Saturday, September 15, 2012


I attended a meeting the other day to talk about what I could and couldn't do about my quake-damaged house. We talked about the options, two of which were to re-build where I am or move elsewhere. I like this area. I like the people around me. It is a proper neighbourhood, the kind which took time to develop, where people look out for each other in a special way. There's a difference between friends and neighbours.

Landscape (detail)

Friends live all over town, not just around your place. They meet for lunch or meetings, shopping or coffee. They ring to chat. They come in many different guises: some know everything about you, and others hardly anything. Some remember your birthday, others stand beside you no matter what. So, deciding to move, and deciding where to move, doesn't depend on where your friends are.

Neighbours, on the other hand, are people who are around on a daily, informal basis - a wave as you walk past, a cheery hi across the fence. They check your bedroom curtains are open, or at least twitching, before they leave for work, and notice your lights going on and off at appropriate times. They bring your rubbish bin up from the bottom of the drive if they see it languishing there late in the day. They check after earthquakes to see if you're OK. They borrow an egg or a cup of sugar because they are making muffins for the kids. They leave bags of apples or beans or corn-cobs on the doorstep. They feed your pets when you're away. They come to the rescue when a fuse blows or the gutters overflow or a tree needs pruning. Neighbours are the people you ring if your power or water goes off, to see if theirs is off too and to offer candles. Neighbours are part of your life, the people who are there.

The easy answer to the dilemma, therefore, seems obvious: stay where I am and have the house re-built. But it's not that simple. The neighbourhood is changing in subtle ways and it may not be the same for ever. Or even until next year. Someone said love your neighbour – but don't pull down the fences. Our fences are looking gap-toothed, drunk and disorderly these days but they are still standing. So are the neighbourhood values. For now.

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