On the Side of the Angels

It’s not just a close, it’s a community. There’s always someone willing to lend a hand. I well remember a few years ago when we had a burst water main and we all had to take saucepans to a standpipe. Now, as you can see, I’m not as young as I was… No, really! I’m not fishing! Without a word from anyone, the two boys from number seven fetched and carried for me all day long. I told them: you ought to live in Africa. Miles they walk, just for a bucket of water. They thought I was fibbing. Of course, they’ve grown up now. Still, some things remain the same. There’s a genuine spirit of cooperation. And I intend to guard it, even from afar. I shall be watching over you… that is if you decide to buy it. And I have a sneaking suspicion that you will.

So many memories. I was sure I’d end my days here. Henry used to say that they’d have to carry us out feet first… which, in his case, of course, they did. And I don’t mind owning that I haven’t been left quite as comfortable as I’d hoped. Not that I’m blaming Henry. Except for being too trusting; he always knew better than anyone else. I still have some bits and pieces and my widow’s pension but it’s not altogether easy to make ends meet. Which is why I want to make a quick sale. Shake the dust from my feet. Not that it’s at all dusty… there’s no need to blush; I saw you peeping at the floor. To tell the truth, I’ve taken rather a shine to you both. I feel in my bones you’d be right for each other. I mean you and the house, not you as a couple – although, naturally, I feel that too.

Hand on heart, this road is a little paradise. Of course, not being made-up is a help. It’s so quiet, you can hear a pin drop. Or you could if weren’t double-glazed. And you won’t find richer soil this side of Sevenoaks. We grow all our own vegetables. Well, with prices the way they are. I know that doesn’t mean so much to you young people, but I remember when money was pounds, shillings and pence. Besides, it’s not just the money, but the taste. Now everything’s vacuum-wrapped or whatever, it if weren’t for the colour, you could never be sure what you were eating. Oh dear, I expect I sound like a fearful fuddy-duddy. But I still know the odd thing or two. At least when it comes to vegetables.

I’ll be sorry to say goodbye to the neighbours. Although I haven’t seen much of anyone since Henry died. They seem instinctively to know when you’d like to be left on your own. Not that they’re at all standoffish. No, a friend in need…. At the top end, there’s Mrs Vernon. She’s a treasure. Nothing’s ever too much trouble. I’m sure if you want any babysitting…. No? Not yet. Too busy making a career, I expect. Not to worry. I know that when the stork does fly your way… Yes, well on her right, there’s a professor and his wife. They’re hardly ever at home. Always jetting off to some conference or other. Peace studies, whatever that might be. Needless to say, he and Henry didn’t always see eye to eye. But, fair’s fair, you can’t fault his manners. And she’s the daughter of a baronet. Not that she broadcasts it. Henry looked her up. That was another of his hobbies. He had so many. I used to ask him when he’d have the time to fit me in. He’d open the diary and say ‘how about three weeks on Friday, Mother?’. He called me Mother even though we were never blessed. He had a silver tongue.

Have you visited the church? Oh you must. Henry’s buried there. Are you religious by any chance…? Ah yes, Christmas and Easter. Standing room only then. Still, it’s the thought that counts. We have a new vicar, fresh from the inner city. He shows videos. Claims he’s trying to attract a broader age-group. I’ve told him what I think. In my view, people always know when they’re being talked down to. ‘Still,’ I said, ‘you’re only young. When you’ve been here a little longer, you’ll learn.’ In the meantime, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, isn’t that what being a Christian’s all about? So, if you can see your way one Sunday, do give it a try. There’s always a call for a strong pair of hands. Particularly male ones. The churchyard’s become a veritable jungle. Though, under the current regime, one can never be certain it’s not deliberate. Some sort of floral free-expression… you must think me very wicked. Then there’re the old ladies to be fetched from the Abbeyfield Home every second Sunday for the 1662…. Oh! Oh dear. Forgive me, but I’ve just realised that one of them may soon be me.

On this side? Oh, very pleasant people. I’d be fibbing if I said they were quite our sort. But then I scarcely see them. They keep very much to themselves. I’d have been happy to hold out an olive branch… that is, a dish of olives: invite them round for a drink: become an honorary aunt. But it wasn’t to be…. No, no nephews or nieces either. My husband and I were both only children. I think that’s why we understand each other so well. Though I sometimes wonder how well you can ever understand another human being. I’m sure it’s different for you. You’ve grown up with chat shows. In our day, we preferred to let sleeping dogs lie.

I do have cousins: second and third cousins (Henry liked to remind me how far they were removed). We meet at family occasions: weddings; anniversaries; funerals. Of late, I’ve gone to rather more funerals than is good for me. Still, as I always say, so long as it’s not my own.

Oh dear! I spoke too soon. It must be one of the children bouncing a ball. I thought they were away. That’s why I was so keen you should see it this afternoon… not that it would make any difference. Children are so thoughtless. Still, we won’t start a row. It’s only five o’clock. They must have just come home from school. Boys will be boys – and so will girls these days. They need to let off steam. Oh dear! So much steam. I’m embarrassed. I feel as if you’ve caught me out. I never hear so much as a squeak out of them as a rule. They must be moving the furniture or fixing it to the wall. Of course! They’re putting up shelves. Perhaps we should go into the dining-room, or would you prefer to come back in the morning? Then you’d see it in its best light…. I mean broad daylight.

Animals! That is, I think they keep animals: dogs. I wanted to ring the RSPCA, but I was afraid they’d put their… doings through the letterbox. That’s what happens when you make a complaint. Anonymous means nothing when you live next-door. Still, I’m sure a word from you. Man to man. Or man to animal, if you’d rather. No! This is intolerable! It’s as though they know you’re here, so they’re doing it on purpose to spite me. Well, we’ll call their bluff. We don’t give in to bullies. Henry fought at Dunkirk.

Shut up! Shut up! I’m sorry. It’s just my nerves – worn to a thread. That’s why I’m so anxious to make the move: depart for pastures new while I’m still able…. No, it’s kind of you to offer but I’m trying to drink as little water as I can, ever since I saw a programme about how many stomachs it had already passed through.

Yes, they do sound very grown-up children, but children grow up so fast these days. That’s why you mustn’t leave it too long. Believe me, there’s no substitute for a family. Not even pets. Do you have a dog? No? You should consider it. This is a marvellous house for a dog. Especially while you’re waiting for children. I had a collie, Vicky, until Henry developed an allergy to fur and she had to be put down. Nature can be cruel. There are so many lovely places to walk them hereabouts: the golf-course and the sports fields. Henry was the secretary of the village cricket-club. He never made the team, but he was a marvellous scorer. He used to bring his books home to show me. So neat, you’d have thought you were at Lords. I believe it’s essential – don’t you agree? – to play one’s part in the community. There are so few of us left.

No, you mustn’t leave. Have another cup of tea. Or a drink. I know it’s not six o’clock yet, but who’s counting? Besides, they’re way ahead of us next door…. Animals! I’m not sure I can take much more. No, there’s no need; I’ve a handkerchief here. What you must think of me! Turning on the waterworks, as Henry used to say. At least there’s one good thing to come out of all this: you’ve seen it at its worst; it can only get better. And I appreciate you need time to think. But I tell you what; as I’m determined that the house should go to a good home – that is the home to a good owner, I’ll knock something off, say, five or even ten thousand, for a quick sale.

Motorbikes? Are you sure? I suppose they must be. Every so often… once in a blue moon, some of their friends drop in for an hour. Don’t ask me what for, but I’m certain it’s harmless. Live and let live: that’s my motto. I don’t bother them and they don’t bother me. Let me draw the curtains. At least you’ll get an idea of how the room looks at night…. It’s more than flesh and blood can stand! I will not yield to a load of foul-mouthed, foul-smelling layabouts! Oh, what’s the use? You may as well go. Don’t waste your breath being polite. It’s been so long; I wouldn’t know how to respond. There’s nothing you can do. There’s nothing anyone can do. They killed Henry. Murderers! They engage in filthy sexual practices in the middle of the lawn. They expose themselves to my friends. They urinate over my fence. I daren’t pick a flower any more, let alone a vegetable.

Of course we called the police… so often that they began to lose patience. The moment they arrived, you’d think we were living next door to a convent. They said that it wasn’t a matter for them and put us in touch with the Department of the Environment. At first, they didn’t take us seriously; no one does when you’re retired. Then they sent round two officials who metered the noise and took them to court. But Justice must be deaf as well as blind. The Judge threw out the case. He ruled that it wasn’t the noise that was unreasonable; it was us. He rebuked us for being prejudiced. We were the bad neighbours.

You’ll have no need to worry. They won’t dare behave like this once you’ve settled here. As I said before, I understand you need time to think about it. But at least that must mean that there’s something to think about. So when do you suppose you might…? Oh yes, I see. Through the agents. You’re quite right. Best to keep it on a strictly business basis. But, if you have any queries, please don’t hesitate to get in touch, any time of the day or night. I don’t sleep. How can I sleep? I know that I’ll sleep happy now…. Drive safely. And do cast an eye over the church if you have a moment. You won’t regret it. I’ll be popping in later on, to thank God for sending you to me: my two guardian angels – and you’re genuine angels, not like the devils next door.