On living next to lunatics at university

During my second year in Northampton I lived behind the police station and swimming baths, in a cul-de sac called Connaught Street, which is part of an area called The Mounts. Historically The Mounts was an area of housing for the town’s many factory workers – on the corner between the police station and the Chronicle & Echo building is The Charles Bradlaugh, a pub named after Northampton’s most infamous politician (thrown down the steps of the Houses of Parliament for refusing to swear allegiance to the queen or god or something; I forget, but he was vaguely insurrectionary according to my lawyer friend James) and which used to be a shoe factory (hence Northampton Town being nicknamed The Cobblers, as if you didn’t know). The Mounts, by the time I lived there (1999-2000) was largely populated by students and Asians; anyone, in effect, who didn’t object to being squeezed into tiny houses which had piss-all garden and offered views of nothing more attractive than kitchen work top manufacturers (there was an Asian supermarket/cash & carry round the corner which sold the most amazing bananas, spices and ghee – we learnt to cook that year). A couple of times, walking back from campus or a pub or wherever, the local kids would shout “Hey white man!” at me, which, as I was generally pissed and listening to my walkman, would take on a seriously surreal edge.

One evening, James, Olly and I were watching a film in our living room (which was the ‘master bedroom’ – as it was the largest room in the house we decreed it would be unfair for anyone to have it as a bedroom and thus used it as communal space: for the first two months we had a mattress in there but no sofa; many happy hours were spent lazed across the mattress, with two lamps on in the corners, some techno or postrock laying whilst we discussed whatever pointless crap it is that underachieving students discuss) and the neighbourhood kids decided to take action against our 50/60-something white, male neighbour. Action? These kids, who were none of them older than 12 (at the very most), decided to light fireworks and throw them at this chap’s house. Overly dramatic? I’m not sure. The kids were shouting ‘racist!’ as they were chucking the fireworks, and accusing him of trying to run them over with his Lada. Over the previous month or so this chap had seemingly piled all his belongings into the back of his car, and also his caravan, until they were both full-to-bursting, and then shipped them all off to boot-sales and the like. We asked him about it one morning as he was loading his crockery into the passenger seat, and he claimed he’d made £3,000 out of selling his stuff. I can’t remember if he was planning on leaving the country or buying a new house or whether he was just a lunatic. I tend to favour the latter. The idea that he might have been trying to murder the local Asian toddlers with his Russian automobile is not that far-fetched though. At one point his car was full of hubcaps and sink units. And of course, the next day they were gone.

Please remember that this was when we lived behind the police station. You could have thrown a stone from our front door and it would have landed in the station car park next to the panda cars. It was barely 40 yards away. And these kids were throwing fireworks at a guy’s house. And we cheered them on, frankly, because our neighbour was a lunatic. Over the course of the next month or so he slowly took apart his caravan too, presumably to sell the constituent parts, until all that was left was a 7” by 15” piece of plywood with an axel. And he wasn’t even our immediate neighbour; they were much worse.

Initially we thought their back bedroom was a factory of some kind, because of the amount of unpleasant 18th century industrial crap in there; paint pots, piles of lumber, axes, old vertical drills, lathes, boxes of undefined stuff stacked up to head-height and above, filling every available inch, the windows grimy and thick with filth. But this was the residence of a married couple and their teenage daughter, not some Dickensian workhouse. The garden, such as it was, was piled high with rotting planks of wood, sodden barrels, two rusted tin baths, a proper old wooden washbasin (David Dickinson would have swooned to see such potential antique riches) and various other assorted bits of nauseous crap. One day we decided to try and see if the inside of their house was as bad as the garden and back bedroom, and so Olly leant out of the bathroom window at a precarious angle in order to facilitate a view of their dining room. At first we thought it was normal; the walls above shoulder-height were common-or-garden dining room walls; a couple of framed photographs, magnolia paintjob, nothing exceptional. Then Olly leant a bit further so he could see the lower half of the room, including the dining table. And the room was rammed full of shit. Stacks of newspapers, old fruit boxes, piles of unwashed crockery, god only knows what else, crammed into corners, dumped on top of tables, balanced on chairs, seemingly thrown on the floor. At first we thought maybe they were due a tidy up, but after weeks and then months had passed, after we’d pressed our noses to their grimy (Dizzee has nothing on these people) kitchen window and seen the bowls of rotting fruit and unwashed saucepans and filth-encrusted butter knives and pools of rotting potato peel, we realised that this was how they chose to live. We were students; four blokes living together, drinking, fixing oily bicycles in the kitchen, failing to wash up, cooking elaborate things that required numerous saucepans and various utensils, and this supposedly normal family next door made us look like puritan germ-killing fetishists.

University was a wonderful time.

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