There’s nothing like neighbours in the countryside. (OK, smart boy in the class, you are correct: that sentence is ambiguous. Now for pointing that out and spoiling everybody else’s fun, as punishment off you go and write a post taking the other line from the one I am going to take, and hand it in before I have finished this article – if it’s any good, I may even publish it here as a guest post.) Good, that’s him out of the way for a while engaged in an impossible task for the non-compulsory coursework element of this virtual learning course. Did I not mention before that this was actually a virtual learning course to see you through the Kerfuffle in the absence of formal, traditional teaching? Ah well, too late now: youse are all signed up for Lateral Thinking 101, and the course fees are already resting in my bank account and are, of course, non-refundable.
From the south-facing bay window in the country-kitchen-style country kitchen of the hacienda, as far as the eye can see in that direction, there are no human habitats. As to how far the eye can actually see in that direction, on the one sunny day we get here per Spring, it can see as far as the Sun, and on most non-cloudy nights it can see past the Moon and on through the licks and puddles of the Milky Way to deep, inner space. So quite far, really, and not a human house about the place. There is a fairy ring in the Far Field, and a leprechaun colony just off the Upper Lane, but no humans to be seen for miles and miles. In the other direction, the one with the lane in it, I can just about, with the aid of binoculars, make out two houses, but I am related by marriage to both of them. To the occupants, I mean, not to the houses, although, mind you, it has been said that I have granite-like features and all the empathy of a brick. So, no neighbours as such in that direction either, just relatives. As an aside [from what? – Ed.], when the female teenager was a human child, she came home from primary school one day and announced that she wanted to change her surname from mine to her mother’s. She had cousins at the school, you see, as did all of the rest of the inbred families who attended, but nobody knew they were her cousins because they had a different surname from her, being the children of brothers-in-law of mine. When I quizzed her as to her motives for requesting the change (a request I denied, obviously, as it is good parenting to say ‘no’ to children 87.3% of the time, as well as financially more sustainable), she explained that she was really related to them and wanted that to be plain for the world to see. And then the stinger. ‘I’m only related to you by marriage!’ You see what I am up against, dear reader? This from a child who was six years old at the time.
If I mentally pass the related house at the foot of the hill, cross the wee bridge over the nameless stream that flows into my private lough and continue down the lane through the over-arching trees, I will eventually come to a house that does not contain people related to me, by marriage. But even then, because of the distance involved, I would hesitate to call them neighbours, and they are, in fact, related to my brother-in-law’s wife, so that maybe rules them out as well. My brother-in-law’s wife is not my sister-in-law, by the way, and neither is she yours: look it up.
In fact, in the country, there are only two categories for the inhabitants of houses within a beagle’s gowl of your own: relatives and rivals. And not ‘neighbourly’ as in friendly rivalry either: this is deadly serious stuff, and they all have shotguns. The rivalry has its roots in the curse that is land (did you see what I did there?) and can be traced back to the ancestral fear of eviction coursing through Irish blood since the Famine. So, yes, it is the Brits’ fault ultimately, but it plays itself out day to day in blocking a right of way here, spreading a bit too much slurry there, building a pig-shed right under the kitchen window of the other guy’s house, while all the while smiling and laughing and greeting each other with overt bonhomie and rustic charm any time they meet (usually when one of them has blocked the lane to do non-urgent work with his tractor and the other has to wait behind in his tractor on his way to block the other lane for his non-urgent work). These carefully-calibrated, minor acts of daily malevolence are carried out with the ultimate aim of getting on the other guy’s wick to such an extent that he eventually cracks, decides to give up mickey-mouse farming for a game of darts and sticks the ancestral fields up for sale. The rival then bides his time and eventually buys them for a knockdown price having put any other outside buyers off with his obstruction of ancient rights of way and his false planning permission for a 10,000 pig pig farm in the direction of the prevailing wind. He then sits in his house surveying his new enlarged estate of watery fields and laughs quietly to himself for about two years, before starting off on the next land-grabbing campaign. Salt of the earth, country people, but I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw their Massey Fergusons which used to block and delay each and every one of my journeys off the reservation, when I used to make journeys off the reservation. It’s as well most of them cannot read.
[Please note, the above post is the one handed in as non-compulsory coursework by the smart boy in the class. I wonder what I would have written about?]