We are the neighbours from hell

I turned back to the fire… hypnotised by the glowing embers.

Damian Clarke
Nov 12, 2019 · 4 min read

Since we were in the garden, putting the chickens away after the fox incident, Mrs Albion took the opportunity to rake up the leaves. Normally Mrs Albion is a responsible and conscientious person, but occasionally the freedom of owning our own home goes to her head.

This time she decided to burn-off the leaves.

For Guy Fawkes night, I had a built a very nice fireplace from the pile of spare pavers at the back of the lawn. It was an elegant semi-circular fire pit — the perfect size for a garden load of fallen leaves and a couple of sheets of newspaper to get things started.

I have fond childhood memories of Autumnal Sunday evenings when Mr O’Connell would rake the leaves of his liquidamber into a pile and set fire to them in the gutter. A trickle of smoke would meander out of the leaves and up into the sky, while he, my Dad and Luca from next-door would stand around, or sit in the gutter, chatting and maybe having a beer.

It was a delightful Sunday evening ritual, where us boys would light sticks and chase each other with them, or pour kerosene on the road and puzzle about why it wouldn’t light and form trails of flame as we thought it should.

Our pile of leaves began the same way — a sheet of newspaper scrunched into a ball, a flame, a little trickle of smoke meandering heavenwards, the rich smell of tree sap and slightly green leaves smouldering.

The trickle became a torrent. White smoke streamed heavenwards. Then white smoke streamed towards the house. I closed the kitchen door. Then white smoke streamed over the back fence. Then a back draft pushed the smoke down into the garden in a kind of reverse-mushroom cloud.

Smoke. Just smoke. So much smoke.
Smoke. Just smoke. So much smoke.
It looked a bit like this — in all directions. (Photo by Hamish Weir on Unsplash)

I was marveling at how romantic and New England everything looked — the misty smoke sitting low over the fences, the evening light, the smouldering embers of burned leaves, the smoke filtering its way through my cardigan, creating a smell of Sunday Afternoon that I could carry with me into the evening, when I heard a sound.


I looked around, but didn’t see anybody through the smoke. Thus, I concluded that there was nobody there. The sound had seemed to come from over the back fence. I turned back to the fire, surrounded by smoke and hypnotised by the glowing embers.


I looked around again. A red jacket rose above the fence line, looming through the smoke. A head appeared above the jacket.

“Helloo. It is very smoky. No?” said our German (or possibly Dutch) accented neighbour from over the back fence. We had not met her before, and she is the person who may have to be consulted before we build our shed. I debated whether to turn on the charm and introduce myself:

It may diffuse the immediate situation if I introduce myself and offer my hand for a handshake

She will forever associate my name and face with the great smoke incident of 2006

“Yes, I’m sorry about that — it’s a little more smoky than we anticipated.”

Mrs Albion, drunk on the excitement of her fire, and of cleaning up the garden, emerged from the smoke with another armful of leaves. I pondered the introduction again, ‘Have you met my wife, Mrs Albion?’, But a note of desperation was entering our neighbour’s voice.
“Helloo — please do not put any more on. Can you put them in your garden waste bin — your brown bin. Do you not have a brown bin?”

I suggested to Mrs Albion that it might be better if she put the leaves on the ground for now.

“Yes we do have a garden waste bin, but we want the ash to add to our compost.”

“It is very smoky. No?”

I was getting the feeling that the conversation was getting a little circular — any moment now the opportunity to introduce myself would come around again.
“Yes, I’m sorry about that — it’s a little more smoky than we anticipated.”

“We cannot use our living room — it is full of smoke, and we have guests visiting.”

“Well, I’m sorry — but I think it will be OK now — the wind has changed — see. Now the smoke is going up into the sky again, and more towards our house.”

I turn towards the fire, and once again the embers begin their hypnosis.

“Well goodbye then,” the red jacket retreated into the smoky mist from whence it came.
I suggested to Mrs Albion that maybe we should move out while we’re still ahead.

Postscript: Inge is Dutch and lovely. We became friends a few years later when our children were born. I suspect she thinks the people with the fire may have been earlier tenants. I am happy not to correct her.

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Copyright © Damian Clarke 2019. The original post was first published on the Our Albion blog, 21 October 2006.

Our Albion

he story of a guy with a hammer, some nails and an old house to use them on.

Damian Clarke

Written by

I’m a writer and publisher working in Sydney, Australia and London, UK. I specialise in finance, technology, insurance, property, medicine and sustainability.

Our Albion

he story of a guy with a hammer, some nails and an old house to use them on.

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