Love thy neighbour? Try living next to me
AT BEST, when it comes to neighbours, I have a rather chequered history.
This could be down to the fact that, being brought up by a restless writer, we moved around so much when I was a child. Or it could simply be that I am, and have always been, an appalling human to have living nearby.
The jury's still out on this, but before they come home from the gym and nab the parking space outside my house, let's have a look at the case for the prosecution, to which, I should add, I already plead guilty on all counts.
First off, I've never quite understood the phrase 'Good fences make good neighbours'. The first neighbours I remember ever having had no fence at all, and I thought they were great.
We lived in California and Esther had a swimming pool in the back that could be easily reached across a shared lawn. This pool was the most perfectly satisfying place to stand over and pee, a pastime I took to with aplomb, working daily to achieve the perfect, twinkling arc.
If that makes me a monster, pass out the pitchforks, but in fairness I was aged just three and you can probably forgive a lot of a three-year-old. Only when I slid into Esther's house early one Christmas and proceeded to open every last present I could find, did I probably wear out my welcome, and they came down to find me dressed in someone else's cowboy outfit, surrounded by the chewed-up remains of rejected toffees.
Part of me still believes this might be the reason we moved to Ireland. Either way, we never heard from Esther and family again. Not so much as a Christmas card.
Our next neighbour was a bald man who'd wiggle his fingers at me from the road each day as I watched from now tightly latched windows. Wiggling my fingers back at him was a feat quite beyond me so I did the next best thing I could think of, which was to climb right up into the window, buck naked, and wiggle my bits at him.
The man's wife, a stern-looking woman as it turned out, called around soon after for a 'chat' with my mother. The two looked at me darkly. "Did you do something rude at Mr Mulligan?" my mother asked.
"He wiggled first," was all I could manage.
We never saw either of them again.
A short time later, we moved to a cliff-top house on the coast of Wexford with, strangely, no near neighbours this time, though the whistling Irish winter wind had already cured me of any propensity towards public displays of nudity.
This time, it was my dad's fault that we'd be slow to receive an invite to the parish féte, after he lodged a length of pipe into a nearby sea blow hole so that it shrieked like a banshee.
I had never in my short life, nor have I since, seen elderly ladies pedal bicycles past so quickly, and uphill, against a prevailing wind.
When we eventually moved once more, we left our home-made banshee wailer lodged in that lonely cliff face, and I sometimes wonder if the thing stayed in good voice long enough to result in every pensioner in a radius of a few square miles having the leg muscles and respiratory systems of Tour de France cyclists.
I'd like to think that I became better behaved as I grew up. I certainly came to realise that certain things are simply unacceptable and although a world in which you cannot pee into someone's pool, open all their presents on Christmas morning, or indeed, wiggle your bits at them, is a far less pleasing place to be, it's probably better than a spell in prison.
But I did finally get some neighbours with a sense of humour, when I first moved in with my wife-to-be to the basement of a Georgian terrace on Dublin's south side and living upstairs was the comedian who'd played Fr Stone in Father Ted.
One day, not long after a late night out together, during which I'd showed off my drunken prowess as a bodhrán player (the band in the bar were not quite as impressed), I received a letter headed 'Friends of the Bodhrán' from someone who said they'd seen me play and wanted to invite me to 'give them a few tips' at a meeting.
Off I marched to the address on the letter, where the door was answered by a man with only one arm. "Are you havin' a feckin' laugh?" he glared, slamming the door in my face.
Of course, Fr Stone was behind the letter and I duly got him back with a recall notice for the giant VHS player I knew he'd struggled four miles home with on foot. The second time he humped that thing four miles, he said he cursed me every step of the way, but we remained on friendly terms to this day, some 25 years on
Being neighbours is a far more sober affair these days and we've really only lived in two houses as our four children have grown up. In the first, the kids were little more than toddlers, and one of them did once get accused of peeing on the lawn next door.
"I can't imagine a child of mine doing such a thing," I think I harrumphed.
We now live at the end of a row, in a house that's detached from our next-door neighbour. Along the fence between us, I've let the bushes and trees grow so high and full that I could probably wiggle anything I wanted, within reason, and it wouldn't bother a soul.
Suffice to say, we've never exchanged a bad word.
Perhaps that's what the phrase about fences and neighbours refers to. I'm far too busy bashing away on our teens' drum kit these days to worry.
Oops, was that the doorbell? I think the jury's back.