Compare and contrast to my experience a few years ago, in North Wales. When a teenager up the road crashed into my car, her terrifyingly butch mother – a dead ringer for Biffa Bacon’s Mutha – paid me a visit, and strongly recommended I take it no further. As she knew where I lived.
Oh to be in Lewes, now that car pranging’s here.
In Small Pleasures Avenue, good neighbourliness is de rigueur. The night we moved in, some people we’d never met before brought us supper. In return, during the Big Snow, we sledged in supplies for less fleet-footed neighbours. Even the people we didn’t like, Mr and Mrs Very-Cross, had the decency to move away last year. There’s a street party every summer, and we know each others’ names. I couldn’t help but wonder: was this a Lewes thing?
Apparently not, for when I mentioned my theory of The Lovely Neighbours of Lovely Lewes to Absent-Minded Girl, she snorted espresso out of her nose. ‘A scary woman lived next door at our last place’, she reminisced. ‘She’d take her fourteen year-old girl to the pub, and later they’d have loud arguments about the unsuitable man the daughter had brought home.’
‘In Lewes?’ I said, shocked.
‘Yes. And before that was the completely silent family, who lowered their eyes and blushed whenever they saw us. It made me slightly uneasy about what they’d heard. They would shush us through the party wall.’
Cycle Girl chipped in. ‘The woman we bought our house from moved directly across the road. She kept coming over to complain about the changes we were making to her beautiful home. I had to resort to bringing skips in under cover of darkness.’
Even Grange Girl soon lost her warm glow from the scratch being scratched. The chap on her other side, Nosey Neighbour, had pointed out that her bird-feeder was almost empty. In lieu of getting a life of his own, he has taken to providing a running commentary on hers. ‘See you’ve been shopping’, he says, cleverly, when she comes home with Waitrose bags. Or, ‘I notice your geraniums need de-clumping’ after one of his regular over-the-fence surveys.
‘One wants neighbours to be friendly, yet distant’, mused Grange Girl. ‘To feed the cat when you’re away and check you’re not dead if they haven’t seen you for a while. But not to comment on your drinking habits if they see you put out a wine bottle for recycling.’
She pulled the kitchen blind down to obscure his face. ‘I’m going to scratch his car tomorrow, and not leave a note’, she said. ‘He needs something more to occupy him than the state of my guttering’.
Beth Miller, 10th March 2010. Published in VivaLewes.com. Photo by Alex Leith