The Humping Below

There’s only so long you can go listening to your neighbours humping without feeling a bit…awkward. It starts off well enough – delighted disbelief, a twinge of delicious guilt, a light smattering of applause perhaps – but then you become aware that you’re like a dirty ghost, an invisible advisor on the eiderdown; willing him to stop that fruitless thing he’s doing with his nose and mentally moving the remote control so it doesn’t disappear like last time. You shouldn’t get involved. People don’t like it. Especially if you’ve had to saw a hole in the floor to gee them on. The dust gets everywhere. (Everywhere.)

A mere week ago I naively thought the new couple downstairs might become friends, that we were only one cheery meeting in the porch away from being pals. A couple of chatettes away from exchanging spare keys and confessional tales over some ice-cold beers. That was as I heard them shooping boxes whimsically around the laminate floor. Their newness, the implied optimism of their arrival was charming. “Where shall we put the cutlery? In a drawer in the kitchen? Good idea, babe.” Cute. I pictured newlyweds with flushed cheeks. I wondered if I should bake them welcome cookies and tell them I’ve got their backs if they ever need an emergency Enid Blyton or a decade-old bag of odd socks.

It was only hours later that I thought that I might kill them if they didn’t immediately dismantle their too-immediately mantled surround sound; bang and olufsen their skulls in with my hardest shoe if they didn’t cease their repetitive playing of some moronic computer game (that sounded to me, from my second floor sound-vantage, like zombies racing each other around a bowl of rice crispies.)

Then the next morning they played me The Everly Brothers up through the floor while I had a bath and I thought I might have been a bit rash in visualising their sudden and gruesome deaths; that we might after all through the power of shared musical tastes make some long-lasting bonds.

Then their dog made me drop my eggs with its psychotic snarling from its slit beneath their door as I let myself in after shopping. I dimly remembered some old saying about not being able to make an omelette without first breaking eggs, and – realising it was of little use when the eggs are squelching around a Sainsbury’s bag and not a skillet – abandoned my ‘nevermind’ smile and once more wished them a bit of deathy harm.

Then I heard them talking gently about growing tomatoes through the louvre window while I had a wee and I softened at their humble dreams, at the vulnerability of all humans. I had a five minute Jean de Florette spell of whimsy as they poked around the patio.

Then they banged in some nails while I was trying to write and I hoped their nails would ping back out as they slept and their Jack Vettriano pictures would fall smack on their heads and that the resultant dents in their skulls would spell out words like ‘cock’ and ‘fuckwit forever’.

Then I told myself off for being horrible.

And then they started humping.

Now, as I type, I feel like I’m the ousted member of a dysfunctional 70s three-way – pushed out of the tryst to play the gooseberry in the next room; still tacky from my involvement. I hate the bad flat conversion sound-proofing for making me feel like an aural pervert. I hate the enforced intimacy of neighbours. I hate his morning phlegm-gargling and her loud phone conversations about shit I hate. I hate their door-shutting and ostentatious sneezing. I hate their proximity, their life choices; their proximity to my life choices. I hate their X Box and the fact humans ever evolved the opposable thumbs requisite to play it. I hate the fact that when I stand one day soon on their doorstep, all psyched up to tell them off, that they will probably be perfectly nice and I will probably say nothing.

That I’ll then trudge back upstairs to listen to them bumping around like blindfolded pandas tasked with artlessly saving their species. Like now. Ugh. They sound like the BeeGees playing squash. It’s about as erotic as…the BeeGees playing squash. Which isn’t all that hot when you actually picture it. Especially now that most of the BeeGees are dead.

My initial neighbourly visions of sharing hopes and dreams over beer are dwindling; the likelihood of us ever holidaying in a cottage in Cornwall close to zilch.

They are certainly not about to get any ruddy welcome cookies out of me. What will I eat while earwigging?


Tribute: For Those Who Continue To Rock (I Salute You)

I confess: watching boys strip off their school uniforms and run around topless isn’t usually the way I spend a Friday night. Somewhere past 15 it just stopped feeling de rigeur. In fact it seems like a decidedly dodgy thing to reprise now I’m 32; people get a bit upset about stuff like that nowadays.

And yet, just last week, this is what I found myself doing. Watching a boy stripping off his school uniform and running around like a loony while I giggled behind my hand like an idiot.

It was Friday night. I found myself, against all my usual discretion, at an AC/DC tribute night. I felt like I’d stepped back in time. I hadn’t been to a gig at that venue since I was a teen – wearing clunky boots, too much eyeliner, and chugging beer like it was Ribena – and here I was half a life later…wearing, er, clunky boots, too much eyeliner, and chugging beer like it was Ribena. Progress. Excellent.

I looked around me. Lots of people seemed to be wearing stuff they might have worn in the 90s too. Some of them looked like they might even be wearing their stuff from the 70s, (and I suspected they’d never stopped). There we stood – some suspended in a time which had never died, and some retrieving time like a pair of favourite old jeans found at the back of the wardrobe. The room smelt like these places usually do – stale carpet, sleepy beer, and the electro-plastic smell of equipment a bit too warm and sparky to pass the next safety test. And men. It stank of men. I think I even caught a whiff of Brute, which span me back to all those clumsy teen kisses that got planted on me like wet socks flung at a laundry basket.

I don’t know much about AC/DC. I know it’s the law for every person with two testicles to wear one of their T-shirts for at least a year of their lives. I know it reminds me of the knobs on the little generator thingy in physics experiments at school. I know there are guitars involved. I did not know an overgrown schoolboy ran around sticking his tongue out like he’d had too many E numbers. Were we supposed to chuck sherbet at him or something? Oh no. That’s just him, being all Rock.

Familiar songs were played. I bobbed dutifully like they were old favourites when really I was thinking “Ohhhhh! THIS is AC/DC!” I chugged Ribena-beer, and beamed up at my happy boyfriend, lost in his own light of a thousand remembered air-guitar solos. “You cute little rock dweeb”, I thought as I patted his bum. I turned and watched everyone else.

These people were lost. Like, properly lost. There was a man in his 50s down the front on his own, diving about in a school uniform. There was a lady in full leather who looked 20 from the back but 60 from the front, power-prodding the air like she’d just won Rock Bingo. There was a man in a wheelchair gliding around the floor as smoothly as a pinball in an old groove. They were lost – and loving it. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. They had paid twelve quid to watch some unknown men pretending to be better-known men.

Why were they here? They could be at home, whacking up the real AC/DC really loud. They could watch old gigs of the real AC/DC on Youtube. They could even catch the real AC/DC in their current line-up, somewhere in the world, and hear those old songs curve a quarter-mile around a stadium, feel the composite power of science and magic making the sound whoosh around thousands of thrashing bodies. Why were they here, while a man named Dougal gyrated in velour on the bar with his tiny boy-nipples? Is this really what it is to pay tribute?

It would be patronising to suppose I could tell what they were all feeling and why. I would no doubt get it wrong. But I saw it as a good thing – that furore of the familiar – standing there in memory of my Doctor Martens and a haze of Brute. We were a clan for the night, like humans are supposed to be. It was, if anything, a tribute to nature, not just the knee-socked gods of rock. It was who we all are: alone, but together, seeking abandonment to something ineffable, higher than the every day job of being us. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a stadium of people the size of pin-pricks, or down your local with a man in velour – it’s all real if it feels real.

And they did ruddy rock.