Neighbours are the new colleagues - Gaby Soutar

Even though you can’t see them, they’re always there

Working from home has brought its challenges. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire
Working from home has brought its challenges. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Neighbours are the new colleagues”, a work mate said recently.

Indeed, though I’ve been working from my flat now for about 18 months, this arrangement was only recently formalised. It’s the same for many office workers, who after a period of lockdown or furlough limbo, are finding that their employer has made long-term decisions about their location.

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My husband has become a hybrid, which has nothing to do with him turning into Mr Tumnus in time for Christmas. Instead, he’s having to go into his office once or twice a week, when I will be expected to prepare my own sandwiches.

Gaby Soutar. Picture: JPIMedia
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I’m generally very happy about my job situation, though it’s made me even less tolerant of Him Upstairs, and I say that as an atheist.

Over the last year or so, I have become much more aware of my neighbours.

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My favourites are Them at the Side, who have been in the tenement for decades. They always take my packages when I’m out, and know all the gossip.

Yesterday, I caught one of them vacuuming the outside of their car, but we don’t ask any questions.

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We also like That Lot at the Top, and hope to get an invite to their annual Christmas shindig. Maybe this time I’ll actually make the effort to scale the four flights.

Him Upstairs, though. I’ve never met this guy, but I know him intimately.

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There’s the heavy-footed-ness of a platform clog wearer and the constant opening and closing of drawers, in what seems to be an eternal search for some long-lost pair of lucky pants. Then there’s the afternoon HIIT routines, which punctuate my afternoon with the occasional slam of a kettle bell against the floor, a penchant for late-night vacuuming, the chopping and blending of a million soups and the fact that activity increases as night falls, like a hamster or vampire.

He’s also annoyingly joyful. I occasionally put my noise-cancelling headphones on and listen to a true crime podcast, to blot out any peals of laughter.

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However, although he will strum the guitar occasionally, there’s no loud music or telly.

The only time we had to ring the doorbell and tell him to pipe down was when everyone in the flat above decided to have a sing-song.

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After the third rendition of Stand by Me, we were ready for the night to fall, and the land to be dark and the moon to be the only thing we see.

I exaggerate. I’ve had it much worse, including a neighbour who had an airhorn and would regularly use it at 4am, to punctuate a night of gabber techno.

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It’s just that my tolerance has decreased now that I’m in my living room office for 93 per cent of the day.

While I used to clock out at 6pm, and say farewell to my colleagues, with all their adorable quirks, there is no escape from mi casa.

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However, sometimes, when the window is open, I hear the distant drift of bagpipe practise and I know that someone out there has a way worse Him or Her Upstairs than me.

Gaby Soutar is Lifestyle Editor and Restaurant Critic

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