Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Love Thy Neighbor


Last Sunday, I baked too many brownies, so I put some on a plate, wrapped them up and left the plate along with a note just inside my neighbor's front porch. A few minutes later, one of them knocked on the door and came in for a chat while I made him a cup of tea. I showed him our garden plans (more on this soon!) and when John got back from the gym, they watched cricket together for a bit before he headed back next door. It was one of the loveliest, nicest interactions I'd had with anyone all weekend.

The same neighbor came to one of my orchestra concerts at St. John's Smith Square last year with his father (who showed up in a suit - it was nothing short of adorable), a retired black cab driver who always gives me stick when he sees me, albeit with a grin and a twinkle in his eye. Sometimes when I fall asleep on the couch while John's away, I can hear the very faint strains of their TV, which comforts me and reminds me that they're just on the other side of the wall, in case I want/need to pop over for a cup of tea and a chat.

Our other neighbor takes in packages for us while we're at work and brought around an enormous box of chocolates when we hosted our Christmas party last year. Whenever I talk to her about our plans to change the fences in the garden or prune back the branches of the trees that originate in her yard, she waves her hand and says, "I'm easy. I honestly don't care what you do!"

As an American who's used to having lots of space and living in what they term a "detached property" over here in the UK, I was hesitant about terraced living. And by "hesitant", I mean horrified. I couldn't think of anything worse than being sandwiched in the middle of a row of other houses, sharing walls and garden fences, and not having much privacy.

But when we moved to Walthamstow last year, all that changed. I managed to lock myself out of the house one evening after I'd headed home from work early because of a heavy cold. One of our neighbors who lives a few doors down saw me sitting on our front step and joked, "What's happened to you then?" as he walked past. I explained that I'd accidentally locked myself out and he jerked his head back toward his house saying, "Go on and see Michelle, then. She'll take care of you." So his wife appeared within a few seconds with the lovely smile she always has and said, in her wonderful East London accent, "Come on, then!" While I glugged coconut water on her couch, she kept me company for over an hour, telling me interesting stories about her family but not prying into mine, unless I offered. I wanted to cry from her kindness.

Sometimes, when I am feeling unsure or uncertain or sad and I'm alone in our house, I turn off the TV and music and I listen for those faint strains of sound coming from the other side of the wall. I think of how I'm surrounded by the kindness of the people who live around us and how that kindness seeps through the walls that separate us. And then I'm hit by a wave of gratitude that won't go away.

Do you get along with your neighbors? Do you love/hate them? Who's the best/worst neighbor you've ever had? Let me know in the comments!
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24 comments

  1. Walthamstow seems lovely my friend just moved there and also has the best neighbours. We have tried to reach out to ours a few times but they seem disinterested which is a shame as I come from a town where everyone in the street knows each other. It's nice to know there are places in London that still have community spirit.

    Emma Inks

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    1. That's a shame about your neighbors, Emma - if I were living next to you, I'd love to hang out with you! :) John and I still keep in touch with the neighbors who lived below us in our first block of flats in Maida Vale, but we were never too friendly with our other neighbors after that, which is a shame. We all just minded our own business and said hello in the mornings, but sometimes it would be nice to go for a drink at the pub together or pop around to each other's place!

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  2. How nice, sounds like you're pretty lucky. I've never met my neighbours. I've only seen them a handful of times since we moved in last October! For the first year that we were in the UK, we lived in a terraced house and it was a NIGHTMARE. Our neighbours had 2 small, very loud boys who would regularly try to kill each other at all hours of the night.

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    1. Oh man, I can totally see how it could be a nightmare, especially with (noisy/boisterous) children living on one or both sides. It's such a lottery, isn't it - which is why I count myself lucky, because there's nothing worse than a passive-aggressive or unfriendly neighbor who you're always tiptoeing around!

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  3. How lucky! We live in a building that is three stories with 5 flats and I have only ever seen one other tenant which is crazy I think! Actually one time when Fredrik came home from work at around 10 PM an elderly gentleman that lives on the first floor was not going to let Fredrik in the building! It was so cute and once he finally was confident that Fredrik was who he said he was he let him in and I was like I love that guy that he was going to take down a tall in shape young guy to keep us safe!

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    1. Haha, that is such a sweet story, Bailie!

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  4. I wish you were my neighbour - bringing over brownies and having cool parties!

    My neighbour had her tree chopped down the other day but left all the bits hanging on our side, so our light was still blocked and it looked pretty ugly. She then watched us struggle with cutting it down, dragging it through the house, into our car and down to the dump - in THREE trips, and said not a word. Meh.

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    1. HOW RUDE! There's no excuse for that. It's so awkward having to deal with things like that as well - on one hand, if you say something, then it's confrontational but then on the other, if you deal with it yourself (as you had to do), it builds resentment. I don't know why people just can't be considerate to each other, especially when they're sharing living space. Ugh, rant over on your behalf, haha!

      I would love to be your neighbour. I would definitely bring you brownies and invite you around for a game of Scrabble and a glass of wine! :)

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  5. We had the best neighbor for 2 years and now sadly she's moved out of the apartment complex and into a house about a 30 minute drive away. We got a puppy around the same time as she did so we had dog play dates and watched them when the other was out of town!

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    1. Oh no! That's such a bummer, Amanda. I bet you miss her. There's something special about forming a connection with someone you live next to that makes going home all the nicer! When I was little, I used to wish that we were close to all our neighbors and visited each other's houses all the time ... we're all on friendly terms, but wouldn't go out of our way to hang out. Okay, I realize this just makes me sound like I want to hang out with everyone all the time.

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  6. I actually miss living in America and having neighbours! Our neighbours since we moved in are nice enough, but no one to go over and chat with :(

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    1. Oh no! I'm the opposite - we were never that close to our neighbors in the US, so I'm cherishing the ones we have now!

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  7. This is so sweet! I've heard horror stories about neighbours from hell, so I love hearing about nice neighbours. I love our neighbours too, always so caring without ever being nosy. We often take over food or their daughter will bring over cupcakes. We try and help each other out if ever needed, it's such lovely thing to have. It makes me think twice about ever moving to be honest!

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    1. That is so lovely! And you're right - it really affects your decision about moving.

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  8. This was such a lovely read Jaime! There's nothing like having neighbours whom you can rely on and be comfortable around. In Bombay, I have tons of family living in the same apartment block as me so there's always someone around if needed. And while I don't know many of my neighbours in London that well, we're really well looked after by the loveliest of porters who never fail to bring a smile to my day!

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    1. Thank you, Ayushi! That must be so nice to live near/next to family. I've always wondered what that would be like! We're a few tube stops away from John's brother (they're moving into our neighborhood soon, though!) and it's so lovely to be able to pop around to see and play with our baby niece. I think it's important to have friends and family nearby, if at all possible!

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  9. That's lovely, you have some sweet neighbours. I'm pleased to hear that's the case even in unfriendly London! We've had some neighbours who have been super friendly, and others who the only way we know they're alive is that we can hear their bathroom fan going on and off. Ha. I sometimes think we're not very good neighbours, as we're so often out/keeping ourselves to ourselves, so it's something I'm working on.

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    1. Thanks, Rachel! It's difficult to reach out/be friendly to neighbors when you know where you're living is temporary ... I don't know if that's the case for you, but John and I moved so often within London, that we never spent that much time in each flat before we were on to the next. As a result, we never got to know our neighbors that well, although there were times when it seemed like we clicked with the people next door but our plans to go out for a drink would never materialize, which was a shame!

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  10. Treasure your neighbours, they sound like utter gems.
    Oh, and please come and live near me.

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    1. They ARE! And you know, I'd like to live next to every single person who commented on this post. I think we would make great neighbors for each other haha!

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  11. The street I live in now in York has the best neighbours ever. We have a group Facebook chat where no request is too silly or too much trouble... Out of Nutella? No problem, someone will bring it to your door. Printer broken when you need an important document? Come on in and do it here. Out all day and need someone to let the dog out? More than happy to do it. Thermostat broken? Everyone has the same one so advice is abundant. I LOVE IT HERE!!

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    1. Of course it does! People are so lovely in York ... I love that you have a FB chat group though, that's the ultimate!

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  12. Such a lovely post! We never see our neighbours - in a block of 18 flats we never seem to run into each other. At my old place my flatmate and I used to be able to hear our neighbours downstairs playing the piano through the floor, which I loved. I wish I had friendly neighbours like you and yours! One day, hopefully!

    Sophie :-)

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    1. It's such a mixed bag, Sophie - I often worry about neighbors moving, etc. as I like mine so much! It explains why they seemed cautious/reticent when we first moved in. They weren't unfriendly, but they just wanted to get to know us, I guess!

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