I don’t deliberate set out to antagonise people, really I don’t, quite the opposite most of the time. Rich thinks I make it my full time job to make friends wherever I go and it’s true that friends are really important to me and I do make a lot of effort to create new friendships for all of us, wherever we find ourselves in the world.
I have also made some really lovely and lasting friends from neighbours over the years (Liz and Jenny, Mikey, Ali and Nick, Adrian and Marta, Pat and Denis, Greg and Louise, Danny and Rachel). Sadly I don’t think this is going to be the case in Avenue Road, Mosman!
Our next door neighbour is a doctor (obstetric surgeon actually) called Rachel. She is Australian, married to a Canadian and they have a son called Jack who is the same age as Zach. I know all this information and much more because when we moved into our house I introduced myself and made the usually neighbourly overtures. I offered to have Jack over to play with Zach and Rachel said she would invite us round for a play one Wednesday or Friday as they were her free days. I took her a couple of magazines around that I had finished with and we chatted in her sitting room for a good half an hour. So far so good; hardly the best of friends but certainly “friendly”.
Since moving into this house, most of our domestic troubles have stemmed from the fact that we have no dustbin. There is a large green bin that sits in our courtyard. When we moved in I assumed that was our bin and wantonly filled it with all our (double bagged) household rubbish. When I put it out for collection, on the right day, in line with all the others in the neighbourhood I was surprised to find it still there in the evening, full of rubbish, when everyone else’s had been emptied.
Then I met Jenny. She is a Chinese lady who runs the newsagents just in front of our house. I was going to write the conversation we had in her Chinese/English but that is horribly unfair because I can’t speak a word of Chinese so I won’t mock her in that way but imagine a tiny and very earnest Chinese lady with a very very strong accent.
She told me that council wouldn’t empty that bin because it was the wrong colour. She said it was her old bin, and she kept in it my garden because it was no good and she didn’t want it outside her shop because it is ugly. She told me I must therefore take everything out that I had put in, wash out the bin and put it back where it was and never try to use it again.
“So just be clear Jenny, this is your bin but you keep it in my garden because it is no use?”
“Yes, I don’t want it outside my shop, it is no use and it’s ugly and looks untidy.”
“Yet it looks so lovely in my garden. I will be happy to keep it here for you, this big useless, ugly green bin that belongs to you but you don’t want it on your property as it is big, ugly and, well, useless!”
So it is not quite true to say that we didn’t have a bin, we just didn’t have one that we could put rubbish into.
I then embarked upon a very painful six week process of trying to procure a bin that we could use which involved several lengthy emails and conversations with the council, our landlord and our letting agent. Paying $700 a week in Mosman doesn’t qualify you for a bin apparently.
Eventually, after six weeks of haranguing all the parties involved, one day not one but five bins suddenly appeared, all with various colour coded lids indicating what items could be placed in them. We even had two bins with red lids so I gave one to another neighbour, Pete who has never had a bin either and was clearly levitated by his new acquisition. This was a very exciting day!
But in ensuing six weeks, we had to find a way of disposing of our rubbish. Pete lives on his own and owns a restaurant so eats at work and therefore doesn’t create much rubbish. For him, no bin was ever a problem. For the six of us, however, it was a different story and Rich and I had to creep out under the cover of darkness and try and put as much of our daily rubbish (double bagged of course!) as we could into the bins in the park across the road!
This meant that we couldn’t recycle anything and it felt particularly wrong putting glass, paper, plastic and tins in the park bins. In the interests of being a good citizen, after a couple of weeks of late night park skulking, I decided it would be a better idea to put at least some of our recycling into our neighbours’ recycling bins once they had put them out on the street for collection. I didn’t ask permission of any of the neighbours (I had no idea whose bins they were, they were just all lined up along the roadside waiting to be collected by the council) I just distributed a few of my (very clean) bottles and cans amongst a few bins nearby. No harm, no foul, I wrongly assumed.
The next morning there was a very sternly worded letter attached to my gate;
Did you put bottles and cans in my blue bin last night? This is the PAPER ONLY bin you idiot. By the way, you won’t be able to do this next week as someone has stolen my blue bin. ANY IDEAS WHO?
The note was anonymous, but it could only have been one neighbour who left this it, Rachel, Jack’s mum. She now turns away whenever she sees me and we haven’t spoken in over a month. Just in case I need to clarify, even in my darkest hours of despair at not having a working bin to call my own, I did not try to solve the problem by stealing bins from any of my neighbours.
In case you think Rachel has a good case against me for being a terrible neighbour, I need to give you some supplementary information about our location. We are situated on a main road, right next to a parade of shops with a bus stop out front. I leave out the appropriate coloured bins on the appropriate days to be emptied. Australia is a nation of early risers so the bins are emptied at about 5am. By 7am when I go to bring the bin back in, it is usually already half full of coffee cups, newspapers and Coke cans etc. that passers-by have casually dropped in as they walk past. I accept that a bin on the street is fair game for anyone and I would much prefer people use my bin than drop their litter on the street (otherwise I will think I am living in Nagua!). I have not yet felt the urge to stand at the bus stop at 6am and lambast all the passengers in case it was one of them who dared to put a Coke can in my “paper and cardboard only” bin!
In the meantime, Jenny has decided that she will now store anything at all she doesn’t want on her property in our garden, next to her big, ugly, useless green bin. We now have an assortment of milk crates, metal boxes and old bricks, all neatly stacked next to our collection of colourful and useful bins. I have tried to challenge her about this practise and she conveniently becomes mono-lingual, unable to understand the most basic English. On her more loquacious days, she argues that it is her right to put whatever she likes in our garden because she has a garage at the back of our house (?!). Her logic is lost on me but I daren’t challenge her again, I don’t want the silent treatment from any more neighbours, plus Rich buys his early morning bus tickets from her shop and she is very handy for a late night emergency chocolate fix. In the interests of neighbourly peace, the milk crates etc. are welcome to stay.
I have mentioned before that we are living in the “Chelsea” of Sydney and as such, parking spaces on the street are almost impossible to find. We do have a garage at the top of the garden but the only time Rich managed to reverse the car into it, he couldn’t open the doors to get out so we can’t use it for anything other than bikes, scooters and old cardboard boxes that won’t fit in the blue lidded bin so the council won’t take them and we don’t know what else to do with them! Cars and motorbikes therefore squeeze themselves into the tiniest of spaces and have to shunt forwards and backwards several times to free themselves from the confines of the gridlock.
A few Sundays ago, we were all loaded in the car to go on one our many trips to Ikea. I was driving, Rich, navigating. I checked all the mirrors, couldn’t see anything behind me so I put the tank into reverse and had moved about two inches when there was a bump and a crash.
“Watch out, there’s a scooter parked behind you,” cried Rich. Ah, information that would have been so much more useful 30 seconds ago.
Rich knew this because he had put the kids in the car whilst I had still been in the house and two of them had had to climb over the back seat to get in as the scooter was parked so close to us we couldn’t open the back door. I did not know this as I had approached the car from the front and the scooter had parked so close that none of it was visible in any of my mirrors.
We got out and picked the scooter up. It was pretty scratched and dented all over, not just where it had fallen, and the scratches and dents had obviously been there a long time so it didn’t appear that I had done much, if any, damage. We left a note for the own apologising and said to call me if he needed to discuss it. I didn’t really expect to hear from him. What I now know is that I should have been a much more aggressive Sydney-sider and called him all sorts of names for parking his scooter in my space and say he was very lucky that his stupidity had not caused any damage to my car otherwise I would be taking him to court. As I am English, mostly quite polite and always try to conduct my affairs rationally, I did not do this. It was a big mistake not to go on the offensive first!
The owner of the scooter and next-door-but one neighbour, Callum, called and said not to worry too much about the damage because the scooter had been scratched and bashed (great Aussie word) already but I had dented a brake so he was going to take it to the scooter shop and get a quote for a repair and would I be happy to pay for that. I said I was happy to pay something as long as we could be reasonable. “Oh yes,” he said, “Of course I’ll be reasonable.”
The following week he emailed me a quote for repairs of $874 and said I had seven days to pay or he would take me to the small claims court. Using the details of the scooter that appeared on the quote, we found similar scooters to Cullum’s for sale on the internet, for around $900. I would hate to deal with Callum when he was feeling unreasonable.
I replied to his email saying this was not reasonable. I did not accept that I had done anywhere near that amount of damage and was not prepared to pay. The only way I would ever be handing over $874 is if I was buying the scooter!
A few days later on Saturday night at 11:30 a message was left on my phone by Constable Keen of Mosman police. He left a number and asked me to call him back immediately. When a policeman calls you at 11:30 at night your first thought is that one of your nearest and dearest has been killed in a hideous accident. When I finally got to speak to Constable Keen, five days later (he called, left the message and immediately went on leave for five days!) I had pretty much worked out that nobody I know was missing so was very surprised to hear him say he was investigating a hit and run my neighbour had reported that I had committed. Hit? Yes, it was inevitably because he parked in a stupid place. Run? No, I live next door and he has my phone number and my email address. He knows who I am because he has sent me a quote for repairs which roughly equal the value of the scooter. I was tempted to report Callum for trying to obtain monies by deception but Constable Keen was happy to leave us to sort it out ourselves as it was clearly not a police matter and I had no desire to make it one.
To cut a very long story short, after several weeks and many more threatening emails from Callum, on the advice of my friend’s husband Josh, who is a solicitor, I eventually begrudgingly handed over $200 in cash with a very sternly and legally worded letter that Cullum had to sign to say this was to be the end of the matter. Callum signed and took the money with glee and is probably lying on a beach in Fiji whilst his crappy old scooter remains parked outside my house, unrepaired.
As Constable Keen pointed out, he was just an opportunist who thinks that most people who live in this postcode would happily have handed over the $874 just to avoid the hassle that he caused me.
Some of you know that I have a slight(ly dangerous) addiction to on line Scrabble. I played a lot in the DR because I had no real friends, only cyber-friends and I have continued to play since as I enjoy it and apart from struggling with an on-line Spanish course I don’t do too much these days to prevent my brain turning to a sponge cake. I usually have about fifteen games going at once and just play a couple of goes each evening but on Friday night I was in the middle of writing this article and needed a “brain break” as the kids say so I ventured into the murky world of late night on-line Scrabble with strangers. I haven’t done this for several months, mainly as I have enough games going on that I don’t have time and also I have encountered some very weird people out there in cyberspace.
On Friday night, about 9pm here I joined a game with a girl from Southampton, UK called Fran. She looked about 20 years old from her picture but advertised herself as a “Scrabble Expert” so I looked forward to a challenging game. Within minutes of us starting the game, Miss Fran started to use the chat facility to tell me to hurry up and play (I chose the two minute option which is the fastest game you can play so you certainly can’t play slowly!). The she started to be more explicit and tell me to “****ing hurray up or she would ****ing forfeit me.” I ignored it for a while and then it got so ridiculous that I just pulled out of the game. She was using such choice language and making threats that were so vile and so unwarranted (in any situation never mind a harmless Scrabble with a stranger) that I was quite staggered.
The reason that I am adding this incident in to this piece on neighbours is that if we are all global citizens then (sadly) this vile creature, Fran, is my neighbour and who in their right mind would treat a neighbour is such a disgraceful way and why on earth would they do it. I can’t believe that any rational person would behave in such a way. It scares me that there are probably many many Frans out there who have jobs and are able to vote and if she is prepared to treat strangers to that kind of torrent of abuse over the internet (it was definitely a case of cyber-bullying) how does she react to the people she comes into contact with who really make her angry.
While I was a university I had a noticeboard where I used to pin quotes that inspired me. Most of them were from Garfield, for example, “It is hard to soar with eagles when you live with turkeys!” but one was from Buddha and it is a maxim I have tried to live my life by ever since:
“Always be impeccable with your word”
Neighbours of Mosman and weirdo’s in the on-line Scrabble community, you should take heed, it would make your life and that of those around you so much more pleasant.