Miss Hilda Dorothy Mcnee was like the queen of our close and when we moved in she was not slow to keep us informed about her status and her rights. As to her status she was the daughter of a local doctor, deceased, who had lived for many years in the Philippines and Hilda still had a Philippina maid who she bullied outrageously. She had a degree in languages from Oxford and she was an official police interpreter which meant that she was often called out in the middle of the night to go with the police to investigate the scene of an accident involving some continental lorry driver. Hilda loved this and she would usually call my attention to these calls because she would make a careful note and if she did not receive her cheque within the next month she would sue the police. In fact one might say that litigation was her hobby. She sued the builders who were rebuilding an old block of flats she owned, she sued her neighbours who might have been a little slow in contributing to her charge for re-surfacing the private road every other year. Moreover, she would invariably sue the travel company who arranged her winter holiday in Spain or Italy because as she told me, after carefully examining the brochure, it was so easy to arrange a fall in the shower room and as the hotels were half empty in the winter season they would be quite happy to offer you another fortnight free rather than be sued.
Hilda’s appearance was generally rather on the downside of ‘bizarre’ with many layers of garments usually of variegated colours, so she looked sort of ‘gipsyish’ but in a rather ‘up-market’ way. She often allowed me to take her shopping which meant that she would buy the cheapest ‘special offer’ from the fish counter in Tesco’s and then I would have to accompany her to her semi-derelict bungalow where there were freezers heaving like something in a horror movie and rooms that were full of tins of corned beef dating from the war years. Her bed was like an island in a sea of newspapers and legal documents.
One year as we approached the Christmas season Hilda plaintively informed my wife that she had bought a very small rabbit for her festive meal. Indeed she brought it round to show us and it had the desired effect for my wife, who was a very good, compassionate Catholic woman, who said at supper that we ought to invite Hilda to come to us for Christmas. However, our two daughters were decidedly opposed to this idea. Indeed Catherine opined that the rabbit was in fact a mouse and that she would rather not have Christmas at all than have it with ‘the old witch’.