The bore next door

We used to feed their cats and talk them through our latest brush with the NHS. Now, says Max David­son, neigh­bours are best avoided. What hap­pened?

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Property -

Television, ob­vi­ously, could not sur­vive with­out them. Never mind the epony­mous Aus­tralian soap, neigh­bours pop­ping in for a gos­sip over a friendly cuppa have been the sta­ple of ev­ery sub­ur­ban drama se­ries ev­ery writ­ten. If Mrs Smith at No 46 is go­ing to have a hys­terec­tomy, the fi rst per­son she tells is Mrs Jones at No 48. If Mr Brown at No 73 wants to bor­row a span­ner, he asks Mr Robin­son at No 75.

From The Good Life to Des­per­ate Housewifes, neigh­bourli­ness has been a theme that scriptwrit­ers have found hard to re­sist. It not only saves money on sets, it makes view­ers think that they are liv­ing in a benev­o­lent, joined-up world, in which no man is an is­land and ev­ery door is al­ways open.

But in real life, it would seem, the neigh­bour-as- friend is get­ting close to ex­tinc­tion. What other con­clu­sion can one draw from this week’s sur­vey by a house­build­ing fi rm which sug­gests that a mere six out of 10 Bri­tons even know the names of their neigh­bours? And that a thump­ing 56 per cent of those ques­tioned would be­grudge hand­ing over so much as a cup of sugar to a neigh­bour caught short?

That’s not all: 29 per cent cheer­fully ad­mit­ted that, if t passed their neigh­bours in t street, they would try to avoi say­ing hello, while only 21 p cent said they would be pre­pared to leave a spare set of keys with their neigh­bours. It is a far cry from the 1950s, the decade of my birth, when the wartime spirit was still alive and ev­ery street, ev­ery hous­ing es­tate, ev­ery apart­ment block was a com­mu­nity.

In the small Sur­rey vil­lage where I grew up, our neigh­bours loomed so large in our lives that I can see their faces still: Colonel God­dard, who kept bees; Mrs Thorn­ton, al­ways hand­ing out tof­fees to chil­dren; the fun-lov­ing Palmers, their peals of laugh­ter echo­ing through the night. Not ev­ery­one got on with ev­ery­body else: there were some epic rows, mainly in­volv­ing bon­fires or dog ex­cre­ment. But ev­ery­body tried, be­cause… well, be­cause they were neigh­bours.

Now, I live in an Ox­ford street of some 100-odd houses and, de­spite hav­ing been res­i­dent more than 10 years, could prob­a­bly tell There is Edna, the one with the adorable Dal­ma­tian. Well, you can’t not talk to her. There is Nick, who once gave a novel of mine a favourable re­view in a Sun­day pa­per and ob­vi­ously has to be ac­knowl­edged for old times’ sake. There is Jerry, a fel­low Manch­ester United fan, who al­ways has some­thing thought­ful to say about Wayne Rooney. And, er, that’s about it, street, there is a six­tysome­thing man, on his own, to whom we have never spo­ken. He rarely leaves the house, pre­fer­ring to pot­ter about the gar­den in a flat cap and green car-jacket, as worn by the late, great Vic­tor Mel­drew. We have nick­named him Vic­tor — with af­fec­tion, I has­ten to add — but feel no closer to the real man than to his small-screen coun­ter­part. It is a shame.

Else­where, good neigh­bourli­ness is in short sup­ply, par­tic­u­larly among the young. If I could speak Ger­man, I could tell you a lot about the stu­dent in the next-door base­ment flat, who emerges on to the street only to have boom­ing con­ver­sa­tions with his folks back home. On the other side, equally vo­cif­er­ous, are a house-load of post­grad stu­dents who pour lem­ming-like into the gar­den and can­not say “ Any­one got a cig­a­rette?” with­out the noise car­ry­ing to Cam­bridge.

s it my fault? Am I be­ing too

stand­off­ish? Too judg­men­tal?

There must be dozens of peo­ple liv­ing within half a mile of me — and you could say the same of any­one liv­ing in an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment — with whom I could be­come bo­som friends, if I could only make that fi rst neigh­bour-to- neigh­bour over­ture. But the times are not

cive to such over­tures.

ps we are all in too much of

y.

per­haps, with­out be­ing too

l, the re­al­ity is that in an

nt so­ci­ety, neigh­bours have

ly be­come re­dun­dant. If

can buy a bur­glar alarm for

s than £ 100, and pay hard­stu­dents to feed your cat

nd wa­ter your gera­ni­ums

when you are on hol­i­day,

why go to the has­sle of

be­friend­ing neigh­bours

who might turn out to be

prize bores? Self-reliance,

not chum­mi­ness for the

sake of it, is the name of

the game.

Lov­ing thy neigh­bour

is all very well, but not,

thank you very much, if

there is any ef­fort

in­volved.

I

Loved or loathed? Vic­tor Mel­drew and be­low, those Des­per­ate House­wives

Friend or foe? At­ti­tudes have changed since the 1950s when neigh­bourli­ness was taken for granted

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