In 2017 I returned from a trip to Egypt – having posted a photo of myself in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza captioned, “One of the seven wonde
In 2017 I returned from a trip to Egypt – having posted a photo of myself in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza captioned, “One of the seven wonders of the world, and the Great Pyramid of Giza in the background” – only to receive a text from Harriet next door. The fence between our gardens had been damaged in a storm. It was winter and, frankly, if she hadn’t told me, I probably wouldn’t have noticed.
Last year, the fence long since repaired, Harriet and I – both living alone and the same age – spent those first weeks of lockdown chatting over the fence. The houses are on a slant; I had to put a chair on top of an outdoor table to get the height. Sometimes she’d launch a Club bar over to go with my cup of tea.
Around the same time, walking to the shops, I stopped to pet an all-white fluffball, and an elderly lady appeared at her door. Soon, I was regularly waving through Ann’s window to see if she needed provisions. It was a mutually beneficial dose of human interaction.
Neighbours can be annoying; door-slamming should come with a custodial sentence. But I have never really bought the idea that only country folk are there for their neighbours (though their beaming faces when hiking are unrivalled). When I first moved into my flat, a stranger I collared as he was going into his own home helped me carry a wardrobe, even though an excuse would have been easier on his shoulders and his time.
In a hotel, without toothpaste, I once knocked on the room next door and a couple handed me a glass with half of their tube squirted into it. They said if I wanted to join them for dinner anytime, I was welcome.
I am not someone who is into people “just dropping by”, but I hope I am a good neighbour in the way that mine have often been. Including in my last place, when little parcels of medicine would be delivered whenever I was sick.
By far the greatest example of those famed Australian soap lyrics in my life are Jen and Sean, an American couple who lived above me in Oxford. I love these two people with all of my heart, though we are now separated by an ocean. I am so, so glad that I couldn’t find a bottle opener one night in 2011 – and that they happened to be in when I knocked. When this is all over, Chicago beckons. Neighbours truly did become good friends.