Monday, March 19, 2012

Nuisances, neighborly

A couple of months ago the publishers of Emily Cockayne's new book, Cheek by Jowl: A History of Neighbours, sent me a galley. Having greatly enjoyed her first book, Hubbub: Filth, Noise and Stench in England 1600–1770, I was excited about this one, and I've been pleased with what I've found as I've dipped into the galleys here and there over the past couple of months while the publication date neared. Cockayne in both books reveals herself to be a delightful archive mouse with a taste for anecdote, joyfully mining memoirs and histories and court records for minor moments that are usually passed over but which, carefully selected and assembled, can reveal wonderful new facets of life in the past.

And that all got so much better today with the arrival of the finished book--for, unlike the advance galley, it includes an index! My current obsession with the piano and my fears that my only barely competent playing might be annoying the neighbors more than they let on, I turned first to that entry. It could be worse, it turns out: while pianos are healthily represented in the annals of neighborly complaint, with nine entries (five of them under the subcategory of "noisy pianos"), that's not nearly so bad as some other sources of irritation. Children, for example, merit thirty-one entries--and that's before taking into account the separate entry for "Noises, children," with its seven. Or take the entry for pets:
Pets, 132, 149; see also birds; cats; dogs; monkey in the garden next door
No normally curious human could fail to follow up on "Monkey in the garden next door":
One couple were forced to endure a rather peculiar nuisance. The person who lived in the adjoining house owned "a large-sized, old and artful monkey," which had been won as a prize. Although kept on a chain, the monkey could escape and on occasiona had pursued the man's wife, who had to jump over a fence to avoid it." The couple requested that the Greenwich Police Court ensure that the monkey be secured. They were informed that they would need to make a civil case because the law covered dogs, not monkeys.
It's not a fair cop.

From there, the index led me, understandably, to "Murder," which is subdivided neatly:
Murder 7, 186; committed by a neighour, 83–84, 110, 195; overheard by neighbours, 17, 34–36, 102–3
Elegant as that is, it can't compare to the perfection of the entry for Sex, in which the order of the alphabet happens to set up the punchline:
Sex: hearing a neighbour having, 3, 197–8, 223; seeing a neighbour having, 14–16, 197; with a neighbour, 48, 72, 210–2
Sadly, it doesn't look like Cheek by Jowl has a Stateside publication date lined up yet, but it will be available any day now from the UK. I'll definitely have more to share from it in the coming weeks, but for the moment you'll have to excuse me: I haven't annoyed my neighbors with a runthrough of "Lush Life" for more than a day!

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