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The first time I set eyes on Mrs. Babcock I knew there'd be trouble...
The first time I set eyes on Mrs. Babcock I knew there'd be trouble.
The flat next to mine had been empty for almost a year, ever since poor old Mr. Reid had popped his clogs and we'd all been wondering who the next tenant would be.
"Well, I hope whoever it is likes kids!" said Mrs. Perkins, who had six, "You know what my lot are like. Not exactly angels, are they?" We did, and they're not.
"They'd better be into music," grinned Tony from the first floor, leaning against the wall and rolling a joint. Tony sleeps during the day and plays drums all night. Phil Collins eat your heart out.
Nobody really minds though, what with Mrs. P's six screaming all night long and the doorbell ringing at odd hours for Chris. Chris is an artist and entertains an endless stream of what he calls 'models', usually leggy blondes in skimpy clothes.
He's a good-looking bloke Chris, at least what you can see of him through the long hair and beard.
Mrs. Babcock seemed to move in overnight. One day the place was empty, with that forlorn and gloomy look that un-lived in places seem to have and the next sparkling net curtains appeared, whiter than any Persil ad on the telly had ever produced.
We all hung around and eyed the nets warily.
Mrs. Perkins, bless her, barely had time to wash the kids, never mind the curtains and Chris wouldn't know a curtain if it jumped up and bit him. Tony had a sort of blue batik thing held up with drawing pins and tied back with a grubby tassel.
So here's the layout. I'm on the ground floor next to Mrs. Babcock. Above me there's Tone and above him there's Chris. Mrs. Perkins and her lot are above Mrs. Babcock, God help her and none of us know who lives on top of her because none of us have ever seen him. Sometimes there's a light on, but however hard we try, we can never see anything.
Anyway, because I was the one with the new neighbour, I was the one everyone wanted to grill.
"Hey Ron, what's she like?" Chris wanted to know, coming into my garden uninvited, where I was tinkering with an old bike.
"Dunno," I said, "Oldish, about 60 I'd say. Grey hair. Fat. Looks pretty posh." I dunked an inner tube into a bucket of water to find the puncture.
"Have you spoken to her, then?" He took a swig from his can of beer and wiped away froth with the back of his hand.
"Nah. Snotty old bag, if you ask me. I said 'good morning' and she didn't say a bloody word. Just looked at me daggers and went back inside."
It wasn't long, though, before we all knew what Mrs. Babcock was like.
She started off by sticking up notices in the hall. They appeared as if by magic, printed in black felt-tip on white cardboard. 'PLEASE CLOSE THE DOOR QUIETLY' one said. Another one demanded 'NO NOISE AFTER 10PM'. Yet a third said 'DO NOT LEAVE TOYS IN THE HALLWAY'.
We all gazed at them, stunned.
"Silly old cow," said Mrs. P, clouting her youngest, who was busily picking his nose, round the head. "What does she expect with six kids?"
The kids thought it was a huge joke. As soon as Mrs. Babcock stuck up a notice, one of them promptly ripped it down again. It didn't deter Mrs. B, though. Up would go another one, quick as a flash. They got larger and larger too, until the whole hallway was papered with the stupid things.
Not that anyone took any notice.
Chris' leggy blondes still rang his bell at all hours, the hall was still cluttered with rusty bikes and roller skates and Tony still murdered his drums all night.
We didn't actually see very much of Mrs B, except sometimes she'd stand in her garden, fat arms on hips and stare up at the balconies, a sour look on her face. After a while, poor Tone gave up sitting out for his evening coffee and smoke and the leggy blondes started covering up a bit.
After a few months, though, things started to go really bad. Tony had a visit from the landlord who said Mrs. Babcock had written him a letter complaining about 'the funny smell' coming from his landing.
Mrs P had a call from social services wanting to know if it was true she had a part-time job as a barmaid, and I was blessed with a letter from the council telling me I had to get rid of all the rusty bikes and old car tyres from my front garden because I was 'lowering the tone of the neighbourhood'.
We all knew who was to blame.
Poor Mrs P was in a right state. "What'll I do?" she wailed, "They might take the kids away!"
Tony was furious. "Jesus H Christ! The old bag'll put me in nick if I'm not careful," he fumed, flushing his stash down the loo.
We all agreed that something had to be done, but none of us knew exactly what, all of us being a bit dodgy ourselves, so to speak.
We decided to have a meeting at my place the following Wednesday, to discuss strategy.
Tony turned up clean as a whistle for once. Chris arrived with two bottles of cheap plonk and a blonde. Mrs P dragged in her three youngest.
We were all sat round the table, mugs filled and ready to start, when we heard a terrific commotion outside. We rushed en masse to the window and even Cyril, Mrs. P's fourth in line, stopped wailing and whinging.
We all gawped, speechless.
There stood a huge paddy wagon, out of which sprung at least five cops. Tony, poor sod, went deathly pale, but it wasn't him they were after.
They thumped and kicked and bashed Mrs. Babcocks's door until it gave way and dashed inside yelling, as cops do on a raid.
For about an hour all we heard were a few muffled shouts and bangs and the occasional triumphant "Bingo!"
Then the door opened again and out they all trooped, each carrying two large rubbish bags crammed to the brim with gold candlesticks, silver plates, furs and God knows what else.
The last cop, looking mightily pleased with himself, was attached to Mrs. Babcock (who wasn't looking so snotty now, I can tell you) by means of a pair of wicked-looking handcuffs.
After they'd thrown everything, including Mrs. B, into the back of the paddy wagon, they screeched off, leaving her battered door swinging on its hinges.
"The old bat's a fence! Can you believe it? Bloody hell!" breathed Chris in awe.
We all stared at each other in amazement, mouths open. Then, raising our mugs full of plonk in a toast, we all began to grin...
© Andrea Lowne 2000
Originally published in FAN THE FLAMES magazine.
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