Draft and save. That is as good a New Year’s resolution as any. Never send an email or letter in anger. Always leave it a few hours. Sleep on it if you can. You know it makes sense.
The same goes for notes through doors. I know this because I have been experiencing some intermittent next door neighbour noise. First, it was incessant dog barking. I went out of my house and peered over the wall of my neighbour’s house and, sure enough, sitting on the back of the sofa in the window was a pretty little dog barking his head off.
‘Sshhh! There, there, doggy. Don’t worry,’ I cooed at him, but he went on woofing. And so I shouted, ‘No! Be quiet! You mustn’t! Bad dog!’ He looked at me a little shocked, and stopped barking. Then as soon as I walked away he started again.
They say there are tribes in remote parts of the world who, if you put them in prison, think it is for ever and lose their minds. You think I am going to say that this is what the dog was feeling, right? No. This is how I was feeling. I am fairly primitive. If I encounter a sudden problem, my brain cannot compute that it might be resolved at some point. I immediately go to the worst case scenario — that the dog will go on barking for ever or until I have to move house, or top myself, whichever is sooner.
I raced back inside and got a scrap of paper and wrote, ‘Your dog has been barking for literally HOURS on end...’ And so on, intemperately, and signed it ‘A neighbour’. The mutt woofed like Cerberus at the gates of hell as I pushed it through the letterbox.
A few days later, I had forgotten all about the dog — who had, of course, stopped barking — when a house alarm started going off. It was one of those really hysterical alarms with both a screech and a siren. I came outside to find out whose it was and sure enough the barking house had been the screeching and wailing house.
There was no sign of a burglar, front or back. So I went indoors and sat down and listened to the ear-piercing caterwauling for several hours, all the while thinking, ‘I’m stuck like this. That alarm will never stop and I’ll have to move house or top myself.’ Naturally, it stopped after a few hours, but the next evening, it started again so I sat down at my desk and let my pen flow: ‘You have GOT to do something about your alarm. It goes off for literally HOURS at a time...’ And so on.
I was writing for a very specific audience, you understand. I imagined I was dealing with a remedial ne’er-do-well, an Asbo-ite who needed a darn good talking to about his responsibilities to society. It was a few days after that when a knock came at my door. The handsome, polite man who stood on my doorstep said, ‘Oh hello, I’m sorry to bother you, but I wonder whether I could just check if my alarm has been going off? I’m terribly sorry, and I will see to it, of course. But the thing is, I’ve been getting some really angry notes through my door.’
I think I may have made a constipated squeaking noise. ‘Oh?’ I said. ‘Really?’
‘Yes, it’s very odd,’ said the handsome man, who wore no wedding ring, was obviously single, and if I hadn’t been such a terrible person, might even now be the boy next door I could fall in love with. ‘I wonder who would do such a...’
‘I wonder who!’ I said. ‘Yes. Honestly! Eh? People! Ha ha! Ah well...’
‘Did you hear it?’
‘Hmm? What’s that?’
‘My alarm. Did you hear it?’
‘Ooo, now, let me think...’ I was dying a death. ‘Just can’t quite ...Do you know, I did, um, hear something. A few nights ago. Some people ...did seem annoyed.’
He looked at me. He stared at me long and hard. He peered right into my eyes. I thought if I could just keep my face straight enough he wouldn’t be able to break me. In the end, he said, ‘Right. Well. If you hear my alarm again do let me know, won’t you?’
‘Oh, right. Yes. I could, er, pop round. You’re that side, yes?’
‘Yes.’ He peered. ‘Tell you what,’ he said, ‘I’m going to give you my number. And if you hear anything, you just give me a call.’
‘Great! Yes, brilliant idea! I’ll call you. Let you know. If your alarm goes off. Eh! Ha ha.’
He looked back at me and the look on his face said he knew. And he knew I knew he knew.