The people upstairs have always been weird.
I don’t mean the people who currently live upstairs have displayed consistently bizarre behaviour in the time I’ve known them. I mean the people upstairs, whoever they were, in the whole ten years I’ve lived in this flat, have always been weird. With only a couple of exceptions.
Me and my flatmate live in a ground-floor three-bedroom flat. The third bedroom is mainly for guests and Andrea’s clients, who pay good money to have a hour of her services in that bedroom**Whilst I was originally going to put this explanation as a footnote, given the fact Andrea has fists, is German and is nearby I better clarify straight away she teaches German language students. Although to be honest she has the door shut so she could be doing anything in there, maybe she just uses a lot of basic German vocab during the act…**
Upstairs is split into two flats, occupying the same space combined as our flat downstairs, and with two bedrooms each. You can read more about how I ended up in this flat ten years ago in The Coming Out & The Punchbag, the definitive tale of a straight man moving to London with a gay couple.
When I first moved in, Gangly Slow-walking Tool lived upstairs. He was my first nemesis in London. To be fair his only real crime (and it was a crime) was that he walked incredibly slowly. I used to see him a lot in the morning on my way to work or on my way home from the Tube station. You’re thinking “oh so the two of you left and got home from work at the same time, what a coincidence” – no, not quite. You see, the 6-minute walk to/from the Tube station took him about half an hour, so chances are, most days I’d pass him at some point. I could be on the same Tube train as him home, pop next door to Sainsbury’s to pick up a week’s worth of phallic groceries from the Polish checkout girl, and still beat him home.
He was incredibly lanky, so lanky that with those massive legs, jointed no doubt by three pairs of knees, it actually must have taken him considerable effort to walk slowly at all. He could have been home in about 14 seconds if he just strolled. Even less if he just angled himself right and fell over. It got to the stage I would overtake him on the street with heavy sighs or mutters of “fuck’s sake”. I guess you could say it’s up to him what speed he walks at, but who would choose to travel for so much longer than he had to.
Nobody goes for a train and sees a fast train and a very slow train that goes via Crewe, Southampton and Lossiemouth, and opts for the slow train. It’s just not normal. No-one says “well I don’t normally use the Tube but I hear today there are severe delays so…”
I only ever spoke to him once, and that was when a Chinese man had come round to get rid of some mice that were squatting in our building and dropped our keys in the street, which were then found by the police who handed them in to the letting agents who sent someone round within an hour to change all our locks meaning none of us could actually get into the building when we came home from work. He even talked slowly. I wanted to tell him he could effectively triple his lifespan if he just hurried the fuck up about going about his day. As we were hanging around outside to get in to our flat, he actually seemed to be enjoying the waiting…
The next neighbour of note has already been featured on this blog for his sleep-streaking activities, and is summed up in that very short post by the letter pictured there which he shoved under our door one day.
Then we had by far the noisiest neighbours upstairs on my side. This was a period during which I got very little fucking sleep at all. When I did sleep I’d be woken ridiculously early by the shower upstairs and doors slamming. Like 5am early. Now, my bedroom is at the back, and right below their living room, bathroom and kitchen. I could hear everything.
But of course, they must have gone to bed early, right? No no no. Especially on karaoke night, which was about twice a week and often lasted until 1 or 2 in the morning.
Good singers? Glad you asked. No. Fucking awful. It was like listening to an old man getting a colonoscopy with a splintered snooker cue.
I don’t know what kind of karaoke system they had but it sounded like they had one of those old style massive amps stuck on the floor above my bedroom ceiling, and the volume set to 11. I should have called the police and told them some Filipinos were murdering Michael Bolton in the flat upstairs. I had to go up there once, and indicate to them on the floor of their flat where my fucking pillow was in relation to their microphones.
Whilst the karaoke was the pinnacle of the disturbance, the worst thing was just the general stomping around, and use of the shower that bordered on OCD. Why were they taking so many showers? I eventually figured there must be a lot of people sharing that 2-bed flat. I thought maybe as many as five judging from the relentless bustling around in the morning.
I’d become friends with one of the people upstairs; he used to pop down to play PS3, and we kept in touch. After they left, I finally got round to asking the question that had been bugging me. “So, how many of you guys were there up there?” [in that two-bed flat half the size of ours]
Nine! The couple who “officially” rented it were basically sub-letting to 7 time-shifting Filipino students, whose various work commitments meant they used the beds/shower etc at different times. My complete inability to sleep for about a year and a half was suddenly very clearly explained.
Meanwhile, my flatmate at the time Pieter was having similar trouble with the people on his side. His bedroom was at the front, underneath a bedroom upstairs. Should have been OK right? His problem was not noise of people moving around, his problem was that, like the people on my side, there were swapovers. Middle of the night swapovers.
Some guy would come at 3am, buzz upstairs, then someone would come to the window of the bedroom above his and throw down keys to let the new person in. I don’t know what was so incredible about those flats upstairs that they were so oversubscribed, while we were living like kings in disgusting opulent luxury downstairs, with our whole bedroom each. Maybe I am just so fucking incredible that hordes of people want to be near me. Maybe the flats upstairs are ten times more expensive than the place I’m in.
I’ve been here ten years, so I fucking hope so.
After these jokers, I had the three hot oriental sisters above me. Nothing weird about them. That was a good year.
More recently, for a couple of years we had another two Asian families upstairs. The flat on my side: four bickering, arguing adults and one relatively peaceful toddler. The other side: two adults and the two most hyperactive toddlers you have ever heard. They would run, day and night, whenever they weren’t sedated or chained up, which was never, up and down the length of the flat, wearing what appeared to be concrete shoes.
I actually bought a new sound system specifically to combat the noise generated by these energetic little bastards. Did their mother breast-feed them with Red Bull-soaked tits?
Me and Andrea lost the will to live when a double pushchair was discovered on the landing and a casual conversation with the couple revealed they were expecting twins. Thankfully they moved out shortly after, presumably to a flat with some kind of running track and 4 bungee ropes built in.
On my side, it was never a surprise when the usually tranquil toddler woke up crying. It’s a surprise she didn’t wake up more often given that the four adults, at least one of which was hopefully related to her, were constantly shouting and screaming at each other. I’d given up smoking, but would still go outside to have a drinky on the patio. It was usually quieter outside than in my bedroom. When they had their window open above me, I began to notice a curious effect. When I would go outside, I would hear one of the people upstairs coughing theatrically by the window for about a minute, then the window would slam shut.
I noticed it more and more. Were these people such morons that every time I went outside they were imagining being suffocated by cigarette smoke, coughing loudly to indicate to me that I was slowly killing them, and then slamming their window shut in protest. After a few months of this I realised, yes … they were. I enjoyed the pure farce of it for some time, and then one night, I snapped.
They spluttered, “[Cough], [cough], [wheeze], it’s the smoker again, close the window, [cough], [cough], [COUGHCOUGHCOUGH]”
“I HAVEN’T SMOKED IN SIX MONTHS YOU STUPID FUCKING BASTARDS!”
I was tempted to stick some dog food in the garden, ring a bell and wait for them to come rushing down.
They moved out shortly after the couple with the toddlers and the new twins. But for a time there were 11 people above us.
The latest set of neighbours seemed normal enough. A gobby but nice enough English “lad” and his girlfriend on one side and another Asian family on my side. I don’t know if the flat above my room is specifically marketed as being perfect for Asian families with young children. It was all fairly normal.
Until last Sunday morning…
Andrea had suspiciously disappeared overnight to stay at a girlfriend’s house. I was rudely awoken at 6.30am by a buzz at the door… actually, no I wasn’t woken. I was still awake, and had literally just gone to bed after staying up all night playing piano (with headphones on!) and pottering around with some McCannecdotes work. But the door buzzed. I thought “who the fuck could that be at 6.30 in the morning on a Sunday”. I considered ignoring it. I considered going to the door and beating them to death for buzzing me at 6.30am on a Sunday. The door buzzed again and again.
For a moment, I thought “maybe it’s Andrea, home early, and she’s forgot her keys?” and then “in that case, fuck her, she shouldn’t be so forgetful.” I went back to bed. Buzz, buzz buzz. I got back up and went to the door to have a look out of the spyhole.
I saw what appeared to be a tall, uniformed man at the front door of the building. Looked a bit policey. And then another, dressed the same beside him, not only looking policey but doing that policey thing where he’s got his hand on his shoulder and he’s talking into it. Shit! It was the pigs! And they were looking for me!
After I shat myself I wondered what I could possibly have done. I guess I’m criminally overlooked by women, maybe it was regarding that?
I put on my best innocent face, and went to the door to see was all the fuzz was about. When I got out to the inside hallway (foyer?) in front of the stairs leading up to the other flats and looked through the main door, there were not two, but about 6 of them. I opened the door, the uniforms said Border Police.
I almost said “If this is about the Scottish independence thing, I do not agree with that one bit, I think those people are c…”
“Hello sir, we’re actually looking for upstairs, can we come in and pop up.”
“Oh. Yeah sure. Go on ahead.” I held the door open as the first two came in, followed by a hot black policegirl who I almost said “how you doin’?” to, and then three more guys.
The last guy said, “Do you mind if we leave the door open, we’ve got some more colleagues out front?”
“Ha ha! More?! Sure!” I then said something which sounded great at the time but in hindsight was incredibly stupid, “If you guys need anything, just give me a knock yeah?”
What the fuck? What would they need from me? “Can we use your phone?” It’s not 1987. “Don’t suppose you have any herbal teabags?” Or perhaps “Excuse me mate, I’m having some trouble bringing my wife to orgasm lately, I was wondering if you could pop round and show me how it’s done?”
As the last guy went up the stairs, he stopped and turned around, and flashed ID, “Oh, by the way, Border Agency. Immigration.” Ha ha, leave that bit till last, it’s OK, you were all wearing vaguely convincing uniforms, I’d already shat myself, I didn’t need to see ID, I just let you all in without questioning a thing!
I went back inside and spent the next two hours, flitting between the front windows observing the two (TWO!) unmarked vans parked outside, looking through the spyhole at the comings and goings of the bacon, and smoking outside (I’ve started again) listening to the pigs rummaging around upstairs, emptying drawers out and interrogating the aliens.
I hadn’t been to bed! I was going to sleep just as this drama began to unfold, now I was hyper from all the excitement. After a painstaking couple of hours, curtain-twitching and furiously eaves-dropping, the police left, with some human cargo, packed up their vans and drove off. I ended up staying up the whole rest of the day, gossiping to friends about the excitement and waiting for Andrea to come home from “witness protection” to ask her if she was the grass (which she denies).
So, there are now less people upstairs than ever before, but I’m sure that’s not going to last…
** She has actually punched me for something entirely different in the course of me writing this article.