The shouting starts at around seven in the evening. A hot day, an oppressive dusk, and my neighbours the length of the street fling their windows wide open in the vain hope of admitting a breeze. The air smells singed. At first the voices are no more than a whisper. I have gone to the front of the house to put out the rubbish and, this being prime soap time, I assume the noise is scripted and broadcast. One of the voices is male, one female, but this early in the argument restraint still keeps them low if urgent and I cannot tell one word from another even if I wanted to.
Within half an hour, shrieks of indignation and hoots of ridicule are bouncing off our terraced, slate-clad walls, then back onto the curlicued red-brick mansions opposite. The voices seem to be amplified in the still air, and accusation and counter-accusation flow in through the open windows undistorted and devastating. By this point I am kneeling on the floor wresting the twins into their pyjamas but I am soon distracted by the yelling. I sit back on my heels to listen, letting go of Hannah, who crawls off cheerfully, believing herself for once victorious in the nightly struggle to go to bed naked. I am tempted to go to the window to get a better sense of where the voices come from, but they have enough problems without me sticking my nose in.
‘Of course you don’t understand, you selfish bastard,’ a woman screams, ‘you won’t let me…’ Here her voice continues, something about spending money, but a man’s voice is overlaid, calling the woman a bitch repeatedly until she falls silent. Unchallenged now by her, he gains in volume. ‘You’re a lying, blood-sucking whore,’ he yells, his voice breaking with emotion, muttering something that I cannot hear, then roaring, ‘What the fuck’s been going on in my house?’