I’m still in Ireland, spending time between two houses that are located close together, one perpendicular to the other, each with a flow of people coming and going as regular as the rise and fall of the tide.
Coriander: that was the first thing the child called for at tea-time, which he got. Five minutes later he was back for sour cream, which he didn’t get. Who needs Tesco when you have a neighbour with a well-stocked fridge? I wave into the barber’s hut each time I pass, door open, boys playing in the garden, the wall is their tight rope. Dad calls from behind a fence to tell his son to be careful, that he is bouncing that ball too close to the road. Perhaps he had a premonition, for it’s only a moment later that some feckless fool driving a mid-life-crisis Porsche 911 comes screaming up the road so fast that I run out and yell after him like a woman possessed (he can hear nothing under the roar of that engine). I try to memorise his registration plate but by the time I’m back in the house all I have is a jumble of numbers scattering my head. I played hopscotch on this street with my sister forty years ago and now children play on scooters and bikes and slide along on Heelys and shout over hedges to their parents. Next day there is shared giving out over these same hedges and walls as we talk about installing speed bumps then seamlessly slide into chatting about what might have gone wrong with that one withered tomato plant, and how well the roses did this year until the wind came, and do you think we’ll get any sort of summer back in August? And then I wander up to the other house and shout hello into the man cutting the grass, and out she comes from across the road with the loveliest news that the baby was born in the early hours of the morning and that it’s a boy!
It’s not the day for the egg man, but there he is anyway, not bearing eggs but mackerel he’s caught this morning, fileted them too. You never quite know who’ll turn up; a few days ago, it was someone with a toolbox and power drill and a head full of Wordsworth which he quoted over coffee. Mark my words – they don’t make men like that anymore! And there are doorstep deliveries: a loaf and a third of a pack of butter by the backdoor and a text to ask if I could run down and put the fish fingers (that are propped in behind the planter by the garage) into the freezer, and quite a few teabags that I’ve purloined to bring from one house to the other. Down on the green by the beach I meet three households where the parents are re-living their youth (having never left it) having the most fun with a massive polystyrene plane that can fly loop-the-loops while their children chase and run and ignore them.
Late at night, bins are magically left out for collection and in the morning, they’re taken in, and Amazon parcels that are getting wet are made safe, all done by neighbours. And rain has fallen these weeks, lots of it, and families have retreated indoors, keep themselves to themselves, until clear mornings dawn and these streets come back to life with laughter, news, sharing.
Neighbour, Iain Crichton Smith
Build me a bridge over the stream
to my neighbour’s house
where he is standing in dungarees
in the fresh morning
O ring of snowdrops
spread wherever you want
and you also blackbird
sing across the fences.
My neighbour, if the rain falls on you,
let it fall on me also
from the same black cloud
that does not recognise gates.