Letter to: my neighbour

Julia Alsop airs her domestic grievances

Dear neighbour,

I wonder what your first anxieties were when you moved into halls. Were you wondering whether the people you lived with would be ridiculously clean, leaving passive aggressive post-it notes everywhere? Or would they be the biggest slob, emerging from their room only to pop another frozen pizza in the oven, slowly hoarding all the plates until you were forced to eat your soup out of a mug? Most importantly, how much would you be forced to hear of what is happening in their room? Nobody wants to hear the moans of an acquaintance at two in the morning, and then be forced to make uncomfortable small talk with them when you bump into each other in the hallway the next day. Instead, you’ve got me as a neighbour, and whether we like each other or not, we have to put up with each other if we want to survive the year sharing the same environment.

If we had a kitchen, like I did last year, it would be easier to find ourselves learning the ins and outs of the other students living around you. You’d know who is most likely to be sloppy drunk when returning from Bridge, only to set off the fire alarm at two in the morning. It would work, in a weird sort of way – there is an intimacy that comes with boiling your fusilli on the hob next to someone else’s penne, even if you have nothing else in common.

But we have no kitchen or social area. We are, instead, blessed with a large set of rooms in a spacious building, that essentially form a kind of self-contained unit. You, my so-called ‘neighbour’, are reduced to the pattering of footsteps and the occasional sound of a distant shower being turned on. But whilst this removes the feeling of having to force ourselves to ask each other vague questions about how our days went or what our plans are for the evening, there is also a whole new set of questions. If I don’t even know your name, what am I meant to do if my heating doesn’t work, and I want to check if it’s more than just an issue with my room?

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Now, as a music student, I am hyperaware that you may, on occasion, be victim to impromptu through-the-wall performances, particularly when drunk guests to my room also enjoy singing Byrd motets or sight-reading piano duets. I am sorry when that can be annoying but, dear neighbour, maybe consider just asking me to keep it down if you’ve got an essay deadline? There’s nothing worse than the ghost neighbour…the one who broods and builds up a grudge until they complain about you on Oxfeud, or worse, the JCR group page.

We don’t have to be friends, or even acknowledge each other, but let’s never grow so bitter as to not communicate any significant grievances.

Best wishes,

Your neighbour (a stranger)