Friday, 6 March 2015

Good Neighbours

With immigration once again in the headlines and the startling statistic that our porous borders have been leaking at the rate of one immigrant a minute for many years now, few can credibly say that it is not time to control our borders. Not from any sense of insularity, nor from our incipient xenophobia, but simply in the interest of stability. As Robert Frost states in his 1914 blank verse Mending Wall, “Good fences make good neighbors”

What works for the common man – an Englishman’s home is his castle – ought to work equally well, if not better, between nations. But sometimes even a well-kept boundary fence is not sufficient to maintain good relationships, as my own neighbour reminded me a couple of days ago. Just as in the poem we had been patrolling and patching up our common pickets; I doing the mending, he making good with the Cuprinol ™ and between us putting the world to rights with idle chatter and much speculation on the forthcoming general election, when suddenly a breeze sprang up.

It being an unseasonably warm day and with the winter sun shining clear and bright, he had donned a summer hat to shade his bald spot. But the zephyr lifted it from his crown and bore it aloft to land somewhat out of arm’s reach in the apple tree from which we both generally benefit. I laughed, but he was not amused – funny how the smallest of incidents can sow the seeds of discord. Still a bit grumpy, he demanded I do something about it, as it had caught on a branch on my side of the border and I happily agreed. From a low stepladder and using a broom handle I managed to reach it. He admonished me for my rough and ready approach and insisted that an expensive Panama hat should not be the subject of such indelicate treatment.

I suggested he try it himself, at which point he grabbed the broom from me and used it to hook the branch and bend it to try and dislodge the errant titfer. I laughed once more and his cheeks began to puff and redden with the effort and the indignation. He saw it as my fault, somehow and began to get more irate, but I couldn’t help smiling as he worked the branch. Meanwhile my dog, an excitable little long-haired Jack Russell began to join in, yapping up at the hat and running in excitable circles. I retired to my garden bench to watch the scene unfold.

My formerly affable friend-next-door began to get more agitated and then suddenly, the hat fell free. Before I could do a thing, Jack leapt up and snatched it from the air, and ran off, sniggering, I thought, giving it a good shake as he chewed on the Ecuadorian straw. Soon the hat was in tatters and all I could do was laugh. My neighbour – no longer a friend, I feared, was incandescent and demanded I buy him a new one. I refused and a stand-off began; he insisting that I was to blame and I that it was stupid hat anyway. Jack began digging a hole to bury the remains.

Now that's a real shaggy dog!

That was the last straw, as it were, and my neighbour was clearly at the end of his tether. He began to rant and rave and all I could do was laugh at the absurdity of it all. He gathered himself up and looked me in the eye. “I don’t like your attitude!” he growled and I know I should have tried to mend the bridge but I couldn't help myself. “But see, it’s not my attitude," I explained, "... it’s your hat ‘e chewed!”

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