The gloves are off in my battle with the two brothers who live in the flat upstairs. They have just socked me a brutal left hook. And so no more am I going to be the neurotic, menopausal fruitcake downstairs. From now on I am going to unleash my difficult side.
It’s a shame, because when they first moved in I thought they were going to be the neighbours I had always dreamed of: handsome and polite, with a look of dread in their eyes whenever I banged on their door. When I explained that the wheelie bin must be put out at right angles to the kerb at 8 p.m. sharp on Wednesday night, they did it. When I told them they had better not clank about in high heels they said they wouldn’t.
One of them in particular I liked a lot, the one with a quiff like Tintin, who said ‘ha ha ha oh yes ha ha’ to whatever I suggested. But the other, more slickly coiffured brother always stood silent and glowering behind him and was clearly biding his time.
Within months, a notice appeared on a lamppost revealing in tiny print that the brothers planned a vaulted kitchen ceiling with roof lights. I knocked on their door and said it might have been nice if they’d told me first, but no matter. They’d have to get up earlier to get a vaulted ceiling past me. I had looked at the plans and seen that they involved removing my water tank from the loft space.
Perched on my couch, the brothers begged me to see sense. Clearly, I should allow them to dispense with the tank and mains live my flat without updating my plumbing to withstand the increased water pressure, which would cost them too much. I told them I would refuse such a half job unto the gates of hell and beyond if necessary.
My favourite brother said ‘ha ha ha oh yes ha ha’. But the other brother was silent, and glowered.
A few months later, they had a bathroom fitted which began to leak through the ceiling of my bathroom. The chap who did it came round to account for himself following my complaints, whistling cheerfully and asking what I planned to do for the weekend. ‘Have a few bevvies, eh? Oh that? Sure that’s just a bitta water swimmin’ round the old system there. Nothin’ to be worried about. It’ll soon stop. Just a bit of an old drip. It’s probably because they forgot to turn the tap off.’
The fact that it was dripping through a spotlight seemed to bother him not a jot, and nor did it bother the two boys. They told me it would soon dry out. And when it didn’t they told me they would have their man in a vest fiddle around. And then one day, the drip through the spotlight did stop. But a slower, more malignant leak continued. And as the ceiling turned darker and damper by degrees, it was one excuse after another from the Brothers Turnthetapoff.
It was just residual water in the system. They couldn’t do anything because the bath panel was cemented on. Did I want the man in the vest to come back?
The patches spread, the plaster bubbled, a line of yellow crept outwards. And a year passed. Finally, a few weeks ago, the drip through the spotlight began again. I rang and emailed until the laughing brother answered to say he was in Australia. I was to do whatever was necessary. I commissioned Tony the plumber, who burrowed upwards to find a leaking isolation valve beneath the brothers’ bath. As the ceiling came down, a year’s worth of water poured out.
As I had an Airbnb guest, the Vietnamese girl and her German paramour (if that is not a contradiction in terms), I sent a stern email warning that they’d better put me a ceiling back in timely fashion or the guests might sue. I overreached. The brothers seized their chance to sock me one in my weak spot.
The laughing brother has just emailed me to say that as freeholder of the building he has had to contact our buildings insurers about my Airbnb (or rather his brother has, if you want my opinion).
He encloses an email from the exotically entitled Residents Insurance Services, in which they regret to say no, we may not have such guests as he describes or it will render our policy null and void. And so I can only guess what he asked them:
‘Dear sirs, it has come to my attention that the deranged woman in the flat below has been renting her spare room to foreigners who may be setting fire to the soft furnishings while practising bomb-making for all I know. Is this all right?’