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Love thy neighbour – or at least try to help them!

I spent a couple of weeks last month keeping an eye on one of my neighbour’s properties whilst they went in search of some sunshine before the autumn set in. Due to other commitments, I got off lightly this year and didn’t have to look after the greenhouse. This is usually a source of stress for me as my neighbour is retired and one of his principal hobbies is his vegetables, so the responsibility of keeping the ripening crops on track is always a strain to one with my yellowish rather than his very bright green fingers!

So really there should have been nothing to go wrong. Even I could manage to water their collection of indoor plants, collect some mail and put the bins out … or maybe not! The first week I swear I saw two visiting neighbours watering the greenhouse and moving a bin around the night before the general waste bins get emptied. But when I went over at the weekend to lift the mail and water the indoor plants, I discovered that the general bin had not been emptied and would have to sit collecting flies for the next fortnight. My first black mark but this was nothing compared with what was to come.

The second week I thought I would leave nothing to chance. I went round early the night before the recycling bin was due to be emptied, pulled it round to the front of their house and left feeling righteous that at least they’d come home to one empty bin. I gave it not another thought until the following day when I went round with milk, bread and cake to put in their fridge for their arrival home the following day. On collecting up the mail which had accumulated behind their front door I noticed a small blue slip from a courier, “We’re sorry you weren’t in” at which point my heart sank to my boots at the added handwritten words, “Left package in your recycling bin”!

Thankfully, we’re still speaking as they’d done the exact same thing to another neighbour a couple of years ago and knew it was down to bad timing rather than any form of malice but it did make me think how easy it is for a good deed to turn sour.  It also left me feeling full of remorse at the result of my entirely innocent action.

What I needed was an uplifting good news story and that weekend I found one in a most unexpected place. I probably didn’t have the same take on it as many supporters or critics but the good news element of the story for me, and not for any political reason, was the democratic election of a 66 year old as the leader of a major political party in Britain. I found it really heartening that age hadn’t really come into the debate and what so many people had engaged with was the fact that the winner talked from his heart and that his views were his own rather than out of some spin-doctor’s notebook. I’d often sat to watch the news during the few weeks preceding the leadership election result and marveled at his level of energy. A few years ago he would be over the UK’s retirement age and yet here he is embarking on a huge new job in his career, proving that maybe sixty is the new forty, or whatever it says on those birthday cards you send hoping to make the recipient feel better about their age.

It occurred to me that since the last general election, we have had an eloquent maiden speech from a 21 year old MP and a high profile leadership campaign by a 66 year old – surely a sign that as a nation we have the capacity to be open-minded when we get engaged with something. It’s great to have heard so many young people listening to what he was saying and deciding why they either wanted to vote for or against him without the ‘age’ card coming up … as the maturing mother of two almost twenty somethings maybe there’s hope for what I tell them being absorbed yet, although recent evidence would suggest that it’s more likely to be hotly debated!

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