Dovecot Towers was built in the Japanese style: flimsily with internal walls made of paper. I am grateful to be safe from earthquakes, but left with an unwanted gift: insights into the lives of people I do not know, and will never see. Whenever I stroll down the landing (even with doors securely bolted) I hear more than I should, and often, more than I would ever want.
One flat on my corridor buzzes. By this I mean there’s an electronic appliance being used full tilt and set to max at all hours. For the sake of decency, and to stop me giggling, I persist in assuming that the inhabitant has really clean teeth.
Or perhaps they have set up a mini motorbike track, and are racing around the lounge, in time trials.
Or could it be ‘The Biggest, Loudest Vibrator In The World!’
The very thought makes my teeth rattle.
Inadvertently, I hear television sounds seeping through front doors. One household possesses a solitary DVD, watched every night, sometimes more than once. It’s in Chinese, so I have no idea what it’s called, or what’s going on. First there’s screaming, then crying, followed by…laughter!
It’s extremely unsettling to pass a flat and hear frying. That can’t be right. Frying? Fat bubbling loudly through a wooden door? It doesn’t inspire confidence. But then your imagination gets to working overtime. What, exactly, is being fried? And why do they fry so often?
Residents who sing in the bath are a constant source of innocent amusement. One man sings show tunes, gloriously, with gusto. You start to worry about soundproofing: if ‘Reedy Shower Voice Lady’ is available for my merriment, what else can be heard booming out from our echoey bathrooms?
Snatches of eavesdropped conversation form an entertaining highlight of the journey down the corridor:
‘…really hairy arse!’
‘Extra cheese, extra mushrooms, extra peppers. Oh, sod it – extra EVERYTHING!’
‘Bist du verruckt?’
Look, it’s not as if I am lurking outside with a tape recorder, and I know this sounds a little creepy, but I have no choice when it’s all so loud, and walls are so thin. One voice jabbered in Spanish as I passed by. Then I heard someone exclaim: ‘…hahahaha! They thought I was Spanish!’
Others speak in code.
Myself, I am prone to shouting foul abuse at Patricia Hewitt, cackling with laughter during My Name Is Earl, and yelling: ‘…who the hell are you?’ at uncaptioned television commentators (but I ain’t crazy.)
During the night time silence, my flat is like an untuned radio, receiving traces of random broadcasts through the static. Some sounds will stay with me forever. I have heard compulsive chatter, from people I know to live alone (it’s not the talking to yourself, but when you begin to answer your own questions…) Audible weeping is extremely distressing, and I am occasionally tempted to intervene (better not though, eh?)
The most disturbing sound I’ve heard so far has entered my nightmares: someone stood on their balcony, lovingly and repeatedly sharpening a metallic blade.