Some time ago I stayed in a flat in west London. It wasn't exactly a tower block but I was on the 10th floor which was high enough for me.
Next door to our block was another block which was a kind of twin building; Siamese twinned, actually, or is it politically correct to call it conjoined. (I put this in just in case I offend other conjoined buildings).
I suppose it really was a single building with two different front entrances.
In from the front door of my flat was a hall with a door immediately to the right in to the kitchen – or should I say a doorway as there was no actual door.
Opposite the kitchen was a door to the sitting room, the door next to that was to the bedroom and oblique to that was a door to the bathroom.
Let me digress slightly to say that when I first went to live in America one of the first things I noticed was that bathrooms had light switches – over here they don't. Over here the bathrooms have pieces of string or rope with a slight weight on the end which is pulled to operate the lights; I believe it's commonly known as a pullcord. They make a fairly loud click when used which can usually be heard all over the house; in my case the flat.
Also when I say oblique I really mean at a right angle to the bedroom door.
On the adjoining wall to the bathroom was another bathroom of the flat in the next building – the same building, really, but as I've explained there are two main entrances so a different address; a different building.
It would take me some time to get to that flat; in to the lift, down 10 floors, into the other building and up 10 floors in their lift – the ground floor being the ground floor, the next one up the first floor and so on.
The walls and floors were quite deep so no sound would ever be heard from another flat; except for the pullcord; and that went with a loud pop.
I noticed it the first evening I stayed there; I was watching television and I heard the familiar sounding pop from the bathroom. Not my bathroom, I thought, I'm the only one here, and sure enough that was the case.
Over the next week or so I heard the clicks at all hours of the day and night.
Something happens here when a big occasion is on television, like a football match or variety show or even the day JR was shot on Dallas; there is a boost in electricity supply when everybody, it seems, puts the kettle on – and/or flushes the loo.
Then I noticed that sometimes when I was watching the football I would go to the loo at half time and just before pulling the pullcord I heard it being pulled next door; was that person a football fan? Was that person male or female?
Sometimes I would get in late, or get up in the night for a pee and . . .. click!!! The bathroom switch from next door.
Man or woman?
Old or young?
Attractive or . . . . ?
Who knows, who knew? I certainly didn't.
I started monitoring the pullcord clicks to see what kind of television programmes were on when the pullcord was popped and what time of day or night was the most popular.
It didn't necessarily have to be a guy for the football – women like football these days too – even in doze daze (those days).
The clicks would come on at the time of television commercial breaks in classic drama serials. As most of the classic drama serials were on the BBC, where they don't have commercials, I knocked any theory I got from that on the head.
Then I got to notice that the first clicks would start on a regular basis at around 6.00 am; now was that when he or she was getting out of bed or when they were finished in the bathroom and were going out for the day at that time?
What kind of person would have to get up at 6.00 am? Maybe a different kind of person who had to leave home at that time?
You never know.
Lew Grade, Lord Grade, would give an interview to anybody – journos, actors, anybody, but it had to be at 7.00 am – it might even have been at six?
So it could have been . . . . . Lord Grade?
No, don't be silly.
The main question I asked myself and what I really wanted to know is was it male or female? Young or old? Or more to the point fancy-able or not fancy-able?
Apart from standing outside their flat door how was I to find out?
One evening I was watching a late movie; The Searchers, directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne and when it had finished I went to the bathroom and when I clicked the cord the same sound came from next door.
Male or female?
Maybe a John Wayne fan, 4 out of 10, a fan of westerns, 6 out of 10 or a John Ford fan – 10 out of 10 – no! 9 out of 10.
Maybe just a fan of The Searchers as it's one of my favourite films of all time.
The next time the TV schedules arrived I checked the films to see if any westerns were due to be shown; not one.
A few nights later, I was watching Double Indemnity and the same click click of the cord happened just after it had finished.
Not only a John Ford fan but a fan of film noir – could this person be the love of my life, one who likes the same things that I do.
After a few months I got to know – worked it out to a certain extent – that my neighbour liked westerns, film noir, was a football fan and supported either Chelsea or Fulham and was . . I couldn't figure out the sex.
I had looked out of my window a few times in the mornings to spy on people going out between six and eight in the morning and couldn't get a pattern.
Then I realised they may go by car and the car park to our building was underneath.
I didn't have a car so never had a need to go down there but there was a lavatory. I could go in there and peep with the door slightly open. It was only a small car park so I could see all of it quite easily.
The first day nobody either came in or went out between those two times but as a few people would try and use the facility I decided to call it off before I was arrested. I don't know what I would have been arrested for but to be taken away, even on suspicion, with the word lavatory in any potential charge, is not a good idea or tag to have next to your name.
Maybe my mystery neighbour went to work on a bike.
I have to say I did look for someone with a bike coming out of next door but it wasn't to be.
Not long after my snooping in the car park, I went to one or two screenings at the National Film Theatre; they were doing a retrospective of Billy Wilder and when I went to a screening of Some Like It Hot there was a Q&A afterwards with someone who had worked on the movie.
They discussed the famous hotel in San Diego, the Coronado, and the Coronado Beach, where some of the movie was filmed and The Lot, in Los Angeles where they did the interiors. The Lot used to be Warner Brothers and later I worked there and I'd also been to the famous hotel in California.
One of the questions, to our guest, came from a fairly attractive woman; aged maybe around 35; what intrigued me was that she had taken her coat off and was wearing a Chelsea tee shirt.
That isn't much to go by, I know, but a little later on, when I got on the tube, I noticed she was on it too.
I had to change at Notting Hill so wondered if she would be changing there.
Seemed a little far fetched so I put it out of my mind.
Football fan, maybe Chelsea, movie fan, liked Billy Wilder mmmmmm.
When we pulled in to Notting Hill she got off the train with me and walked towards the Central Line.
On the Central Line she sat almost opposite and when the time came for me to get off, she got off the train too.
I caught up with her on the platform and said 'I saw you at the Billy Wilder.'
'Yes' she said 'wasn't it wild.'
'Certainly wild.' I said 'it couldn't get any wilder.'
She looked at me and then the penny dropped.
'Sorry' I said.
'Billy Wilder!' she said and laughed.
By this time we were outside and walking together.
'Do you live around here?' I said.
'No. I live in Beaconsfield; I just park here.'
'Oh' I said.
We rounded the street to where I lived and she had parked right at my front door.
'Good night' I said as she got in to her car.
'See you sometime.' she said.
She closed the car door and drove off; as she did a man, whom I knew waived to her and came in to my front door.
'Hi' I said.
'Do you know her?' I said.
'Not really. She used to live next door.'
I never heard the pullcord sound again.
Not till just now – and I don't live there any more.