By my calculation, I have lived at 20 different addresses, not counting two different halls of residence whilst at university. By which token I should have had at least 40 different sets of neighbours – probably more, as people move and I have no recollection of having lived next to an empty property.
Of all of those neighbours, one in particular stands out, and not just because he was my neighbour for the longest period of time. Mr Quinn.
No relation to my friend Nick of the same name, he was my (our) next door neighbour for the entire time that we lived in Kelvin Road in Leamington. He was a large Irishman (or, at least, he seemed large to me) and for the first six years that I knew him seemed to be in a permanent state of PMS.
A state which was, of course, largely down to me. As a sports mad kid, I played cricket in the garden in the summer and football in the garden in the winter.
Mr Quinn found this completely incomprehensible. He and his wife had no children (or at least none that I remember seeing) so could not understand why a boy my age might want to play ball games in his own garden rather than, say, in the one acre playing field that our gardens backed onto. Of course I couldn’t go and play out epic cricket matches by myself in a public playing field. Someone would think I was daft.
Instead, Mr Quinn had to put up with a stream of balls of various sizes – and, on one occasion, a small brown bear called Bruin – being deposited in his garden. Sometimes he would crack and throw them back. Sometimes I would go around to his house, past the massive caravan that took up most of his driveway and must have blocked out any light to his front room, and ask either him or his shrewish wife for my toys back.
And on some occasions, he would be off in the caravan, which meant that I could just climb over the fence whenever I wanted to.
Finally, I broke Mr Quinn. One hot summer’s day I was kicking a ball against the wall of our kitchen extension. Repeatedly. Mr Quinn leaned out of his upstairs window and told me to stop. I candidly pointed out that I was in my own garden, that my own family were not complaining, and he would just have to put up with it. A few moments later, a bucket of cold water was poured over me, accompanied with a few choice words to the effect that it was a hot day and I needed cooling down.
For a long time, I felt a deep sense of injustice at what happened next. My dad went and spoke to Mr Quinn, and then made me come around with him to apologise. But then I remembered that he also apologised to me. Which must have been much more humiliating for him.
There’s also a neat postscript to this story. When we went off to New Zealand in 1982, we let our house to a Canadian family, the Dhingras. When we came back, Mr Quinn was all sweetness and light. Suddenly, I had become the better option – for whatever reason I still do not know, although at the age of 15 I had largely stopped kicking balls around the garden and passed that responsibility to my six year old brother.