He who lives by the sword, also lives across the street

The night my neighbour pulled a sword on me started off quietly enough, or about as quietly as it could living in a flat in a rundown part of town. There were always varying levels of noise. Arguments heard through thin walls were accepted and endured with all the grace I could manage. Boyracers tearing up the street on dirt bikes that sounded like chainsaws on wheels was another constant presence. Fights on the street happened every few nights. I’d grown up in the middle of a noisy home and having our door kicked in by the police on the hunt for a suspected armed robber (who was usually upstairs with his friends smoking out the window or shooting at the street’s lamppost with an air rifle) was literally a normal weeknight for me. Basically, I’d somehow managed to become desensitised to background racket. Sometimes I made a lot of noise too. How often had my poor neighbours put up with my Atari Teenage Riot albums being blasted at the walls? I got it. Noise happens. Drugs are taken. People fight. On the periphery of it all is someone like me: quiet, but interested, watching from a window high up, securely tucked away behind a locked door with multiple bolts and keys.

Years later, I decided it was time for a less dramatic life. As you get older, you change, you want a calm life. My family had baggage all their own and I didn’t want to carry it any more, so I headed away in the opposite direction, moving out of town. It wasn’t too far away. A bus trip or a jaunt in the car, but it kept a distance between me and drama.

Years ago in my (then) new flat

My new flat didn’t look like much on the outside. Actually, the first thing that caught my eye when I arrived for a viewing was a bin full of unpaid Avon bills, some of which had been blown across the kerb. Being nosy, I took a quick look and laughed. Poor Avon, stiffed out of a few hundred quid by the previous occupant. Thrilled that such characters existed in my new street, I eagerly headed upstairs to the flat itself and had a look around. It was large, with three small bedrooms (shelf space) and a large living room with a patio and a nice sized kitchen. Well, I thought. This is perfect. Did it matter the outside looked like the sort of place you’d pass with your wallet and phone firmly tucked out of sight? No. I’d been raised in Cumbernauld during the 80s/90s at the tail end of Thatcher’s reign of Poll Tax terror.

My upstairs neighbours were keen to meet me. They looked like farmers. At one point during a fight, I screamed DO YOU GROW POTATOES at them. But when we first met as I headed upstairs after a trip into Glasgow, I passed by and said hello, which they reciprocated. They seemed nice enough. Other neighbours kept themselves to themselves, probably because that period of time saw me dressing in a trench coat, giving me the vague appearance of a snoop from The Department of Work and Pensions. Another resident of the block had to leave after her rent arrears became so bad the council had to intervene. Oddly, someone had been shitting downstairs in the corner near the main entrance to the block, which stopped when she was forced out. I have my suspicions.

Me in that trench coat circa 2004

Eventually, my sisters came out to visit me. They wanted to see the area, which I wasn’t too keen on in case they found a party to attend. Years before one of them passed away, my sisters had a real gift for seeking out loud parties, which they made louder. Really, I have them to thank for my immunity to loud noise. Anyway, as I feared they immediately befriended my upstairs neighbours. Ben and Sally AKA The Farmers (not their real name) seemed to like them too. This was exactly what I wanted to avoid, but it would be easier to grab the wing of a jet and hold on during takeoff than stand against my sisters in the vicinity of a party. They befriended The Farmers, and then they befriended the girl across the road.

I didn’t know her at all. I’d heard about her from others. People in the street called her Spikey Dykey (!) because she had cropped hair done in tiny little tufts and of course a straight woman couldn’t have cropped hair in Scotland without being a lesbian. She was dating Gary, Ben’s brother, who met her while visiting The Farmers at their flat above mine. A flat that had wooden floors and no carpet. Trust me, I knew from their footsteps which was a constant companion to my ears. The Farmers, Spikey Dykey, and Gary were all on drugs. Isn’t that obvious? The slurred speech, the similar sunken features of their faces, their weird inclination for stripping shirtless and showing off their tattoos and track marks. Not the nicest thing when you’re trying to drink tea and close the door on them.

One night while one of my sisters was out for a visit, I realised she’d decided to take a trip across the street to visit Spikey and Gary at their flat. It was a weeknight, which meant they were having a party. Gary was feuding with his brother, who’d open the window above mine and shouting across the street at him. I never discovered what that was about. But it was bad enough to turn the brothers against each other. Me? I was happy reading and drinking tea while planning ways to make the perfect Pot Noodle. I’d perfected various ways to make the noodles soak more efficiently. Hint: it includes a saucer and a mug. Anyway, I was in the kitchen boiling a kettle when I heard the start of a fight. The reason I heard it was because, quite simply, I recognised my sister’s voice. She was telling someone to FUCK OFF. Then the voices upstairs started. The Farmers. Spikey. Gary. My sister. Loud music.

Oh shit, I thought. I’ll have to go and get my sister out of there.

Throwing on my Tom Baker scarf and trench coat, I headed out onto the street and made my way across the road. Gary was already on the other side, moving towards my block. Which meant he was moving towards me. I waved at him. I’m not sure why. Probably me trying to be polite. What did he say? Nothing, at first. He pulled a sword on me. An actual samurai sword. Wielded by a junky. Then he shouted something about Derek. Who the fuck is Derek? I thought. Poor Gary didn’t get to swing his sword at me for long. I could only watch in awed silence as something yanked him up off the ground and sent him tumbling through the air until he hit the road with his arse. It wasn’t at all dignified. My sister, seeing someone pulling a sword on her brother, came after him. She instinctively wanted to protect me, of course. All hell was breaking loose and my sister, being drunk, yelled I pay my taxes for no reason. I didn’t run the other way. Actually, I didn’t know what was happening. Later on, it was explained that he thought my name was Derek. That was bizarre. He was arrested, dumped by Spikey (who apparently replaced him with someone she met a few days after he got out of jail), and ignored by The Farmers.

It isn’t often that I think about that night, but when I do, I think about the time I moved away from my childhood home in search of peace and quiet, only to end up on a street that didn’t stop fighting and screaming and zooming. Maybe they’re all still there having sword fights in the middle of the street, weird junky pirates battling it out over problems real and imaginary, only this time without a trench coat wearing neighbour (not named Derek) getting in the way.

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