I've noticed a few changes, after just that one week away. London is a ghost town, for starters. The streets are eerily bare when I walk them in the mornings, and I feel like I'm interrupting them. The schools are empty, my office is empty. The homeless people are still hanging out in the park, though.
There is also a new shop a few buildings down. For the life of me I can't work out what it is. Before I left, it had green paint in the windows, announcing it was 'Coming Soon' - but not actually letting anyone into the secret of what it might be. Now it has green signage and open doors, and a ubiquitous anagram name, and still no clues as to what might go on in there. I would investigate further, but I just don't care enough. One day I might (we will have to wait for a very slow news week).
Then, of course, there are our new downstairs neighbours. Up until a few weeks ago, we had one or two pleasant boys living down there, who never seemed to go out to work, ate a lot of takeaway, and did not make noise. We decided they were complete stoners, because of the food and the quiet and the dopey greetings when we ran into them on the stairs, and accepted the peace.
He/they moved out, and was replaced by a man who came in every day for a couple of weeks, cleaning and doing various other mysterious things to the place, before he also disappeared.
Then we went away, and upon our return, we found there were new people in there.
A little side note - I remember having a conversation with an old colleague last Christmas, one who lived outside London and commuted. He was complaining about his neighbours - how in his town, everyone knew his name and who he was and his routine, and how he shied away from that. To commiserate, I told him I took a highly Londonist attitude to my neighbours - I didn't know them, but it didn't stop me hating them. Oh how we laughed.
Thing is, I didn't mean a word of it - I felt no animosity towards them at all. It's easy not to when they don't make a peep, and don't complain about your noise (we live above, it's a rickety conversion with squeaky floors, I often wear shoes in the house, and we listen to music often. I'm in no doubt that we are terrible terrible neighbours to have).
So now, karma has bitten us. Our new downstairs friends may as well be a plague of locusts, for the sense of Biblical doom I feel when I hear them.
Closing the same windows.
Opening them again.
And so on. Everything these people do, they do with noise. There is a him, and a her, and they cannot operate at normal decibel levels. I lie there, tense and rigid, at indecently late hours, as late as 11 some nights, and listen to them live their lives, and play with their windows (if you think I'm obsessed with the windows, you want to try living above this. The weather in London does not change that much on a half-hourly basis. There's no need for all this fooling round with the windows.) Sometimes he talks, and I swear, there is a noise much like I imagine a sonic boom to be like. Sometimes she talks, and it's like an overgrown, high-pitched rabbit that has escaped its hutch and just can't resist sharing the excitement.
But in the grand scheme of things, this is honestly not so bad. Really and truly. For starters, we can put on music, we can try to drown them out, and once I'm asleep nothing's waking me up anyway. The main thing keeping me sane, however, is knowing how much worse it has to be for them. They have to live with each other, and underneath us, and the advantage of being on top is that you will always, always win a battle of neighbourly noise.
So hey ho, onwards and upwards into another exciting week...fingers crossed London busies up a bit. Otherwise, next week - the mysteries within the shop with the green writing!