I spent over an hour the other morning attempting to get through to my energy company, who had informed me via email that they were ‘sorry to see me go’. I had made no request to transfer my supply. The phone number provided for erroneous transfers was receiving an extra high volume of calls. The chat function was unavailable. The email address did not accept replies.
Eventually, I got through (I was too irritated to hang up). Someone else on my close has tried to switch suppliers and given the wrong address. The cheery call centre worker, probably working from her dining table down in Nottingham, explained that Scottish addresses were ‘funny’—’left flat, third floor, that kind of thing’—not like English addresses, and that such mix-ups often occurred as a result. I said, not taking offence, I’m not Scottish. She said, laughing, oh, I can tell.
One of my anonymous neighbours has cost me an hour of my time, forcing me to listen to the energy supplier’s hold music and occasional cheery recorded voice, ‘We know you’ve been waiting, thank you for your patience’.
Living alone in a block of flats, you have an unavoidably intimate relationship with your neighbours, even if you never see them. Occasional gusts of cigarette smoke seep through the kitchen floorboards or up the communal stairs. A yappy dog lives in the flat below. The bathroom next door nestles in the corner between my hallway and my front room. I can tell, from the drone of the exhaust fan, when someone is taking a shower or a shit on the other side of the wall from where I’m sitting on the couch.
When you live alone, there is nobody else around to soak up the external noise. In a one-room flat, there is zero strategic depth. I lived for many years in studio flats; there was no escape from a porous party wall or ceiling. At certain times, and in certain states of mind, this could be maddening.
For less misophonic types, such evidence of other human life carrying on around them, even unseen, is comforting. Ideally, these are the people who receive your parcels when you’re out and can be trusted with a spare key. If you scream, these are the people who will hear and, one hopes, do something about it.
When I first moved into Solo HQ, I did the neighbourly thing and knocked on the door at right-angles to mine, correctly masked up.
It was mid-afternoon. The man who opened the door had long flowing hair and a long flowing beard. He wore a flannel dressing gown but no mask.
-Hi! I’m your new neighbour, I announced, an excess of social boldness.
The Big Lebowski was more than equal to this.
-No, you’re not. We’re moving out next week. We got a bigger flat in Dennistoun.
I congratulated him and made my retreat.
The flat has since been reoccupied. The crucial settling-in period has passed without incident: no loud music or TV, no shouting on the stair, no door slamming or crashing. Occasional voices, a man and a woman, and that bathroom fan.
But there are still two months of lockdown to go. When it’s lifted, the new neighbours might have a house-warming party that rocks the communal joists. I’m not in the clear yet.
The energy centre call worker said she’d put a block on the transfer, and that I’d probably receive a letter from the receiving supplier to query this, bearing the name of one of my unknown neighbours.
Should I wait to be vaccinated before knocking on any more doors?