Many years ago I was driving home from my parents’ house. It was around 8 pm, dark and raining heavily. I spotted a man and woman hitchhiking so stopped to give them a lift. They thanked me for stopping, and it turned out they were heading to the place as I was.
Nothing out of the ordinary. But in under a minute, they started arguing with each other. It seemed like they were continuing an argument that they were probably already having when I stopped to pick them up.
For the whole drive, which was around 15 minutes, they didn’t just argue but were shouting at each other. The man was obviously drunk. I wished I hadn’t stopped for them. They apologized a couple of times, but then just carried on with their argument.
I was so relieved to drop them off. I hoped to never see them again. I did them a good deed and was repaid with zero respect.
At the time I was living in a bedsit but was waiting to be re-housed into a housing association flat. For anyone here that’s not British, a housing association is a charitable organization that provides affordable housing. A bit like government housing, but run privately.
I got a letter to say that I’d been offered a flat. All I had to do was go to their office to pick up the keys. If I accepted the flat, I could move in right away. I rushed to the office, picked up the keys, and went to see what the flat was like. It was in a great area and perfect for me as a single person.
The flat was in a converted house. There was one flat on the ground floor, another on the first floor, and mine was at the top, on the 3rd floor.
I went back to the office to sign the contract and then went to pick up what few belongings I had. I move in that day.
As I was carrying my belongings up the stairs, a voice from lower down shouted up at me. I couldn’t see them but only hear them. A man shouted that I must be their new neighbor, so pop down for a cup of tea when I’ve finished moving.
So, that’s what I did. I knocked on the door. I was happy that I had moved into a house with nice neighbors. The door opened. I was in shock. I looked at the man and he looked at me. We were both in a state of disbelief.
I’m sure you’ve already guessed. The man was the drunk man I’d given a lift to. Now I felt like I’d already made a mistake accepting the flat. I’d only been there a few minutes and had already found out that my neighbor was probably the last person I wanted as one.
The man called his wife and said… “look who’s just moved in upstairs”.
The man wasn’t drunk this time. In fact, we had a very pleasant chat.
I got to know them a bit more over the coming weeks. The man was an ex-heroin addict that had now become an alcoholic. His wife didn’t drink though, so she had a stabilizing effect on him. I’d describe them both as hippy types. They were a very friendly and pleasant couple.
The guy was called Charlie and his wife was called Helen.
Over the months, I grew to quite like my alcoholic neighbor and his wife. Many alcoholic and drunk people can get aggressive after drinking, but this guy was a kind of happy drunk. He did have his annoying moments though.
Whenever I listened to music in my flat, Charlie didn’t have a problem. Except when he was drunk. Every time he was drunk he’d start banging on the ceiling with a broom.
In a way, it turned out to be quite funny. We had become pretty good friends and I could laugh at him. He’d bang, I’d laugh, and then he’d laugh as well. I’d turn down the music a little. It become a bit of a joke between us.
A few months later when I was visiting the housing association office, the manager ask how it was going with the neighbors. She mentioned that she thought Charlie would be a problem tenant and that had led her to not know who else could live in the same house as him.
She thought I was the best candidate because I was laid back enough not to be bothered by him. I told her we got on just fine. That seemed to make her happy. She had many problems with tenants that didn’t get on with each other.
She thought Charlie would be difficult to live near, but it turned out that no one had ever complained about him.
Eventually, I moved away. Charlie and I kept in touch for a while, but then he moved as well. At that point, we lost touch.
What brought him back to my mind was when I was listening to the radio yesterday. The song Solid by Ashford & Simpson came on. Charlie loved that song and was always playing it. Every time I hear it, I instantly think of him.
So, this is for you, Charlie.
I usually do my best to avoid anyone drunk or alcoholic. They usually spell trouble. So I’m still amazed that I got on so well with Charlie. It just goes to show that you can’t always judge a book by its cover. We’d never have become friends unless we’d been thrown together into the same building.
And what were the chances of those random strangers I picked up being my closest neighbors? A town with maybe 50,000 houses, and we end up in the same one. It’s just weird.