In the olden days neighbours used to come over to borrow some salt, or a spoonful of sugar, a cup of milk, maybe even an egg.
Last week we got a note through the door from our teenage neighbour’s parents.
It went like this: ‘Sorry to ask, but can we have the code for your Wi-Fi so my boy can play X-box-live.’
Judging by the details that followed about the game in question, we guessed that the note was a forgery, and that the ‘boy’ had written it himself.
We mused that the neighbours downstairs would’ve gone for a different approach. They would’ve said their son was doing a very important assignment for school and desperately needed to use the internet for a few days. With that excuse we wouldn’t have thought twice.
A game on X-box live doesn’t inspire the same generosity of spirit. Neither does spit on the front door step, beer cans in the hallway and bits of dismantled bike everywhere.
The evening wore on and the note was left unanswered.
Then it came; the inevitable drum of teenage feet on the stairs and the tentative knock on our door.
“I wish they’d just asked for an egg!” I whined.
I was fretting because I’m not very good at saying no. I was worried that if we upset them there’d be tension and hostility and spit in our mail box.
My husband opened the door while I listened from the kitchen.
“Did you get my... (pause)...the note?”
“Yeah I did, but we pay monthly for our connection.”
“Yeah but it won’t cost you anything!” the boy cried.
“Okay then, let’s turn it around,” my husband said, calmly. “You pay for it and I’ll get it off you for free.”
“Now if you want to go halves, then that’s a different story.”
The boy sounded pleased about this possibility and said he’d asked his Dad.
I felt relieved by the encounter. Even before the London Riots I’d had a pressing desire to be at peace with these neighbours, but there’d only been monosyllables and wary glances.
The following evening, we anticipated the knock on the door as we heard the telltale thud on the stairs.
The teenager was back with a five pound note.
My husband gave him the password and the deal was done.
After a year living alongside our neighbours, this was our first bonding experience.
It isn’t the romantic notion I had of neighbourly love, but in these times of turmoil you can’t be picky.