Magazine article The Spectator

Love Thy Neighbour

Magazine article The Spectator

Love Thy Neighbour

Article excerpt

My mother, who put a high value on formal respectability, was deeply opposed to what she called 'neighbouring' -- the habit of 'calling in' unannounced and 'dropping round' without formal warning. Decent people kept themselves to themselves rather than treating the people next door with vulgar familiarity. There was a comedian called Albert Modley who appeared in radio variety shows in the person of a middle-aged lady who wanted to discuss childbirth, the menopause and her husband's sexual demands 'over the garden wall'. We regarded his performances not as entertainment but as a warning about the depth of degradation to which a brief discussion about the weather might lead. My mother blamed 'neighbouring' on city life -- as she did anything she disliked and rejected.

If my recent experience is any guide, she was quite wrong. In London, I know hardly anyone in my road apart from my immediate neighbours. With the rest of the street I maintain an affable, but distant, relationship. In Derbyshire, I know half the village by their first names, regularly knock on people's doors as they knock on mine. It is one of the ways in which we confirm that we are a community. There are moments when an unheralded visit is inconvenient and I go to the door cursing as I -- in the words of the public lavatory notice -- 'adjust my clothing'. But my real concern is losing potential friends because of what happens in the 30 seconds it takes me to get to the door.

It has to be opened with care. My dog Buster always wants to welcome callers with an enthusiasm that some of them misunderstand. He sees himself as a Shakespearean herald or chorus who announces every arrival and departure.

And he accompanies his howls of pleasure with a desire to make physical contact with the object of his recently bestowed affection. Believe it or not, there are people who do not enjoy an Alsatian- Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross hurling himself at them. So, before I can even lift the latch, Buster has to be pointed in the direction of the kitchen. He ambles off -- grumbling but obedient -- and I am free to ask the feeble question, 'Are you all right with dogs?' But by then the damage has been done.

The fault is not Buster's alone. Some of the blame lies fairly and -- literally squarely -- with Peak District architecture. …

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