COVID-19 proves why everyone needs good neighbours
On a sunny Saturday afternoon ten years ago, my husband and I walked around the corner from our home to stickybeak on an auction happening in the next street. The house sold for a strong price, several hundred thousand dollars over its reserve.
"Oh, you're lucky you missed out," said a woman bystander as we wandered back home. "We live in the next street and there's absolutely no sense of community round here. None."
We knew this woman. She was our neighbour. We'd met at another neighbour's house. She was a hypnotherapist. Her husband was a doctor. They had two kids.
At home, we joked about how 'unfriendly' we were, and how unmemorable. But perhaps our neighbour was right. We were busy raising three little girls, born in the space of four years. Christmas drinks with our next-door neighbours was about the limit of our social interactions.
For years, this is how it was. Then, about 18 months ago, things changed. It started with two new families who moved in up the street. Their kids started playing regularly out in the back lane - doing chalk drawings on the bitumen, riding up and down on their scooters and chucking balls around. It wasn't long before my three daughters wanted to join in. One of the dads started a WhatsApp group - Back Lane Social - to co-ordinate play times.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, a quick message was all it took to summon the kids for an afternoon of haring up and down on bikes and scooters and wandering in and out of houses. Our back lane is an oasis of calm and garages and no through traffic. The parents bring drinks, sometimes we have a sausage sizzle, we've even had a back lane "Olympics" complete with egg and spoon races and limbo. The freedom and conviviality reminds me of my own childhood - an experience I didn't think I'd be able to recreate for my own kids. I can honestly say I've never felt more connected to my community.
Over the recent "black" summer of bushfires, I saw evidence of even more strongly connected communities, neighbours who left their own burning homes to go and help save the house next door. At the other end of the spectrum, when virus-panic hit our shores, we saw brawls in supermarket aisles over toilet paper and pasta.
To date, I've resisted the urge to hoard and stockpile, despite being the shopper-in-chief for my family of five. It's been hard. When you're faced with empty shelves, the natural reaction is to take what you can.
My eldest child is a coeliac. At one point, there was no gluten free Weetbix on the shelves and I made a brief comment on Facebook, outlining our predicament. Within two days, I had four boxes of the cereal on my doorstep, supplied by friends and neighbours. I've read of similar acts of kindness happening across the country. Kids sending notes of support to elderly locals. Communities setting up WhatsApp groups to ensure the vulnerable can get what they need. We are so much better when we work together, rather than against each other.
In a case of art-imitating-life, The End of Cuthbert Close is all about neighbourliness, food and friendship. It's the story of a suburban idyll that turns quite toxic when the new family moves in. I've kept to the adage of writing what I know and what I know now is this - being on good terms with the people who live in your street is a fabulous cure for disconnection and loneliness. Yes, you can't choose your neighbours, but you can choose whether to make them your friends.
I had hoped that several of my neighbours would join me for a big party to celebrate the launch of the new book which is, after all, a kind of love letter to them. COVID-19 made that impossible.
On the afternoon my launch was supposed to take place, a neighbour delivered a care package to my door - homemade white chocolate and cranberry cookies with a note that read So sorry your launch had to be cancelled. Hope these help a little.
Dear reader, they did. I ate one straight away. It was one the most delicious biscuits I have ever tasted.
The End of Cuthbert Close by Cassie Hamer, RRP $29.99 is out now
BOOK OF THE MONTH
Our book of the month for April is Leah Swann's Sheerwater - a stunning novel placing a mother in an impossible situation when her sons go missing as she flees an abusive relationship. You can get it for 30 per cent discount at Booktopia with code SHEERWATER.
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Originally published as COVID-19 proves why everyone needs good neighbours