Love Thy Neighbour(s)

Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours With a little understanding You can find the perfect blend Neighbours should be there for one another That's when good neighbours become good friends

I don't get on well with my neighbours. We've shared garden fences for the last twenty-two years but can't have said more than a handful of words to each other. We tend to politely stay out of each other's way whilst spying on each other the only way that neighbours can. I know when my neighbour scurries across the road to throw their garden rubbish onto the railway tracks and they probably know when I sneak out for a clandestine cigarette. We go about our daily lives putting up with the necessity of each other, but would rather live in isolation; detached, not semi-detached.

* * *

Susan and Karl Kennedy have lived on Ramsay Street for more than twenty years. Susan, amongst other things, is the principal of the local Erinsborough High School and Karl is, amongst other things, a GP-cum-surgeon-cum-psychiatrist. Susan and Karl are nice people. They have a robust and loving marriage, attested to by the fact that they've been divorced and re-married twice. They look out for their friends, their neighbours, and their door is always open. They take in a constant stream of troubled teens and stray relatives, including neighbourhood solicitor-cum-barrister and all-round nice guy Jarrod 'Toadfish' Rebecchi and more recently, the mysteriously aloof Ellie, Susan's niece and (conveniently placed) Erinsborough High teacher. Their neighbours include the handsome yet straight-laced cop Mark Brennan (all-round nice guy), handsome yet straight-laced Father Jack Corrigan (v. nice guy), the feisty yet endearing Paige Smith (nice gal) and the sexy yet matriarchal local cafe-owner Lauren Turner (nice mum), to name just a few. Even their enemy, Paul Robinson, is charmingly Machiavellian, a one-legged man/millionaire entrepreneur capable of being imprisoned for fraud and shooting his own son and yet retaining the wry smile that fools his neighbours into coming back for more, ultimately leaving both parties unscathed (except for his son – but he was mean).

Susan and Karl live in the kind of world where you always have enough time in the working day (and money) for a least five trips to Harold's, the local coffee shop, where you always bump into your pals, your neighbours, and can offload whatever's on your mind to a willing listener. The kind of world where everyone recycles and no one is racist or homophobic (see Nate, an ex-ward of Susan and Karl's, who was both non-white and homosexual and welcomed with open arms), where everyone exercises constantly, where everyone engages in Kardashian-style social media feminism, promoting #freethenipple as well as #casualsex, and where catastrophe is forgotten preferably a week or two after it has occurred. Grief never looked so good.

Of course, this prozac-infused utopia isn't real, it's the premise of Australian daytime TV staple and my favourite show, Neighbours.

What if we lived our lives like these fictional Australians? What if our doors were always open to our neighbours and we were always coming and going in each others' lives? What if we knew everything about each other, shared the same friendship group and visited the same coffee shops and bars? Admittedly, this all sounds awful; I enjoy seeing my neighbour's panic-stricken face as s/he hurls mown grass over a chickenwire fence to avoid paying the local council for the privilege and I enjoy living privately.

One thing Neighbours is good for though is not being an allegory for real life but an escape from it. In this time of Brexit, Made in Chelsea Season 12 (Made in Chelsea: South of France) and Donald Trump, you might want to bury your head in the comforting, warm sand of Neighbours. For twenty-one minutes a day let your worries leave your mind as you enter the politically correct, product-placed world of Ramsay Street and witness its white-teethed, ab-filled inhabitants. Feel safe in the assurance that all plot lines, no matter how trivial or seemingly ruinous will always end happily (except for when actors leave to pursue more promising careers – then they're killed off quickly; but don't worry, they'll be replaced by next week and you won't need to remember them).

Yes, the gratuitous swimming pool scenes are problematic but at least it's no Hollyoaks: Babes. The dialogue can be so stilted sometimes it's like watching a show processed through Google Translate, but it's nice not to think, if only for twenty-one minutes a day. It's nice to hear that grating auto-tune theme and see those saturated colours and overly-bright indoor sets. It's nice to stuff your face with crisps and Diet Coke whilst watching people obsessively run and #eatcleantraindirty.

Neighbours isn't so bad that it's good - it's no The Room - it just does what it does well: middle-budget daytime TV. It's perhaps something that we could all learn from.

[This piece was originally published on Medium on 30/08/16]