Sunday, June 13, 2010


On a day when the grumble of lawn mowers drifted in the windows in the early hours, drowning out the birds, and when neighbors rumbled their vacuum all over the floor for what seemed sufficient time to suck up the Sahara, and I, in my turn, surely drove them near to mania with my repeated failures to master "A Foggy Day" on the piano . . . I was amused to open David Kynaston's Family Britain to the following evidence of distinctly un-neighborly feelings in early 1950s Britain:
I don't believe in talking to the neighbours; you have to be careful what you say.

I never have a neighbour inside. I am one of those who keep themselves to themselves. Mind you, I'm sociable, I say "Good Morning."

I'm not one for going into people's houses unless for illness.

We don't mix with the people round here. We're not gossips like they are: they're not too bad this end of the street but at the far end the people are always standing on the doorsteps gossiping.

It's just a question of knowing people over walls and through doors.
Researchers Mark Hodges and Cyril S. Smith pinpointed the crucial distinction between being "neighborly" and being "friendly," which still seems to suit the case, more than a half-century and one ocean away:
The former . . . was "based on willingness to give, or readiness to ask for and accept, help from others"; the latter implied "a close reciprocal relationship based on trust, affection and respect."
Or, as another interview subject put it,
A friend you can confide in, a neighbour you can't. What you say to neighbours over the garden wall might be passed on and you might get involved.
All of which is not to say that I have any real complaints about my neighbors--they're actually quite easy to live with, and I did choose to live in a city.

And there's no question that it could be much worse--I'm extremely glad never to have had a neighbor who could elicit this sentiment, found in the same set of interviews:
I never thought I'd come to hate anybody like I do her.
Grateful for being spared such trouble, I'll enjoy the small portion of privacy and seclusion that I'm allotted and be glad for those early mornings when I can temporarily find some silence.

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