The Russians next door have a new daughter. Wanting to be neighborly, we bought them some baby clothes, but couldn’t bring ourselves to deliver the gift for more than a month. “Once you know your neighbors,” Rose Macaulay writes in Crewe Train, “you are no longer free, you are all tangled up, you have to stop and speak when you are out and you never feel safe when you are in.” I have some hope that our neighbors’ poor English skills will save us from the worst.
Before the Russians there was a Norwegian mother with two children the same ages as our own. The youngest, a girl, had an imperious temper and would storm out at the slightest provocation from my daughter. The oldest, a boy, was always trying to sell us hard candies for a dollar each, or paper airplanes for five. My son was thrilled at having a new neighbor friend, but exhausted too. He never complained when, every night at dinner time, I finally had to throw the boy out and close the blinds.
With her customary charm, Macaulay dedicates Crewe Train to “The Philistines, the Barbarians, the Unsociable, and those who do not care to take any trouble.” I suppose I’m one of these, or I was. I used to like nothing better than to be left alone. Nowadays I consider wife and children necessary society. These are the deplorably civilizing effects of love. You may hide yourself in perfect happiness in a hole in the ground, as Macaulay shows, but love will find some mean way to drive you out of it.