Good (sociable) distancing makes good neighbours…

We have such a benevolent gees[1] going in our street, and it has been most encouraging during this time of lockdown.

Every time the air force does a fly-by of our area with its impressive fleet of one black helicopter, we all race out to wave and cheer our essential services on. Well, we would have if it had flown over our neighbourhood. I see that chopper every day around the same time and then it returns around sunset. I’m convinced the crew pops across to Langebaan for a day in the sun and then flies home in the evening.

It must be a bit boring now though for our police and military in (mostly) law-abiding suburbs, where crime stats are almost negligent due to most of the criminals also stuck in lockdown. I mean, if you enter the armed forces for the adrenalin rush, you can’t be getting much of a fix at the moment in suburbia.

The emergency services did a parade of force through the suburb a few nights ago and I nearly choked on chocolate I’d nicked out of the snack cupboard. Police and armed response vehicles drove up and down our roads with lights flashing and sirens echoing off buildings in a frightening manner. I was convinced there had been a five-car pile-up down the road, but it was merely our public defenders, doing an honour lap of the neighbourhood.

And our community obliged by rushing out on our balconies and curbs to cheer and clap for them, remaining a while to wave and cheer with our friends across and alongside us. Anything for a view of people other than those we live with. Don’t get me wrong – I love my household, but am wearying of looking at them all a tad, so it’s exciting to see what other people look like.

I mean Andrew only has a couple of tracksuits that he wears like a gangster in the Sopranos (fortunately without the bling); I’ve seen all of Shannon’s pyjamas and Catlin can’t be seen because she wears a blanket over her clothes, because she seldom stirs form her laptop. Liam is similarly disguised by his Abraham-Lincoln-meets-hobbit hirsute look. The only one who is shedding clothing is the Mad Lab whose coat we sweep up all day. But there’s only so much variety to any of the above.

I am enjoying the casual wear though, and I think I have forgotten how to wear high heels. I draw the line at no make-up however – there are too many mirrors in the house to avoid seeing a putty-less visage without screaming, so I get dressed comfortably and mascara these lids. One must keep up one’s standards. Like ironing. They keep threatening to wear their clothes un-ironed, which works wonders in getting mom to haul out the ironing equipment with a sigh.

So, it’s good to have other folk to look at.

A few nights back, someone played some great rock music in the street, to pay tribute to health workers, and again, out we all popped like tracksuited glockenspiel figurines, chiming our enthusiasm gleefully.

Our road’s neighbourhood watch leader, Shaun, efficiently posts fact-checked government announcements and keeps us on track against that other pernicious virus, fake news. In fact, Shaun has been such a good leader in all the nearly 9 years I’ve been resident here, if he decided to move to greener (or quieter) pastures, the residents of the street would probably blockade the road to prevent the family from leaving.

Then there is Jess whose singing recordings sometimes filter across the street in pleasant sound bites and alternate with Bandile next door’s soul music, and Donnie the DJ’s radio station, in keeping us entertained. My family’s contribution to the music of the thoroughfare: The Maestro’s beautiful Chopin Etudes or snatches of whatever pieces he is teaching; Liam’s plinking beginner practising and the loud debates between siblings that rival any powerful operatic death. It’s no wonder our back neighbour has taken to smoking his homegrown weed supply.

It’s good to know that we are confined in a community of houses, not unconnected silos. This is not a time for stepping out of our comfort zone, but for finding comfort in the zone.

Some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives won’t have a title until much later.”

— Bob Goff, author of Love Does

[1] Spirit, energy, enthusiasm

Good earmuffs make good neighbours

The Neighbour from Hell:

The poet, Robert Frost, makes fun of neighbours keeping to themselves in ‘Mending Wall.’ But he lived on a farm and so could remove himself far away from any disturbances emanating from the neighbouring gramophone. Not so, the unfortunate urban neighbour who must suffer a life punctuated by the ebb and flow of the base and treble of digital techno beats.

Now ‘beat’ is an interesting term: one pretty much feels abused by the ‘utsz-utsz’ of what is occasionally referred to as ‘modern music’ invading one’s every thought. I play my Andrea Boccelli fairly loudly I admit, but when I have to listen to the ‘remix’ version of ‘Sogno’ with a heavy pulse in the background, I draw the line.

Now far be it from me to pretend that we are not a noisy household. I have what my mother euphemistically referred to as a ‘carrying voice’ and my offspring are not retiring types either. In fact between the piano , giggling Gerties, the death throes of people on an assortment of Playstation games or the gamers’ swearing because ‘FIFA is cheating again’ and raucous laughter, we do our bit to produce noise pollution. Nothing like our neighbour though.

And ‘good fences’ don’t even keep out the din. Good earmuffs would make good neighbours, methinks. And that was before The Party:

I guess the DJ arriving at 15:00 with equipment Rammstein would be envious of, should have tipped me off, especially when the aforementioned nightclub wannabe also staggered in with a large coolbox, filled with beers (I know because several Amstels fell out as he stumbled up the adjacent driveway.) Presumably the bejewelled king of clamour needed that many because the gig lasted another 12 hours, much to the horror of the inhabitants of our road.

It wasn’t merely the music though: cars began disgorging partygoers at about 18:00 – after 3 hours of setting up and ‘sound testing’ (I could have told them there was something seriously wrong with the sound – it was too jolly loud!) – and kept on coming all night, until soon they were double parked along the road and revving as they ramped the pavement to park their throaty 4×4’s on our front lawns. And the revelry had spread out onto the curb. I suppose it was full inside.

Naturally in this day and age, everyone has a cellphone, and soon the alley outside our window became the spot for (loud) phone calls to the three people in Cape Town not invited to the fiesta. And of course, later on there were the inebriated conversations between the rejected and their consolers. DMC ‘s* over the decibel allowance are not really private. I wondered whether the rejected lovers would appreciate some relationship advice from me. I might have ended all of our misery a little earlier.

‘It’s Friday night and he is a young man celebrating his new home,’ I charitably thought at 20:00. ‘I am sure he will comply with the council sound regulations by midnight.’ Ha! At two (am), I phoned the police, the third call to them by the good folk in our street over the evening. When they arrived, they asked the host to turn the music ‘down’! My husband, bless his undressed soul, was having none of that and yelled out of the window that they should switch it ‘off’! Only then did they comply, turning it up again gradually over the next hour, like boiling a frog slowly. Funny they didn’t think to close over the doors so close to the boundary wall, especially after the shocking vision of the man next door in his altogether, leaning out the window…  Andrew is threatening to practise his trumpet really early on a Sunday morning in revenge (hopefully with his clothes on.)

The following day, the street Whatsapp group was buzzing with indignation. One good Samaritan (who clearly lived far enough away not to be too badly affected) suggested we should have been more full of the Christmas spirit. Seriously? At two in the morning the only spirit I am channelling is my inner ogre. I do not need to ask ‘Who is my neighbour?’ His presence is somewhat obvious.

The story doesn’t end there, because after the housewarming bash, the family from up north arrived to stay. They brought with them an assortment of aunts and uncles and a granny… and four children in training as town criers. You know how some little squirts automatically shriek in a swimming pool, well that’s what it was like all day. Only without the pool (small mercies). The poor lady on the other side of the property went around to ask them to keep the children a bit quieter and she was verbally abused for her pains. And again the lads in blue paid the house a visit. The following morning (at 5 am) the tourists departed for up-country again, leaving an entire neighbourhood awake and spitting mad. At least one of the visitors bought him curtains.

I do have some compassion for this lad who now is without his relatives and has managed to offend all the good citizens he lives among. I nipped over one evening to alert him to the fact that his car window was open, not a good idea in our crime-ridden suburb. (You’d think he’d have been aware of it a few hours before because the alarm kept going off, but still.) It was a thankless act. He stared at me balefully and only responded to my greeting because I stuck out my hand. Clearly this is not over.

I’m thinking of moving to the Karoo.

*DMC: Deep Meaningful Conversations

Mending Wall


Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”