The snow has fallen, England hasn’t risen to meet the challenge and the news has turned to usual panicked reportage. On these rare occasions when it lands in Brighton, we know that the rest of the country has had much worse. Not that we make it easy for ourselves. We watch it settle, then tramp it in, watch it freeze and then struggle against our suddenly unnavigable hills.
At least, that’s what my neighbours do. Some of them sprinkle rock salt on their drives, to give themselves theoretical vehicular access, even though they know they’re not competent to drive in it. They’re right about that, as the squiggling tyre marks down the winding roads around here prove. Unexpectedly on foot, they prefer to walk in the road, rather than the pavement. Sliding cars and unsteady pedestrians isn’t the best designed traffic management system.
I’m brilliant, of course. I clear away the snow from in front of my house and, usually, my neighbours on either side. Presently, my lucky neighbours have, between them, a couple of small children and a new baby. They don’t need to struggle because I love them. I love them because they are my neighbours and even though I regard religious belief as an understandable form of mental illness, the bit about loving your neighbours, that’s bang on the money.
My neighbours don’t love me back. They do not clear the snow from their neighbour’s pavements, with the result that as the feet fall down the road, they swerve from road to my pavement and back to road. They think themselves sensible in taking the route they do yet they do not clear their pavement, for their neighbours. Standing in my front room yesterday, I saw a man in a cheap plastic sledge, sliding down the pavement. Having adopted that childlike vehicle, I guess he was right to look genuinely annoyed when he had to get off, stand up and walk on the regular slabs instead. The rest look very grateful.
I’ve moved around a lot and many times I’ve lived next door to Christians. They’ve been a varied lot with little to call themselves a crowd in common, apart from those little fishes on the back of their cars. Yet, to date, they have all failed to clear the snow from in front of their house, for the love of their neighbours. Isn’t that odd? Isn’t the central point of Christian teaching to go the extra mile and give what you can. They’ve all been most generous and kind in many ways but they don’t go the extra mile, they don’t even go the extra twenty yards. They get in their cars and drive away instead.
When the weather harshes us out, we help one another. My local pub has a note up asking us to call on elderly neighbours and offer to do their food shopping for them. Yet it’s not too cynical to just ask why can’t we just clear a path through the snow for one another? If you’ve got snow in front of your house and you’re able bodied and you haven’t cleared it away, then you’re one of those unloving neighbours. It’s very simple. Go outside with a shovel and put your back into it. Actually, there’s a lady down my road who told me that she’s a grandma but her pavement and mine stand alone in the freeze, welcoming you by.