If the garbo truck didn’t wake me up before sparrows ack emma every week…

leading me to almost always suddenly remember “arrgh! the prawn heads!” and fang it out to the bin before the garbos get to my driveway, then I don’t think my neighbour’s bins would hardly ever get emptied.

I race out, glance across and most weeks see that his bins aren’t waiting at the curb, so I cross the road and put them out. I don’t think he realises that I’m his garbage care fairy, because I haven’t mentioned it. He’s a nice young man working shifts, walking his dogs and renovating his house (so no computer at the moment to read this blog), so I don’t mind making sure that his garbage gets out when he’s forgotten because he’s on the night shift (just as well he keeps them only a few metres from his front gate).

It’s just the neighbourly thing to do. I’m sure that most of us have little things that we do for our neighbours without expecting thanks or even acknowledgement, just because it makes the neighbourhood more pleasant all round. Or am I spoilt? My street’s kinda special, but is such helpful neighbourliness becoming unusual?

Here in the Cul de sac of Doom we tend to be a bit more chatty than most inner city streets, because the lack of through traffic means we’re very aware of each others’ comings and goings, which tends to generate conversations. When you regularly talk to your neighbours, you tend to notice if there’s some little problem at their house while they’re out or sleeping, and if you can do something about it with only a few moments’ effort, then why on earth wouldn’t you?

One of my neighbours saw a package left very obviously on our doormat one time, so he came in, picked it up and found a less conspicuous place to leave it, then rang us when he saw that we were home to check that we hadn’t overlooked it. Just a little bit of thoughtfulness and care, very typical of most people who’ve lived in our street for a while. It’s very much one of the reasons that we’ve not moved for nearly 20 years – we’d miss the neighbours. This isn’t to say that we live in each other’s pockets (hey, I skew severely toward curmudgeonly hermit), just that we share a bond of memory and goodwill that truly does mean something. I can’t think that there’d be too many neighbourhoods where half the households would turn out at 10pm with torches to look for a sick cat that was overdue for medication.

That said, I’m equally sure that we’re not the only friendly neighbourhood left in the urban sprawl. I do however note that the few other streets I’ve visited which seem to have a similar neighbourliness going on are also cul de sacs, so I wonder whether it’s simply the wish to avoid noise and exhaust fumes pollution which drives people living elsewhere inside so that they simply hardly ever see their neighbours.

Thoughts, dear readers? Are you a mysterious neighbourhood care fairy now and then? Are you helped out by a mysterious neighbourhood care fairy once in a while? Or is your neighbourhood afflicted by more destructive forms of neighbourly interaction? Or simply indifference? What trends do you see from your place?

Image Source: Paul Keller

Categories: relationships, Sociology


10 replies

  1. A neighbour of my parents has been mowing several other nature strips in the street when he does his own, for more than a decade. It started with him doing it the elderly lady a couple of doors down, then spread. My Dad is very lax on lawnmowing, and Brian thought he’d help out, and then he figured he may as well do all the ones in between. The whole thing probably takes him 15-20 minutes a month.
    My Mum did weekly supermarket shopping for the same elderly lady who’s family all lived across town. Another neighbour put her bins out every week. She’s moved into a hostel now (

  2. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten was from my dad, when I went away to college:
    “Buy the milk.”
    I was going to be living in the dorms. There was going to be a shared refrigerator. There were going to be squabbles over who had provided the various foodstuffs, and whether everyone was buying enough or eating too much. My dad’s advice was to not worry about all of that. If there was milk that needed buying, buy the milk. Pay the extra couple of bucks, pick up some milk when supplies got low, and don’t keep score.
    Like I say, it’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten.
    Brooklynite’s last blog post..What’s a prostitute?

  3. We’re in a lovely neighbourhood now where everyone looks out for everyone else’s kids. On the weekends the kids roam from house to house, and someone will always make sure the youngest kids get home safe.
    We’re having our first street party since we’ve been in this new neighbourhood, Easter Saturday. It’s a cul de sac with a circle, and the centre strip (which a couple of neighbours help maintain) has a big shady grassed area to meet on.
    There’s also a system of looking out for each others places on holidays.
    Last place we were at, there wasn’t much of a neighbourhood as such, but we had a good relationship with our next door neighbour. We used her swimming pool, and in return did a little gardening or dropped her little crafty gifts.

  4. I’m in a cul-de-sac too, and although it’s a little longer than average and has some units at the end, most people mix and chat when we meet, but don’t pursue each other. When I was alone last Xmas I had two invites to help me pass the time, which I appreciated. I love my little street, so much so that my partner and I are soon spending a lot of money to move her in here too.

  5. I love my neighbors, but we live in very close together townhouses and can’t help but know each other’s business. And we’re poor urban folk. I give out bus money and send over dishes of stew or “white trash pie” (shepherds pie with biscuit crust instead of potatoes) and share my vacuum, phone, computer advice. And they keep an eye out on my kid and loan me sugar or eggs and pick up my packages. And drive me places in snowstorms.
    Red Queen’s last blog post..Cake!

  6. A friend of my lives in a cul-de-sac and most of the families there have kids all around her son’s age.
    When the kids decided they wanted to do the trick or treat thing on Halloween, all the parents got together and arranged for a street Halloween thing, so the kids could trick or treat in safety.
    In the block of units where I used to live one of the guys would put everyone’s bins out for them. I’d bring them all in if I noticed they were still out when I got home from work, but most of the time he’d be home to bring them in too.
    magic bellybutton’s last blog post..So, do you have what it takes to be a public servant? Part 2

  7. Where I grew up, we were on the least trafficked part of a rather quiet set of streets, and we were fairly friendly with our neighbours. Mum was a nurse, so she was the one who was called on to do first aid for neighbourhood kids when things went wrong, and my brother was sort of the generic “big brother” for a lot of the younger kids who lived next door and across the road from us (two families, both with 5 kids, both all boys – and both in 3 bedroom houses). He did a fair amount of babysitting and such. I was reasonably friendly with the Mums in both cases.
    Where I’m living now, it’s a busy major road, and there’s a fair amount of traffic out the front of the house. All the living areas in the house are at the back of the house, where it’s quieter, so we don’t exactly have too much incentive to get to know our neighbours. Meanwhile, a couple of blocks away (about 5 minutes walk at most) where my partner grew up, his parents have a social network which covers their entire street, as well as the folks who back onto their place… not to mention anyone who happened to have lived on that street before or since.
    Meg Thornton’s last blog post..Yayz! New toy!

  8. Our street isn’t like this, I wish it was. We’re good friends with our most immediate neighbors and we take each other’s bins out and such but the rest of the street doesn’t know us, and we don’t know them. We’re kind of tucked away behind the trees next to our immediate neighbors and I wonder if this is the problem. You need to be in close proximity, on a quiet street, as you say. That i why I think the neighbors in the old suburbs with all the gorgeous terrace houses, or workers cottages tend to be friendly with one another, closer proximity living, with thinner, wooden walls, less high fences – makes you more likely to be a part of your neighbor’s lives. I noticed this when we used to live in an older, inner-city suburb.
    blue milk’s last blog post..Inflation

  9. Thanks for all your responses, everybody. The crucial combination for neighbourliness does appear to be proximity + minimal vehicle traffic, encouraging people to be out and about in the street and engage with each other.
    I get the feeling that some of the older-fashioned apartment blocks in older urban concentrations like New York or Paris are like this as well – families live there for years and maybe even generations, and interact with their neighbours in the lobby and around the local shops.


  1. Note to the neighbours — Hoyden About Town
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