It was the humming that convinced me there were ‘goings on’ in the house next door. Well, that and the police car that took up residence outside for a night one evening – but that was later.
No, it was the humming that cemented my suspicions there might be some illegal activity afoot. It sounded like a generator running and was loudest on the other side of the bedroom wall in my terraced house. Wondering what they might need it for, my mind, fed on a diet of journalistic cynicism and too much CSI, leapt to the conclusion that they must be growing cannabis. It turns out they were. And on an industrial scale.
The house was rented out when I bought my nearly end terraced Victorian house. What these period properties had in charm, they lacked in sound insulation. In fact the walls were only about a brick thick. At one point, a crack appeared in a bedroom wall and I could look straight through into the bedroom next door; I had it filled in and wallpapered over. My first neighbours moved out when they bought their own place, and from then on there were new faces every few years. There was the young couple (plus a baby and two dogs), who celebrated by ‘christening’ a few rooms in a time honoured and very audible fashion. The relationship didn’t last, nor did one of the dogs. Then there was the mum temporarily separated from her husband and her posse of (my) space-invading kids, who were the reason I finally put up a fence (and then a bigger fence) between our two gardens.
It was the marijuana growers, however, that convinced the landlords to stop letting it out to strangers and stick to family.
Panic at the disco ball
There was something off from the start. Thick curtains were always pulled tightly closed across the front window, day or night, though a chink at the top revealed some kind of disco ball light. It promised a party atmosphere inside, and there was one evening when it was flashing and there was music. But for the most part it was silent; so quiet that I questioned if there was anybody there at all.
After the noises of over-sexed (embarrassing) neighbours and over-hyped (annoying) kids, it was blissful. Over time though, the garden was neglected and grew into a jungle. And there was the day that water inexplicably started pouring down a corner of my living room wall, coming from a room on their side. I banged on the front door to get them to turn off or stop up whatever was causing it, but no one answered.
Not long after, I was pulling up weeds (the irony!) in the front garden, when a young guy emerged from the house. I told him what had happened and, in fractured English, he muttered what I took to be a promise that it wouldn’t happen again. It didn’t, the wall dried and I stuck the peeled-off paper back to the wall.
But I was suspicious as to why so much water had come from a room which I knew to be a bedroom. Then I heard the humming. Though I was convinced the (assumed) generator was powering whatever was needed to cultivate cannabis (though ‘how to grow marijuana’ wasn’t an enquiry I wanted on my Google search history), I didn’t have anything in the way of proof. If I called the police or the landlord, what could I say other than the neighbours were too quiet but there was a suspicious hum? There wasn’t even the distinctive sickly sweet herbal smell.
Mind how you grow
The dilemma was taken out of my hands when I came home one evening to find a police car parked outside, where it remained all night. Being a professional nosey parker, and because my mother raised me right, I asked the police officer what was going on and would he like a cup of tea? He revealed that they’d been tipped off that someone was using the neighbour’s home as a grow house. They raided, found it was true, and he was there to guard the harvest/evidence while the farmers/growers were on the lam.
When it was no longer a crime scene, the landlords took back the house to see what damage the nice (allegedly Albanian) lads who’d rented the house had done. They showed me pictures because it was dangerous to enter. It was devastating. Gaping holes had been torn in walls and ceilings to feed a mess of writhing ducting throughout. With every room being used for growing, there was no space for anyone to live there, they would just pop back occasionally to check on progress. The cost of repairs including water damage and the like came to tens of thousands.
What are the signs?
According to reports, 94 per cent of marijuana farms are illegally located in domestic properties. Apart from the damage caused to homes, with walls and floors knocked through, there is a serious risk of fire from the strong lighting, tampering with wires and meters, and the flammable materials. If you suspect you’re living next door to a farm, you can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. Here’s how to recognise the signs.
A happy(ish) ending
Eventually the house was made habitable and the owners moved in themselves. I moved on, buying a bigger house just down the road. I never found out if the (alleged) Albanians were caught, but it was a hard lesson for the landlords to learn they should have kept a closer eye on their property, or at least visited.
As for me, I rented out my old house to friends, and have been back often enough to know the only things threatening their deposit are their adorable cats with a penchant for stripping wallpaper with their claws. But, as sorry as I felt for the owners when they discovered what had gone on behind those tightly closed curtains, I have to admit that, as I listen to my new neighbour talking in his kitchen (even after I soundproofed the wall), I miss the quietness. The marijuana farmers were the best neighbours I never had.