In which the rhythm of life is a powerful beat

To be printed 30/09/10

I have just heard my downstairs neighbour phlegming in the shower. I'm sorry to open a column with such a choice divulgence, but if I had to experience it, you might as well too.

It was my own fault - since moving into New Flat, with its nifty four-flats-backing-onto-each-other design, I've taken to sitting with my window open, listening to the buzz of activity. I can hear people as clearly as if I were in the room with them. If I put on a headscarf and some Dean Martin and squint slightly, I feel like I'm in a downtown New York neighbourhood in the 50s - but instead of Italian Mommas screaming at their sons to stop polishing their Vespas and come in for meatballs, I get a hungover rendition of Steel Panther's Eyes of a Panther. And phlegm.

Still, it's a nice attempt at Proper Urban Living - soaking up the sounds of my surroundings rather than blocking them out, maybe being inspired to write a short piece of ghetto poetry. If I do it for long enough, people might start leaning out of their windows to talk to me. We could start a little inter-flat community, where we rig up a pulley system with baskets on string, and send each other freshly-baked flapjacks. I'd like that.

I know that traditionally, noisy neighbours are meant to be a bad thing. But for the incurably curious and otherwise-bored, they can provide entertainment and a nice feeling that you're not alone, eating Nutella from the jar in your pyjamas, but actually part of a wider domestic narrative, like an Alan Bennet play or suchlike.

It's been interesting, actually, not to be the chief noisemakers in New Flat. In Old Flat, we had the monopoly on noise - mainly on merit of being younger than the rest of the street by several decades, and of having floors so wonderfully precarious that every step was to risk showering plaster on the head of our already-depressed downstairs neighbour (he used to stand on the doorstep with a beer can and cry. We did our best to cheer him up, by putting on amusing puppet shows and tap dancing to Glen Miller on his ceiling.)

Our only noise contenders in Old Flat were the couple next door, Kerry and Darren, who we never met or even saw, but who used to have such spectacular break-ups through the wall that I considered writing them down for a radio serial. One night, we spent several hours listening to Kerry dumping Darren for the third time that month, and the next morning, his clothes were all over the pavement where she'd thrown them from an upstairs window. We had to fight the urge to pop round with some Dairy Milk and a sympathetic shoulder.

But as the silent minority in New Flat, we're feeling a need to bring more to the ghetto poetry potential. Luckily, we have a secret weapon – our angel-voiced, opera singing flatmate Rose is going to be our contribution to the aural landscape. As long as she can do Madame Butterfly in the shower to cancel out the noise of the phlegm, I might not need to shut my window just yet.