The first thing that struck me were the amount of people stuffed into the admittedly spacious through lounge. Neighbours I hadn’t seen for weeks were leaning on the wall, lounging on the floor or perched on little stools clearly provided for the occasion. Jill with The Purple Door was there, as was Jane Opposite, Ruby Over the Road, Jack Next Door and Alice Three Doors Down. The Woman With The Hat was munching on a digestive and had her notepad balanced on her American Tanned knee, as did Timid Tina. Girly swots, both of them. Susan and Mike were there too but I had been warned about this. Marjorie had called round earlier to tell me that she had invited them and they had accepted. “I can’t not invite them, they are residents and well, I haven’t got any axe to grind with them. I speak as I find” she said as she disappeared down the path to “dig out me teapots”. Both ignored me which was fine with me.
The first item on the agenda was a change of name and focus. We are now The Avenue Neighbourhood Association. Residents Association, Frank felt, sounded like we had a namby pamby approach “as if all you do is eat biscuits and gossip”. Ruby and I exchanged looks. Neighbourhood Watch, it was felt, “gave people carte blanch to snoop and pry – and we don’t want that” Frank said. Mary Three Doors Down looked quite annoyed at this. Frank dearly loves the sound of his own voice. He felt that The Avenue Neighbourhood Association struck the right balance. We all agreed. And so TANA was born.
The second item was thugs and yobbos. It was, of course, made to sound nicer but it’s basically what it meant. Frank then went on to paint a charming picture of what the neighbourhood would be like if it ever fell foul to yobs and thugs. “Graffiti, empty cans of lager and verbal abuse” he said chillingly. Old Mrs Lazenby raised a tentative hand. “But we don’t have any yobs or thugs in the area, all the youngsters are so nice, they help me with my shopping” she quavered. Frank raised an eyebrow as if to suggest she was living in Cloud Cuckoo Land. “You won’t say that when Nunhead Green is strewn with empty cider cans by the summer” Frank admonished.
Item three was “Resident Patrols”. Nothing too strenuous, Frank assured us. “I’m not asking you to join up for anything, or ask you Mrs Lazenby to patrol the street with your little Percy, but for us all to be vigilant! We must keep an eye on our little community!” “In case a family of yobs and thugs move in up the road” Ruby murmured to me on the pretext of leaning forward for a jammy dodger.
Item four was the appointment of other officers. We needed a Treasurer and a Deputy Community Activity Organiser apparently. Frank was already listed as Community Activity Organiser. Mike Robinson put himself forward for Treasurer and was seconded by Jill With The Purple Door. The Lydia Supporters raised a collective eyebrow at this blatant attempt to ingratiate himself with his neighbours. “What about you lovey?” Marjorie patted my head as she passed me “You could be the DCAO, I hear you’re arranging your cousin’s wedding!” Ruby looked bashful at this, I suspect she’s been gassing. Frank eyed me appreciatively “Well, well, well, hiding your light under a bushel! Anyone to second?” Before I could speak, Jane Opposite stuck her hand up. Great.
Item five was promotional literature. Frank has contacts (at this he winked and tapped his nose – why do people do that?) at a printing firm who could print us some stickers for our front doors to display the fact that TANA was active in the area. “Don’t they make incontinence knickers?” Jane Opposite asked, wrinkling her nose as several versions of the suggested sticker (run up by Frank on his Apple) were circulated. We chose a version fairly quickly – quite frankly, anything to get out of there.
Item six was community policing, Frank had arranged for our local Community Officer to attend the next meeting (suggested for 13 June). Marjorie got quite skittish at this “oooh, I love a man in uniform!”. Frank winked at her in apparent slow motion. Jane caught the exchange and shuddered.
There being no other business – I could tell that Susan wanted to stick her oar in but I just wanted out of there so I withered her with a look – the meeting was closed. We all shuffled aimlessly for a bit – Jane, Ruby and I were dead keen on making a quick exit but Frank had us held prisoner in the through lounge as he asked Jack Next Door about his drooping fig tree. Jane got the giggles at this and was crying with laughter, especially when Marjorie pointed out that Frank “gets all upset when it starts drooping”. Ruby’s mouth was twitching and I’m a sucker for anyone giggling – I don’t even have to know the joke and I’m rolling around on the floor. I didn’t want it to get to that stage so I focused my attention on Mike as he prowled round his old garden with Susan in tow.
“And what are you three young ladies laughing about? Anything Uncle Frank needs to know?” Frank loomed up in front of us, managing somehow to embrace us all. We all leapt away as one and crashed into the groaning sideboard, knocking over photo frames and several knick knacks - including a large empty lead crystal bowl that rolled lazily round as we all watched it as if mesmerised. Marjorie was helping Old Mrs Lazenby out of her armchair but said “I’m arranging our first Evening In soon loveys, expect an invitation!”
Oh. My. God!