Singing, Peeing and Drilling; or, the Sounds of People

Living among people has one major disadvantage – namely, the people. Even when one hides in one’s own den of a flat to avoid the sight of people, the sound of them can’t be entirely avoided. The thing is, not all human habitations are properly sound-proof. My experience twists the laws of physics and suggests that instead of absorbing noise, walls of homes tend to amplify it.

I was brought up in an old two-level house and was used to its human and inhuman (also inhumane) noises. My room was surrounded by the kitchen, hence the daily clinking of dishes, and the living room, hence the nightly noise of the TV turned up loud. The inhuman sounds included mostly rats eating through the structure of the building. The most inhumane of all was however the neighbour’s tireless playing of brass music – he must have been the only person left on earth to enjoy the assault on the ears that brass music is.

Moderately old
Moderately old

Then I moved to a moderately old block of flats. The sounds produced by the house and its inhabitants at first felt like living in a combat zone. Doors banging, people yelling and music playing indoors, dogs fighting, cars racing and glass smashing outdoors. It took me some time to accept that it’s not a world war but just people casually existing. Eventually, I came to know my neighbours on all floors more intimately than either of the parties involved ever wished for.

Next to me on the same floor there lived an old gypsy woman. She used to have a husband, but he died under intriguing circumstances which were not publicised in the death notice stuck with duct tape on the entrance door of the house. I dubbed my neighbour Esmeralda for her inclination to Latin American theatricality. She travelled in taxis, partied most nights and was returning home singing and swearing at the lack of a lift in the house.

Occasionally Esmeralda’s family members would come to extract money from her, which provided for either a tragic or a comic performance, depending on whether she gave up the money or not. When the police knocked on my door to inquire about her, I thought it prudent not to know anything. I didn’t want to end up as Esmeralda’s late husband.

15-05-10-people (4)
Living together

Stacked in the bed-sit above me was a middle-aged alcoholic with enlarged prostate. He lived alone, but on and off, fellow female drunkards sought shelter in his place. They would sit together on the miniature balcony, clatter with beer bottles and tap cigarette ashes down on my laundry hung out to dry. The prostatic alcoholic was a great animal lover. He used to feed the birds in all seasons, causing the seed skins and bird droppings to be strewn all over my balcony. Finally I stopped putting the laundry out.

This upstairs neighbour had prostate problems so severe that I considered starting a fundraiser to get him a Prostenal course of treatment on the house. His prostate was very much my business, for he kept on peeing a few drops very noisily each hour, days and nights. I suspect he must have been standing high on a block when doing this, otherwise I have no explanation for the sheer loudness of his urinating. It must have been the same block that he used for drilling training, as with the amount of drilling he did, he couldn’t have made do with just the walls, the ceiling and the floor.

I moved out from this colourful house soon after the local street kids grew up, started to smash windows, doors and cars big time and amused themselves by running up and down the stairs in the house and banging with baseball bats on people’s doors. I got my car vandalised, possibly because I was silly enough to try tell the kids off when they were vandalising something else. So I got rid of the car and moved to a new block of flats, alas in a close neighbourhood.

No people beyond this point
No people beyond this point

The other day I happened to meet a neighbour from the previous house. He lived downstairs and from his flat there always oozed cigarette smoke, dog smell and loud techno. He lived with a noisy wife, an unascertained number of children and several dogs. The neighbour looked good enough now, as he was walking two ancient dogs, and he spoke to me coherently and more substantially than we ever spoke when we lived in the same house. It looks that his wife and the younger kids had left, the eldest youthful delinquent had been put away in a correctional facility, and the man was doing better than before.

I’m hoping for the same for me, as I had left one husband and one cat behind and now live at the top of the world (or on the top floor, at least) with the other cat that I got in custody. The house is so new that some of the units are unoccupied and dead quiet. The walls seem to be made of actual brick rather than cardboard, and nothing can be heard from the inhabited flats either. The silence is so oppressive that it regularly makes me suspect a nuclear catastrophe had happened and everybody died. I hate to say it – but I miss my singing, peeing and drilling neighbours. People make one feel alive.

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Mara Eastern

I'm a sardonic blogger, snapper, scribbler and rhymer; a virtual space invader who indulges in cheerful negativism, morbid self-deprecation and bleak humour.

42 thoughts on “Singing, Peeing and Drilling; or, the Sounds of People”

  1. I could almost have written this myself. I grew up in a mid-terrace with some “colourful” and some downright criminal neighbour’s and a whole load of noise. Often the noise would peak with police sirens. Then one of the Edinburgh tenement flats I lived in during my 20s shared a wall with a woman who constantly talked with spirits which wouldn’t not have perturbed me had she not shouted at them in the middle of the night. Now I’m in the leafy suburbs, my noise problems are no longer shared walls and criminal goings-on but the noisiness of the middle classes, such as having their gardeners operating loud machines any time I go out to my garden to read a book. Yesterday morning my head was almost vibrating with the noise. At any given time, there seems to be a leaf blower, mower or strimmer going. First world problems.

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    1. Very well, hands down, your experience with neighbours is much more terrifying than mine! I’m happy that I had no voodoo neighbours talking to the spirits, that would probably just drive me crazy… I do understand what you mean by the middle-class noise. In my post I skipped the period when I lived in the village, and it was as a matter of fact the noisiest place I lived it. Because the sounds of gardening machines are extremely loud and incredibly annoying – especially when it’s happening at all times of day, including early morning at the weekends. So, I’m grateful for the non-machine, human noise produced by my current neighbours!

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  2. Compared to your neighbours from the past, mine are pussycats 😀 I’ve always lived in a flat but it seems no matter how you live, neighbours are always a pain.

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    1. Yes, I quite concur, it’s hard living with people because they are always bound to make some noise or be otherwise bothersome… I guess we just need to come to terms with that…

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  3. This reminds me of a story from my father’s childhood–I’m guessing from the early 19-teens or thereabouts. His school had a music program, and he came home with a trumpet that he was going to learn to play. In a New York tenement apartment. His older sisters told him he’d get tuberculosis if he did. He couldn’t get back to school to return it fast enough. And there ended his musical career.

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    1. I’m not sure if I should laugh or cry at this story… But I think I’d rather be laughing 😀 Poor thing, had could have been a trumpet star – or he could have been dead. Wise choice….

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  4. If you could shrink yourself and your cat, you should try living in the very picturesque featured bird house picture XD ok maybe that seems mean, but I what I mean to say is its a really lovely picture!

    Reading through that reminded me of a neighbour I had in Sydney that left his windows open all day long, and blasted oldies music during the day with a speaker that I assume is as big as him considering that you can hear the music more than a block down. Until one day it just stopped. Never quite knew why and how? lol.

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    1. Well, why, thank you for your encouraging comment 😀 I’m glad you like the bird feeder and because I’m generous, I will leave this little home for you and your cat to use (now I’m being mean :-O ). I think that your old neighbour was shot to the accompaniment of his oldies music. Loud music is one of the things I hate. Also loud TV, which is a problem in summer when people keep their windows open. I’m quite happy in my new place though, it is quiet but not deadly quiet anymore as more people have moved in their flats.

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      1. Hahahaha aww that’s mighty nice of u. Now Shelley and I will get free feeds from you everyday! Why would i turn the offer. Lolol. Maybe you can do a thing or two to scare some off as the new come… Lol!!

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        1. Well, maybe I wouldn’t force you to live in the bird feeder but would gracefully accept you to live at my terrace, as my cat needs a feline playmate! Also, my terrace is probably larger than my flat…

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  5. Wonderful. The first place I could call my (own) home had mice running along the books on the shelf inches above my head (under the fridge and up the curtains) and the shared toilet (for the whole house) was on the other side of a piece of plasterboard (gyproc) inches away from my sleeping (or not) head….happy days…

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    1. Of Mice and Man? Scary! Perhaps you should have got yourself a cat? No, seriously, when reading your story, I’m of course grateful for my neighbours, whether they are peeing and drilling or not.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Very well written. I don’t read a lot of blogs, I usually just look at the pictures, but I like reading your blog because you write good, with a sense of humor and you write about interesting things.

    I just moved too. Got rid of an untrustworthy wife and the brain-numbing TV when I moved. The downstairs neighbor in the old place also reeked of cigarettes: on a regular basis he came home drunk and argued loudly with his dumb girlfriend. Sometimes they smashed stuff, tore down shelves and shit. Then we would have to listen to his hammering for days later as he was fixing up his place again. He was an annoying, but still interesting, neighbor.
    Now I live back in the same building that we used to live in a couple of years ago. The same flat too, but two floors higher than last time. I have a better view, but everything is crooked. If you put a ball on the floor, gravity will make sure that the ball rolls down to the corner of the living room…

    There’s many new people in the building since last time I lived here, so I don’t know them all yet, but I know a handful of them. And the landlord has changed the doors in the hallways here. They used to have glass in them. Now they’re solid and more sound and fire proof, but I can still fart in the hallway and blame the neighbor.
    4-5 years ago there was this guy that was visiting someone that lived in the building. They weren’t home, but he slept on the floor in their living room. Now, how do I know that he slept on their floor? One night everyone in the building woke up from the smell of fire and a fire alarm going off. We gathered in the stairs, all of us were half asleep and half naked, and located where the smoke & sound came from. It came from that apartment. I tried to look inside, but there there was curtains in the door windows, so I felt the door with my hand to check if it was warm, but it wasn’t. So I smashed the window with my knuckles, stretched my arm inside and opened the lock.
    Some neighbors ran into the kitchen there, put out the fire that the pizza had started in the oven and opened the windows. I went into the living room and found the guy sleeping on a matrass on the floor.
    He woke up, totally confused, with the apartment full of smoke and neighbors, while I was shacking the shit out of him with my bleeding knuckles and screaming: «this is the last fucking time that you make a fucking pizza and go to sleep you dumb shit!!!».

    The day after he came knocking on my door. He was obviously uncomfortable, because he was blushing and he didn’t dare to meet my eyes. With a weak voice he thanked me for saving his life the night before. “Don’t worry about it” I said, “but don’t make pizza again when you’re drunk”.

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      1. Yes and yes. This must have been also the longest comment I’ve ever received, and you should totally copy and paste and post. For the benefit of wider audience.

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    1. Thank you for making me feel slightly special. I’m flattered that you read my rant, even more so that it inspired you to produce a rant of your own 😀

      So, OK, I give up, your neighbours, past and present, are worse than mine. My neighbours haven’t so far set up a fire in their kitchen, though I’m afraid that if this ever happens in the house, it will be my fault. I don’t cook, so it’s quite risky for me to even come anywhere near the oven.

      It’s funny, while I don’t live in the very same building as I did five years ago when I moved out from town to the countryside, I now live literally a few dozen meters from the building. It’s interesting to meet the old neighbours from time to time. Except it looks many of them had meanwhile drunk themselves to death.

      I seem to attract drunkard neighbours, as my neighbour downstairs comes home drunk regularly and at least twice he confused the floor and tried to open my flat with his door key. Precisely what was happening with my neighbour upstairs in the previous house. Deja vu.

      Here’s to neighbours… Or not.

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      1. I’ve also met many of the same people here. This used to be a typical low-income area, with drunkards, junkies and immigrants. It still is, but there has been some ‘gentrification’ like they call it so there’s new buildings with expensive apartments in between all the old ones that were built during the 1800’s.
        To be fair to my neighbors: the sleeping pizza maker wasn’t my neighbor, he was just a visitor. It seems to be more quiet here now, but I’ve noticed that my alcohol selling/smuggling neighbors (that had a police raid once) are still in business. I would have bought from them if I drank vodka, but I stick to red wine and bourbon.

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        1. That’s funny, I’m in a very similar situation now. I live in a brand new building with well-to-do middle-class residents, and it’s one of two buildings that were erected at the edge of working-class blocks of flats. It’s not precisely gentrification here, it’s rather that the city seems to be running out of parcels in the centre. Most of the town’s fancy neighbourhoods are at the edges of the town, which is apparently no issue for residents who have cars anyway and it’s probably quieter there.

          Your remark about the smugglers cracked me up… I live on white wine and slivovitz, which I buy in the local supermarket. However, if I ever wanted stolen clothes, perfumes and jewellry, I have a rough idea whom to address in the neighbourhood.

          Otherwise what thrives here is not as much smuggling as rather petty theft: it’s amazing to see the lengths people would go to steal stuff rather than to work in a regular job, which would ultimately prove to be less demanding. I’ve seen people stealing decorative shrubs and even old paper from the recycle bin so that they could sell it… A very popular item to steal and sell to a recycling yard are gutter covers. Quite inconvenient as you could fall in the gutter when the lid is stolen…

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  7. Love your description of the neighbours. I’ve got one that sneezes so loudly and funnily it always makes me giggle 🙂 I still have to figure out if it’s the upstairs one or the one from the house beside ours – that would be a catastrophy if I was able to hear through two walls of attached houses…!!!

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    1. Oh dear, a person sneezing so loudly that it disturbs the neighbours?! That’s possibly even worse than the peeing… I do hope it’s your upstairs neighbour. Otherwise the work of whomever erected the walls dividing your house and the neighbours’ house would have been highly dubious… I wish you quiet days!

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      1. Well it’s not really disturbing me, but it’s kinda weird to know that I can actually HEAR him… what can HE hear then from my appartment then…?! I heard him again today – I now concluded it must be the side-neighbour… boy oh boy… (these are very old style flat houses so I guess it wouldn’t happen in a modern place either 😉 ) But thank you :)!!!

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          1. Haha, it definetly IS the neighbour!!! Just a few hours before I heard him sneeze out on the street!!! It would have been a bit freaky if I had run towards the window to see what he acutally looked like so alas, I skipped that part…^^

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  8. Hey Mara! I’m sure the hustle and bustle of humans will set in any time soon. I hope it’s better than the country life, I remember you quite so vehemently loathed. 🙂

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    1. Awe, it’s sweet, you remember it quite correctly, I never got used to life in the countryside. It was ultimately one of the reasons my husband and I parted our ways. It’s true that since I wrote this article there have been some new neighbours and the house is quite lively now. It’s not noisy, but I can hear that people are around and I like it… What annoys me the most are the birds, who are like crazy now that it’s spring here!

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  9. Gosh what a turn around in the fact you miss the noise but I can understand it is an association of growing up, and sometimes we find these kind of things because of the familiarity, comforting? Though that might seem odd when you take it apart bit by bit. You now have the peace, I am sure you will get used to it, I can’t stand other people’s noise, living noise, it is like someone scratchign their nails down a chalkboard, sets my nerves afire and suffered it with a couple of neighbours and am thankful it is over. Your post was intriguing 🙂 xx

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    1. Thank you for reading my twisted story! Do your neighbours scratch their nails down a chalkboard? I’d want to kill them… As to the neighbourly noise, the place where I live now is the best, I think. No more deadly quiet, but not too much noise either. A good balance 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Hmm,I understand what you say.
    I live in a sort of flat.The place where I live has 3 floors,many corridors and rooms on both sides oft the corridors.
    My flatmates are freaking noisy.The one living next to me has loud sex very often,and sometimes I even want to tell his girlfriend to shut up!!
    The others – the girls – tend to chat in the corridor.When they go out,they come back at 3 or 4 am drunk and noisy as ever.Yesterday,for instance,they came at 4 am after going to a birthday party.I don’t socialize with them at all,but I’ve somehow learnt to enjoy their company.Also the room on the right side of mine is occupied by a guy who sings and plays guitar! The only way to have some quiet is by putting on my earphones!

    Though I’ve eventually got used to them,I won’t mind living like you at all!! Total silence is a dream for me!!!

    Oh,did I say that I like your new theme? I’ve been away for such a long time that I don’t even remember! This theme sort of gives your posts more space,and the visitors more freedom to navigate! 🙂

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    1. As it happened before, I feel grateful to have a rather comfortable life after reading your comment – it’s a good thing to be reminded of that sometimes! Though the deadly silence is no more so silent, the flat where I now live is still very quiet and it’s nice place to live. I can’t imagine studying while having to cope with noisy neighbours. Oh, and thank you very much for your compliment on my new theme – I fell in love with it immediately and I couldn’t resist using a bold header and background… Glad that it works for you!

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