Madeira cake
The people next door, despite definitely never having been called Sidney and Betty, tell everyone these are their names. It’s charming to think of a Cypriot couple in their late 70s having aliases or noms de plumes, but a bit weird, like the hotel staff in Beijing whose name badges falsely claim they’re called “Tom” or “Alexandra”. I like “Sidney”, although I hear he’s unwell (from Sue, two doors down). He seems better of late, though, as he’s been doing the odd spot of gardening and has taken to putting the bins out for us, because (I think) he would rather I did it on a Sunday evening than early on a Monday morning; but I like to see if I can beat the bin men to the punch. We sometimes exchange “hellos”, and Sidney seems harmless in the way that I assume all old men to be. I strongly suspect he and Betty threw away, rather than ate, the apple pie I made them upon my return from Colorado, since they did not return the tin for a fortnight (it was way too good to last more than a couple of days, and they have nothing better to do with their retirement apart from eating and being neighbourly), and when they did finally condescend to give it back they placed in it an Asda madeira cake – a clear indication of their disdain for and distrust of my baking. Because of this I suspect the couple of being ex-spies, turned by the British in the mid-‘70s and housed out of harm’s way in this quiet suburb of Enfield. Much as I try to like my neighbours, I deeply fear them, crafting them personas somewhere between Rosemary and Fred West, and the ill-fated Irina and Ricki Tarr from Le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy.

Thus it is that when, on a barely sunny Monday afternoon in August as I am walking my daughter around our garden in her running buggy (we call it her chariot) and collecting rotting apples to tidy the garden ahead of the barbecue we may be hosting at the weekend, Sidney comes ambling through our back gate brandishing a three-foot wood saw and a half-smile, I imagine taking him down like Jason Bourne, saving my daughter, and all possible legal, physical, logistical ramifications for my family, whilst I greet him with a calm, frozen stare that betrays my paranoia. I stand rigid and mute as Sidney totters towards us, she utterly unfazed by the saw or the Cypriot. He says he is bothered by the tree near our kitchen, and offers to cut it down. Because I do not want, like a scene from Kill Bill, to start and lose a fight with an ex-Soviet spy wielding wood tools only feet from my infant child, I say that this is fine, and attempt deliriously to engage him in conversation as he bemoans the absence of the landlord and the rate of turnover of tenants in our home. I say we’d buy the place if we could, while he deftly reduces the eight-foot tree to a stump and I help him put the branches beside his garage, at his decidedly strange request. Escaping our ordeal unscathed, I walk my daughter inside for some pasta, bravely lock the doors, and take a moment to enjoy the uninhibited view from the kitchen.



One Response to “The Guy Next Door”

  1. I would stick to spiders. They at least do not carry saws.

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