Magazine article The Spectator

Unwelcome Attention

Magazine article The Spectator

Unwelcome Attention

Article excerpt

Another night without sleep because of the upstairs neighbours' remarkable capacity for impromptu nocturnal romance. What I don't understand is, why do these people always end up living in the flat above mine? Everywhere we read about the declining libido of the human species, the fact that fertility is down, that people are too tired to perform, that couples are struggling to find time for romance. Not in the flat above mine they are not. Oh, no, they are bucking the national trend quite nicely, thank you. In my little corner of Balham you would think they had just invented it.

The problem is made worse by the fact that they operate an iron bed on wooden floorboards. You couldn't construct an apparatus more efficient at squeaking if you tried. You could stick it in the percussion section of the London Philharmonic for a performance of Messiaen's Turangalîla symphony, only it would drown out the string section.

A few weeks ago I rang the letting agent and asked him to inform the tenants upstairs politely that I could hear 'everything'. 'What do you mean?' he asked. 'Eeeeverything, ' I said again, with obscene emphasis. 'Oh dear, ' he said. And he promised to write them an email informing them that discretion, or a carpet, or a set of dampeners under the strings, sorry, legs of the bed might be a good course of action.

For a week the amorous overture subsided a little. Then, like a thunderous fourth movement reasserting the main theme, it began again 'allegro con brio'. Now I know what you're thinking. Aren't floorboards illegal in an upstairs flat? You would think so. But, astonishingly, they are not illegal so long as you have another set of floorboards beneath them. This is supposed to insulate the sound. Whatever idiot invented this rule should be shot. It does not insulate the sound. It magnifies it. It allows the sound to echo around inside the floor, building up a full range of harmonics which pierce your head with savage force. I banged on the ceiling with a broom and shouted. They launched into 'Ode to Joy'.

So I rang the council. The man on the other end at Lambeth's Night Noise Service -- all capped up so it must be effective -- was very polite, but ultimately not hopeful. When I explained what was happening he said this was 'normal human activity'. …

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