Fair-weather neighbours

neighbours doorsAs Britain buckles under the blustering blows of Hurricane Bertha I have been taking a vicarious Schadenfreude-ish thrill checking my email now and again to tut about not only the weather forecast but the latest delays on the London Underground, or the problems a heatwave can wreak on tempers and productivity at work. Terrible, I mutter, then get back to the more pressing concern of whether the front of my legs are caramelising faster than the backs.

Today’s missive from back home is that we have lost the art of being good neighbours. One in ten of us, according to a YouGov poll have no idea who our neighbours are and half of us know more about our favourite celebrities than we do our neighbours . I’m not sure I buy that. I’m not particularly outgoing – in fact I can be quite standoffish, especially on a bus or train full of teenagers or boisterous over-refreshed commuters, but I can’t remember living in a place where we didn’t know the neighbours. In fact, the more compact and temporary the place, the quicker and more friendly and dependent you become on them. If you live in a city it’s because you are so close to them it’s impossible not to bump into them and inevitable that you risk either annoying them by holding a noisy party or being annoyed by them holding one, so obviously you get to know them and invite them.

Strangely we do have one set of otherwise delightful neighbours who will happily invite us over for a glass and a chat of an evening but once didn’t invite us to a party. We were so shocked that the rest of the street still gossip about it to this day. But the one thing that brought us together more than anything was a planning application from developers that threatened to destroy our peaceful little cobbled street. No sooner had the posters gone up on the lamp posts than we were gathered together in the blitz spirit and before you could say, “Git off our Cobbles,” we were gathered round kitchen tables over pizza and plonk plotting our counter attack.

The countryside doesn’t lend itself to the same, hushed toned, bosom-folding, Les-Dawson style neighbourly gossiping and plotting on the doorstep, but even when the closest house was a mile away they were still considered our next door neighbours and we all relied on each other in times of flood, power cut, freak snow storm or other emergency.

So I don’t buy this theory that we are all a bunch of standoffish Little Britons living in our isolated castles. Even here in Spain, where our neighbours are temporary and of different nationalities, we all bond within hours of meeting. We became firm friends with two Canadian families simply on the basis that we shared neighbouring loungers and both had daughters the same age. Once they moved on they were instantly replaced by an Anglo-French couple who arrived with a car load of groceries in 30 degree heat to an apartment with dodgy electrics.

Instead of going round with a cake or a cup of sugar, Cleo knocked on the door offering room in our fridge and the WiFi code. An hour later the younger members of both families were splashing around the pool fighting the same inflatable alligator. And this morning I woke up to have my cup of coffee on the doorstep – the only place apart from the pool where the WiFi works, to find four neighbours in a huddle discussing in fluent Franglais, a burglary in one of the holiday homes opposite. Within minutes we were swapping names, mobile numbers, emails and security tips.

Yep, there’s nothing like a shared enemy to bring people together.

Posted by Amanda Blinkhorn


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