What makes a good neighbour? In London, where we share the walls of our terraced house on both sides, and hear more intimate details of each other’s lives than anyone is ready to admit, a good neighbour allows you space. No obvious peering over fences; no comment about what may have been seen, the curtains you haven’t managed to hang after a year of living in the house, the unpruned hedge in your front garden, your children’s early morning violin practicing. A good neighbour offers to help with maintenance of shared walls and informs you of upcoming and noisy building works, but doesn’t pop round for a chat and a cup of tea unless invited properly.
And then Normandy. Our whole village, spread out on the hillside, has a smaller population than one half of our street in London. On the village feast day they all gather for a meal in a tent by the river, dining on ripe cheeses and homemade fruit tarts at long trestle tables. When you meet neighbours along the road you greet and chat: 5 minutes at least, but more likely 10 or 15 minutes. You will be told if your hedge is felt to need pruning. People are popping in and out all the time. It’s never, never an inconvenience.
Recently our neighbours took delivery of some new furniture while we were away. Not only did they help get the furniture into the cottage: they also assembled it and arranged the living room, a wonderful surprise when we arrived, tired and late after long days at work on an October evening.
And the next morning, a knock on our door and gifts. A basket of walnuts collected from their garden and, wrapped in a white linen napkin, hot and sweet from the oven, a steaming loaf of just baked walnut bread.
I could get used to this kind of neighbourliness.