I suppose there are some people (Britons, I’m looking at you) who might think that life in Australia is just like life on Neighbours. Fair enough really, when you consider that London is basically crawling with hoardes of former Neighbours ‘actors’ and ‘stars’ trying to get into Pantomimes and dreaming of a speaking part role on Hollyoaks. Oh, and Kylie ‘Charlene’ Minogue.
In reality, if people want to see what Australia is like In The Flesh they should watch Kath and Kim (NOT the American version) and perhaps a few films like The Boys or Candy (NOT anything directed by Baz Luhrmann, however definitive-sounding the title.) But I’m being facetious. Obviously, people who believe in Ramsay Street are probably the same type to think the Irwins’ Australia Zoo its strange crocophile customs is representative of our nation. And there can’t be too many of them, can there? Crikey!
My Australian reality certainly doesn’t resemble Ramsay Street. I’m about as likely to pop next door for a slice of gossip or a tuba lesson as I am to be targeted by drop bears. Even so, I feel a kind of grudging attachment to the neighbours over the back fence, despite not even knowing half their names.
When we first moved here a mere three years ago, we soon learned that the scary looking biker next door was, in fact, a scary looking Biker With A Heart of Gold. After all this time he still calls me, simply, ’mate’ with exactly the same familiarity and un-ironic tone used by itinerant farm workers I met as a child. Immediately upon meeting us, he offered to take our bins in and out when we were away and to loan us tools as needed (he is a tradesman). In the same breath he promised that while we’re his neighbours, no one would ever touch our stuff or give us any trouble. Nosirree. We live in the shadow of a house that is never locked. Its owner’s fabled feirceness is security enough. Despite finding this somewhat terrifying at the time, I now have a deep appreciation for what the Biker’s presence represents. When my husband is away at night, I comfort myself with the thought that if anyone broke into my house all I’d need to do is holler loud enough for the Biker to hear and not only would I be safe, but my would-be attacker would likely be killed. Quite satisfyingly. Hopefully not on the carpet.
If our neighbour is actually a villain (and I suspect he is, at least a former one), he’s a fair-minded one. When his bikie friends come over for a Massive PissUp (which is actually quite rare) we are usually invited, by way of apology for the noise, and he has the empty Jack Daniels bottles off our front lawn before midday the next day. He’s a right gentleman, to be sure.
And then there’s the Heart of Gold. The Biker has two sons, twins, who were still schoolboys when we moved in. And an adopted daughter. Neighbourhood sources tell me that the custody battle over Jill (okay, so her name isn’t Jill but I spend my life reciting nursery rhymes so what else do you expect?) was long and bitter and expensive. Our neighbour’s former wife, the boys’ mother, had a drug habit that threatened the welfare of her other, older child to the degree that he wanted to ensure her safety and allow the siblings to have each other. Whisperings are that many sacrifices – financial and status-wise – were made to this end. Naturally, these honourable, nuturing tendencies were rewarded with the attention of another, younger woman and the pleasure of acquiring two young stepchildren. Yay, more mouths to feed!
Which brings me to the offspring. The Baby Bikers, if you will. Raising two boisterous males as a mostly-single father can’t have been easy and to his credit, our neighbour has clearly done a pretty good job. Unlike many of their peers in our locality, they both finished school and they both are now employed and most spectacularly, they both wave hello when I venture out to the mailbox or suchlike. I don’t know what their names are and if I did I wouldn’t know which was which but I do know they have been taught to be at least cursorily polite and they have someone who cares where they are and what they do which is more than can be said for many of their friends, apparently.
Still, these remarkable specimens are young men and, unsurprisingly, they can’t resist loud drunken parties with their mates whenever their dad is away. Which seems to be a lot, lately. I suspect life with the new wife might be a tad more enjoyable without five progeny underfoot but that of course is purely speculative.
Anyway, the result is that we have the ‘dad’s away’ parties more and more often. And now that the boys and their friends all have the money to buy cars – LOUD and NOISY and HOTTED-UP cars with SPEAKERS BIGGER THAN THE BACKSEAT – the worst part of the party for us is the arrivals and departures. Oh, and the demo sessions wherein the SPEAKERS BIGGER THAN THE BACKSEAT can be properly tested, and engines properly revved (simultaneously, of course.)
Mostly, these nights proceed in a predictably hilarious manner for us. My husband spends all night tsking about the bottles that might be on our grass, and fretting about what drunk youths might do to our cars exposed in the carport, and turning on the outside light so he can glare menacingly at the kids huddled on our corner swigging from bottles (at least, as menacingly as one can in pyjamas). I spend the night alternating between swearing about not getting enough sleep and trying to be the young, hip one who remembers what it was like to want to be up all night and not mind if most of the next day was spent in a spewy headache-haze.
And then there are the nights they go too far. Memorably, there was one of those last January. I was heavily pregnant and already seriously sleep-deprived. They were having fun. Too Much Fun For My Liking. And it got to five am. Far past the hip-and-cool maximum and well into toxic-neighbour territory. I ended up storming up to the back fence in my pregnant-heifer nighty and no shoes to wail like a banshee over at them. It went something like Shutthefuckupit’sfiveaminthegoddamnmorningandI’mpregnantyoulittletossers. Only at a screech. Accompanied by a stick banging on the back fence and my dog thinking it was a hilarious game and barking his head off. Not my finest hour. And since they pretended not to hear me and took a further half-hour to turn the music off, I have hoarded the basketball they accidentally threw over our fence ever since by way of revenge. Take that!
Everything went along fairly peaceably since then – we tried not to complain about not one, but three motorbikes being ridden incessantly up and down our street and they keep mum about the fact that we are harbouring a jungle in the backyard and have a sick dog whose main pleasure in life is barking at their fence. But then there was Christmas Night. The Biker and his bride must have scooted off to the other rellos because they clearly were not home. The boys and their engine-revving friends and a huge haul of illegal fireworks, however, were well and truly in residence. Ever been woken up by fireworks being set off a few metres away from your open window? Personally I wouldn’t recommend it.
Music until dawn is one thing, but explosions that just about make my dog lose his bowel contents all over my carpet at 1am is entirely another. So yes, I committed the cardinal sin against neighbourliness. I called the cops. It being Christmas (and the police being rather loathe to do the unpleasant business of Spoiling Everyone’s Fun), it was almost two hours before they arrived. Plenty of time for the Baby Bikers to move from massive pyrotechnics to little fire-crackers perfect for aiming, Jackass-style, at each other with ensuing whoops and yells and cries of FARKINGHELL. As entertaining as this is, I couldn’t help but stare glumly at the clock with the knowledge that it was only a matter of hours before The Bean would think that it was a great time for up, and my chance of sleep would evapourate. And so The Fireman and I lay there, feeling curmudgeonly and grumbling about how it would serve them right if someone blew a finger off. Selfish little bastards. Don’t they know we have a Child and Responsibilities and Advanced Age? Bah Humbug!
Eventually the calvary did come, and the music ceased immediately. Ah, Silent Night, Holy Night!
In the light of day I felt a little mean for spoiling their fun; those curiously courteous, unpretentious, motherless boys next door. But then one of them started up their car engine and the SPEAKERS BIGGER THAN THE BACKSEAT when Bean was trying to sleep and I resolved to hoarde that basketball for another year. That’ll show them!