Today I am sad because I have had to say goodbye to Maciej, Kath and Bobby, who were my next-door neighbours from 2019 to 2020. I might have mentioned them before. One could not wish for better neighbours. Maciej, a chef, would bring me home-cooked pizza, home-made pickles (being Polish, his pickles were first-rate, and made with cucumbers grown in his own garden). I think this was sometimes at Kath’s suggestion, because she would see me looking unwell, or looking glum. Bobby is their dog, and he’s the kind who gives dogs a good name. Who, you may ask, is a good boy? Bobby is a good boy.
But their time in Brighton had to come to a close. They have a child now – just old enough now to crawl – and it’s not easy having a child in a one-bedroom flat. Plus, you can’t buy a decent-sized place in Brighton any more unless you already own a decent-sized place. (A problem that exists in much of the country.) I’ve seen this happen before with neighbours and friends from around here and it usually means decamping to Saltdean, against which I will say nothing but, you know… M&K, however, are going to Northern Ireland, which is quite the relocation (K has family there).
They invited me round to say goodbye and hand over some post of mine that had been accumulating. They’d left things a little late, though, and were packing when I came over. There is something enormously melancholy about a home being packed up and moved out of (for one thing, the process of packing, at most stages, makes it appear as though the place has been turned over by a gang of unusually malevolent burglars). Bobby obviously knew what was going on. He also knew that he wouldn’t be seeing me for a while. For some people this would be a cause for rejoicing but in this instance Bobby sat at my feet, gazing up at me with a sad look, as if to drink me in for the last time. Occasionally, he would get up and look out into the garden, as if to say: “I will never do my business in there again.”
I went away with gifts. It is very hard for a Pole not to give gifts. This time I got some jars of stuff from the fridge (“Waitrose horseradish sauce? You can’t go wrong”), including an absolutely enormous jar of home-made pickles, a few of which I have just eaten, and they are well up to the usual standard. Maciej also found a jacket that was too small for him: a very fetching tweed jacket from Next which, because of the heating situation in my flat, I am wearing as I type. Unlike my own tweed jacket, which is older than I am and which I bought from a charity shop in 1981, its pockets are intact, and I have spent some very happy times just recently putting things in them and taking them out again without their having fallen through to the floor. (I asked my local tailors – who are not, by any means, rip-off merchants – how much it would cost to replace the pockets, and the sum was, shall we say, prohibitive.)
And that was it. Because my bag was groaning with unopened post and various laden jars, and because she had another errand to do, Kath gave me a lift back, and as I got out of the car I realised I had forgotten to say goodbye properly to Bobby, which made me feel wretched. But maybe this means I will take them up on their offer to see them in Northern Ireland when they’re settled. (Flights from Gatwick are cheaper than the repair of pockets in an old jacket, I gather.)
People often say how hard it is to make friends past a certain age. Not in my experience, it isn’t. All you need is a happy nature and even a mild interest in other people’s lives. (Yes, I do have a happy nature. Shut up at the back there.) I would say it’s actually harder for me not to make friends, although this may have something to do with my peripatetic, semi-nomadic life over the past few years.
What I should focus more on is making enemies. I think I have only three, if you don’t count idiots on social media, or *unty Oyster Man, whom I have not seen for four years now. (A worthy opponent, though, and I am still quite terrified of him.) I’m actually quite proud of two of them: Julie Burchill and Rod Liddle. Burchill I have known for decades, but one day something snapped and I couldn’t take any more of her; she gets a bit of a pass because she is not wired as other humans are. Liddle, though: when I’m feeling a bit down, I console myself with the fact that he hates me. Little lifts the spirits as much as knowing that one of the country’s most obnoxious pundits has taken against one. “Lord, make my enemies ridiculous,” was said to have been Voltaire’s one prayer; not even he went so far as to add “… and also contemptible”.
I should add, I do seem to have made another enemy recently, but that’s another story for another day.
This article appears in the 24 Nov 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The Agent of Chaos