fence or across the road has even noticed, let alone moaned about. Conversely, when his daughter's troublesome phase was at its peak and the emergency services were regularly called round, we'd say nothing. This was despite regular screaming sessions and threats ringing through our walls (not aimed at us, I should add). At the time I was on 3am starts each day, but just put it down to family troubles that a rebuke from me about the noise would failt to assist.
Needless to say, he never carried out his threats. No official ever turned up to investigate the howling and incessant barking which had breached our neighbour's peace. He once told us he had put his house up for sale because he couldn't cope with it any more. After thinking "good!", my wife - who works in estate agency - did a search for his home on the market. Again, needless to say, he hadn't put it up for sale at all.
This man was retired, in his late 60s, and riddled with ailments of one sort or another, though he was constantly standing outside having a fag. We'd see him regularly walking round the village or catching a bus to do the shopping - despite all our quarrels, I'd often give him a lift home if I saw him in the next village laden down with bags.
It wasn't just us, either. He said to our neighbour on the other side "you can't afford a conservatory, you're only a single mother". He frequently complained about dog noise to people further up the street. He regularly interefered when it came to the building of fences and always stuck his oar in when the council pinned plans for extensions made by other folk down our street for their houses. He was shameless about it too; he'd often complain loudly about our dog noise to the neighbours on the other side (who had a Rottweiler and then a boxer) and issue his thoughts on what other people got up to in the direction of anyone within earshot.
Anyway, the ambulance turned up last weekend. But it was only when I bumped into another neighbour last night while walking the dogs did I find out that he'd died. It was raining, and this deceased man made our lives a misery at times, yet my instant reaction when I was told was to remove my cap.
We won't be at the funeral, that would be hypocritical. But nobody is savage in my family, and my thoughts are with this man's wife and family. A quieter life for us is yet an unhappier one for them, and I feel for them.