Monday, 1 February 2010

Everybody needs good neighbours


Surely one of the payouts of living out in the ridiculously uncool ’burbs is the old fashioned community spirit which everyone who lives in London proper whines so much about missing out on. Well that’s what I hoped when I moved in, full of expectation. Four and half years later those high hopes have hardened to bitter resentment. Contrary to what every sitcom would have us believe, I’m not best friends with my neighbours, we don’t endlessly pop in on each other à la Birds of a Feather or The Good Life. Instead, we all do a truly spiffing job of point blank ignoring each other.

Here I must mention that I had a small amount of building work done not long after I arrived and it did upset people. I apologised, I grovelled and I pleaded they understand how much worse it was on me having the western hemisphere’s worst builders turning up each day to tear my home limb from limb.

Christmas provided the opportunity to leave nicely worded cards, wine and chocolates in porches all in the hope of making amends. In return I got a frosty wall of silence. About then it started to sink in: this was not Desperate Housewives and I had not moved into Wisteria Lane. Instead I lived in a place where people turned their heads as I passed, rather than saying hello.

It wasn’t a total write-off. My opposite neighbours did once invite me over and, on discovering I was not at all religious, never repeated the invite. I was the only guest not from their ‘church’ and not exactly distressed at the prospect of not going back.

However, in the other half of my semi lives a couple I’d guess are no more than five years older than me, making them the front runners. However, my smiling and saying “we should get together” every time they rang the bell to retrieve endless Frisbees hurled into my garden by one of their children didn’t seem to make any inroads, and nor did my overly jolly Christmas cards.

Several years of non-creepy observance taught me one thing: they are incredibly sociable. During the summer months every other Sunday their garden is filled with friends noisily chattering over glasses of wine, while man of the house flame grills meat. Never once did the invite extend over the garden fence.

Of late, parcels and packages delivered while I’m out have been signed for by them. What a perfect opportunity to go over and ingratiate myself. The first reception was less than enthusiastic. When I got the next missed delivery card I resolved to tackle this the only truly English way: small talk, starting with the weather. I wasn’t banking on man of the house passing the package with one hand and slamming the door in my face with the other. How neighbourly of him.

The third time no one was at home when I called round. I then forgot about it until lady of house brought it round on Saturday about 12.30 with a face like rolling thunder. My babbled justification-stroke-grovelling-apology pitifully petered out, somehow ending with “I’m terribly sorry that I’m also still in my pyjamas.” Well, why shouldn’t I be? It’s Saturday after all, and I am in my own home. “I can tell you don’t have children” she spat out before turning on her heel and storming down my driveway.

“As a child I knew my neighbours. If anything had ever happened to incapacitate my parents I was confident going to the nearest responsible adult ie. the person next door.”

Clutching my package, I wondered what the hell had just happened. Is that what this was really about? Have I inadvertently done something offensive to the point of sacrilegious? Or is it my total lack of a dependent small snotty human being that makes me unwelcome there?

I hope that if and when I do have my own children I somehow manage to maintain the ability to converse with other childless adults and avoid the clandestine brainwashing programme clearly going on in maternity wards across the country. I understand that young children are exhausting (said neighbour usually looks shattered), messy (I’m basing this on the toys strewn around their garden) and noisy (we share a wall). But they should not be totally and utterly all-encompassing. A parent should have some sense of themselves as the person they used to be before their bundles of joy arrived.

What’s more, it seems less than clever from a practical point of view. As a child I knew my neighbours. If anything had ever happened to incapacitate my own parents I was confident going to the nearest responsible adult ie. the person next door. I would have thought these two, so totally obsessed with their little darlings, would want to make a similar such provision in case they were both struck down by a freak giant Frisbee or any other such domestic misfortune. Read more by Rosie.