"Are you, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?"*
Neighbours. Everybody needs good neighbours. And I've had more than my fair share of Mrs Mangels. Given the chance, I’d live in a house in the middle of a forest with no other bugger for miles around.
I’ve had more lunatic neighbours than you can shake a shitty stick at. Such as the elderly naturists who’d spend extended periods talking to me over the garden fence, whilst trying not to stare at – or even notice – sagging genitals and bare flanges. They were actually rather pleasant, if stone deaf and had a rather disturbing penchant for caravanning holidays.
I’ve also put up with a dreadful, dreadful girlfriend-beating shitbag who would rant and rave until the small hours over his habit of stealing the rent money from her purse for a night down the pub, until the sobbing died out and gave way to loud, thrashing sex that could be heard at the other end of the street. It takes all sorts, I suppose, and his eventual trip to the Big House for a few years was a minor triumph for all concerned.
Harmless eccentrics and thugs. My current neighbours are angels compared to this lot.
In the middle of all this fell Nikolai, who can only be described as the nutter next door. Nikolai was Russian, and as mad as a sack of ferrets. He drove a taxi, and had his hair cut in the Travis Bickle stylee, and always, always wore combat gear. His parents mysteriously disappeared at some stage. I think he ate them.
Nikolai was hugely patriotic and yearned for the days of pre-communist Imperial Russia. He kept banging on about his "Mother Russia" and how, one day, it would be free of the "tyrant communists" that were destroying his once-proud nation. He often twitched disturbingly as he told us this, on a near daily basis.
"I am fully trained in all armed and unarmed combats" he told us. The furniture in his flat consisted of nothing except a mattress, a multi-gym and what appeared to be a shrine to the memory of the Romanov dynasty. In short, he was really bringing down the market value of our place. I don’t think the Irish chap at the other end of the corridor was helping either, what with his huge barrels of chemicals and all that.
On the morning of 19 August 1991, hardline communists launched a coup to oust Soviet supreme Mikhail Gorbachev and roll back his policies of reform which would, eventually, lead to the collapse of state communism and the break-up of the Soviet Union. Nikolai heard the call and decided that the time had come for him to return to Moscow and fight for a free Russia under the benevolent rule of the restored Royal Family.
“Mother Russia! Mother Russia! I am coming!” he shouted for several hours as I tried to sleep off a night shift.
As a matter of fact, I had spent the night listening and making frantic cassette recordings, as I was paid to do at the time, as Radio Moscow dropped its regular programmes for martial music, and then a sombre thirty-second announcement that there were new people in charge.
I arrived home, a shattered wreck, as these things always seem to go off in the middle of the night, when [in those days before they invented the internet] you hoped your night shift would be a quiet once with the hugely expensive and newly-installed satellite dish was watching MTV for you.
Hoping only for a good day’s sleep, all I got instead were doors slamming and Nikolai running up and down the stairs, screaming “Mother Russia! Mother Russia!” until, eventually, he sped off in his taxi.
He was arrested with a suitcase full of nunchuks and other pointy things at Heathrow, a little snippet that never quite reached the television news that night. I never saw him again, but the current top man in the Kremlin looks strangely familiar.
I still shudder at the thought of his replacement at number fifteen. In fact the words “nymphomaniac office cleaner” should fill any sane man’s heart with fear…
* This link designed solely to wax fat off the proletariat's starvation