So says my friend Ronaldo, and I agree.
Ten years ago, when I first moved to the small Swartland town in which I have since lived in a state of unadulterated bliss if you don’t count the three relationships I’ve had with serial killers, it was so off-the-map that people would ask me where it was. It’s actually only an hour’s drive from Cape Town, but at that time it was so little known it may as well have been a clitoris.
Back then, I lived on the outskirts of town in a little house (so small we called it ‘The Doll’s House’) on a huge plot of land. My only neighbour was a crazy artist who could frequently be seen standing outside on the dirt road, wearing nothing but outrageously camp jockeys and holding a charged martini glass, admiring and sometimes howling at the moon. We often held noisy parties on my verandah, and since the crazy artist was almost always a guest at these, and all the others were Cape Town temporary-escapees and/or criminally insane, no-one complained.
Eight years ago I moved some way into town – I bought a house on a tarred road (the house I wanted; the tarred road came with it). I had no neighbour on one side, just a large empty plot; and my neighbour on the other, the incomparable Oom Vossie (now deceased and much missed), was both slightly deaf and gratifyingly sprightly – he enjoyed hearing us partying into the small hours, he said, and I had no reason to disbelieve him. Across the road was a young, newly married couple who were so busy honeymooning that they were, assumedly, always too exhausted (or, perhaps, busy) to be disturbed by the 2am strains of ABBA emanating from my living room.
Then our little town got popular. ‘The new Franschhoek’ (blech), people started calling it, for the plethora of eateries and boutiques that began springing into existence (like, say, venomous serpents from Medusa’s head); the old and beloved Royal Hotel was bought by foreigners and renovated into ‘the Mount Nelson of the Swartland’ (ugh, and try and get a simple gin and tonic there and they’ll look at you as if you’ve just ordered squid eyes on a bed of minced babies); and house prices sky-rocketed. Where before, on any given street, there were at least two large empty plots to every dwelling, a demented rash of subdivision and construction began profoundly changing the landscape of the village.
And I got neighbours. And with them: noise. The house below mine, previously occupied by an elderly farmer’s widow whom I kept sweet by allowing her to harvest, for free, all the fruit on my property for use in her jam-making enterprises, sold out to a city couple, who wasted no time in renovating the house and installing – as city folk invariably do when they move to the country, because clearly they leave their brains behind – a large fowl run replete with crowing roosters, quacking ducks and honking geese. The plot on one side of my house was subdivided and sold, and the new incumbent immediately began building and has never stopped; and, for a time, he raised (or, anyway, tried to) free-range bunnies in his garden, and as the owner of (then) six cats I don’t think I have to say anything more about his choice vis-à-vis his rural ambitions, do I? When Oom Vossie died, my friend T bought his property and the renovations on that side have been ongoing for a year. My honeymooning neighbours produced, to no-one’s great surprise and in quick succession, three children, and then went the whole koeksister and opened a preschool so that during the week their front lawn was populated by dozens of tots apparently intent on tearing each other limb from limb and not doing it quietly.
And so some sort of quid-pro-quo reigned: my neighbours didn’t complain when my friends and I occasionally partied well into the night, and I didn’t complain about the endless daytime din of barnyard, building and minced-babies-in-the-making.
Until Wednesday night. We had a little gathering which, as these things do, turned into a bigger one when Johann arrived: late, and with bad company. While some of my more sensible guests went to bed, the others (and, of course, me) stayed up and danced. Granted, the music system – a small portable one – was, unusually, outside on the verandah (normally it’s inside, so the 100-year-old house walls screen at least some of the sound). And, at 2am, the police came knocking and told us to turn off the music as they’d received a complaint. We didn’t, of course, receive this information at first hand (we were too busy dancing): my son, asleep in one of the front rooms, was woken by the police (ironic, really, when you think about it), and he then came through to the back verandah and said to me, smirking with the kind of smirk that told me he would be cashing in this particular chit some time in the not-too-distant future: ‘Well, Mom, you’ve just got your first official complaint.’ (I wanted to say to him, ‘Nobody likes a wise-arse, darling,’ but I didn’t because the music was too loud and he wouldn’t have heard me. Not really.)
So, chastened, I turned down the music (more). Well, I was chastened; Johann immediately offered to burn down the house of whoever it was who’d whinged. But he can be like that.
On Friday morning I tested the sound system to see how loud the music had actually been – its top volume goes to 32; we’d kept it at 20 (and, as I said, it’s a small portable system). A friend who’d slept over (who, indeed, was accommodated in a room that opens directly onto the verandah) said that while she was dropping off to sleep, not only could she clearly hear our voices talking over the music, but that the sound of our feet as we lang-armed across the verandah was audible. So, we concluded, the music really hadn’t been that loud at all. (I double-tested it on Friday night, by taking it out onto the verandah and turning it up as loud as it would go and playing it at that volume for all the hours available until midnight, and it still wasn’t all that loud. Really.)
Look, I know what it’s like to be kept awake by thumping music and drunken screeching – I lived in Observatory in Cape Town for seven years, in a house sited directly, with frankly bizarre unfortunateness, across the road from two student digs whose denizens partied practically without cease, and there were times I lay awake in bed, drenched in anger and harbouring murderous intent. But, having conducted my volume experiments and garnered opinion from those who’d been in my actual house on Wednesday night, I have to conclude that one of my neighbours just has a bug up their bum.
So perhaps, having now received my first ‘official’ noise complaint in 10 years, it’s time to move on. I’m thinking an old rambling house under a windmill on a remote Karoo farm, where the nearest neighbours are kilometres away and the silence is deafening – except, of course, when the pristine semi-desert night is being torn to bits by Neil Diamond playing at full volume on the industrial music system I plan to install.
Monday, 11 January 2010
So says my friend Ronaldo, and I agree.