In Or Out

Entry by: Alex Fleet

26th February 2016
So, are you?

Carl and Carlie had thought about moving house many times. The days were the same, week in, week out. The same neighbours, some good company, others frankly irritating. And then there were the conventions. The unwritten rules. Curtains open by 8.30am otherwise one was regarded as slovenly. Front lawn mown, hedge clipped in a certain way. They had been advised by various folks the best way to maintain a good hedge, a certain amount of this knowledge simply folklore, made up on a whim, and much of it conflicting.

It was best to stay on good terms with the neighbours though. On the odd occasion when vandals came around the street a few times, damaging car door mirrors and slashing tyres, the occupants of the street co-ordinated themselves, and the culprits were persuaded to try their games somewhere else.

Carl and Carlie found it interesting to observe the one or two neighbours who didn’t seem to fit in; it didn’t seem to matter quite so much to the neighbourhood if their car was damaged by a vandal. These lonesome neighbours chose to exclude themselves from the rest of the neighbourhood’s activities. One was just a few doors along the road, his name happened to be Mann.

As the gentleman living opposite observed to Carl and Carlie one day, no Mann is an island. And certainly Mr Mann was not excluded from the attentions of the vandals – in fact Carl wondered if he attracted a bit more attention than most.

This was, after all, just the usual social structure. A group working in co-operation, any stragglers finding it less easy to survive, more vulnerable to the attention of predators. True of many species of animals and true of any group of people.

Carl and Carlie had to go along to the socials of course. So they would go to the various ‘things’ at the village hall, ‘volunteer’ for stuff. And pay the dues at the social club. All tedious but obligatory.

Finally the big day came. They had found a new house, out in the country, far from the constraints of street life. They were packed, everything in crates, ready to go, the moving van booked. Just awaiting signing of the contracts.

They tried not to reveal their glee at leaving the street, but inevitably it was clear to those they told. The neighbours were of course polite and wished them well, but inevitably one or two made remarks about feeling ‘not good enough’ for the likes of Carl and Carlie.

But then everything fell into disarray. The contracts were never signed, never exchanged.

Carl and Carlie sat on the packing crates, cups of tea in hand, shuffling their feet on the place where the settee used to be, the marks of the feet impressed in the pile of the carpet. Maybe they'd been to hasty in packing absolutely everything and putting the furniture in storage. And telling the neighbours.

Monday morning each of them drove to work, back in the usual routine, along the street, past the neighbours they had planned to be moving away from. One or two smiled and waved. But most were disinterested. Carl noted that instead of moving out the way, one driver stayed half across the street and Carl had to wait. A few folks walked past while he waited. Most ignored him.

Somehow, Sid the plumber seemed to take a bit longer to arrive than usual. Joan in the butchers didn’t seem to be quite so cheerful. Their front lawn didn’t get mown when they were on holiday a couple of weeks later. Carlie was surprised to find that some of her customers had started using someone else instead of her. They had to walk to the paper shop because they had cancelled the delivery. They were interested to read in the paper about the third time a small cottage, a little way out from the town, had been broken into, smashed up. They were disconcerted to see it was the cottage they had planned to move to, away from their overbearing neighbours.

After a month or two, the membership secretary of the social club rang the doorbell. He was collecting the next year’s membership fees.

He smiled at them, on the doorstep. “So, are you in?”