In Dovecot Towers I see only fleeting shapes: a glimpse of departing heels as neighbours disappear round corners, or retreat silently into their flat. I rarely see fully formed living people, just outlines and traces, or plaintive, disembodied voices on distant telephones.
The men next door have been resident for a year now. They were young and in love, but lately, I’ve been hearing some truly horrible arguments. Mercifully I couldn’t hear what they were arguing about, just piercing, impassioned shouting. The doors slam, and my walls shake. One of them storms outside and crashes the door shut; his partner follows him and jumps him in the corridor, where they fight. I’ve heard someone rush out and clip their lover on the head; heard the slap, heard the ‘Ow!’ as he yelps with pain.
I know this happens all over, but around here everyone can listen. I have considered slipping a card with the number for Relate under their door, which isn’t realistic. I thought of asking if they’re okay. I know I’ll never do anything. It would be an imposition, and I would feel uncomfortable, an intruder. Theirs is an equal fight, retaliatory, but not abusive.
Some old faces remain. The local dealer was spotted recently wrestling with his sturdy and now silent dog. It used to yelp all day long, and sometimes at night to emphasises its loneliness. It seemed to move from flat to flat; perhaps it was being hired out as a deterrent. I think he’s had the voice-box removed, which ended that anguished howling.
Around here, residents are comfortable on their balconies, forgetting it’s the great outdoors, and that they’re on display. They nip out to collect their freshly laundered lingerie, and have been met with applause by the passing scallies.
And, like most of Britain, we have Polish people living here. They stand on the balcony below me, shouting into phones, having the traditional nasty Dovecot Towers argument. Polish arguments sound horrible; by nature of the language, it just sounds so harsh. Imagine watching England from a distance, and nurturing Brideshead dreams, only to relocate and find yourself living in the quasi-soviet Dovecot Towers.
I occasionally see a man on his balcony, working at his drawings in front of a large graphics board. Sometimes he gazes into the middle distance. He seems lost. Then I heard him berating a friend for letting him down. He really wanted, no – make that needed - to play football. He’s trapped in a concrete hell. It’s deadly round here. He’s working too hard. He needs some daylight, to go outdoors, feel the wind in his hair, move around, shake his bones and work his muscles. If not football, then a trip to the park? No; it’s not about going for a drink at night. The days are the hardest; working at home is driving him crazy.
There’s no connection between any of us. I don’t know who these people are. We live next door and know so much, yet live in isolation.