Next Door Posted on February 18, 2015

I was going to try not to mention it, but the goings-on next door are hard to ignore – and getting harder. At the moment the drilling about three feet from my head threatens to upset my syntax. And no one can fail to notice the scaffolding to the top of our neighbour’s house and high above it, clad in white sheeting with the words London Basement repeated six times; one for each deck. ‘Is this the highest you’ve ever dug?’ someone asked.

Basements of course, are all the rage. A pocket calculator will tell you that with property at £x per square foot and the cost of digging and building at half x or less, the opportunity of adding a thousand square feet or so is worth considering. And there is no legal obligation to consider the neighbours. Decent people do, of course, but the law says the ground under your house is yours; by all means become a mole. A recent regulation says that, in this borough at least, you can only dig under half your garden (it used to be 85%). But a hole is a hole, and the diggers and the concrete mixers, the big white box on the pavement, the lorries, the noise and the dirt are a fact of life. So is the looming risk of cracks in the party wall or worse. What happens if power cuts become endemic is an unasked question. A corner candle shop? Our neighbours, though, have an immediate problem. Removing the plaster from their flank wall (it’s the last house in the terrace) revealed serious cracks. The whole wall, says the Council, must be demolished; effectively only a massive Virginia creeper is holding it together. That means the roof has to go – and the back wall, it seems, too. Its lusty wisteria, checked in its climbing only by the height of the chimneys, has already had the chop. We will be living next to a void, with only the stuccoed façade as a neighbour.

The scaffolding is just as imposing from the garden. You don’t see it from our windows, but looking back from the greenhouse end I try to persuade myself that in a moment of whimsy I commissioned a pagoda. Meanwhile the neighbours’ garden is like an unnaturally house-proud mining camp. On fine days the miners sit around, speaking a language not distant, to my ears, from Russian, outside their gemütlich little dacha. Why should they care that under their feet, under the flooring they installed, a terrible menace is advancing across the garden towards ours?

How do you extricate phyllostachys from the roots of a mature walnut? We may become experts when the miners move on.

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