Before I met Rosalind Hibbins, I had heard about her. I was buying an attic flat in North-West London and I had just exchanged contracts with its former owner, Holly, when she mentioned the woman who lived downstairs.

She spoke of Rosalind with such strained diplomacy.

‘She’s a character!’ she said with a nervous laugh. ‘Every street’s got one.’

I was moving from a large Thirties block where my neighbours had been too many and too fluid to get to know beyond the briefest of hellos in the lift. It suited me that way. I had grown up on a housing estate in Primrose Hill, after my parents returned to London from Pakistan, and as the only non-white family in our council block, we tried to live as quietly as we could amid the curiosity and occasional hostility.

As the post-war generation died off, our neighbours became far more unknown and indifferent to us, and we to them.

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