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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Across The Pond And Beyond: Neighbours


Some people can't live with them. Others can't live without them.

Some neighbours become best friends, and they often host pool parties, barbecues, and parties as an excuse to socialize. While other neighbours become such a problem that they have the people around them dialing up their nearest real estate agents desperate to move away.

This is the topic of the day for the blog, and as I talk about some of my experiences with my own neighbours, I'll be talking about a show that has been running in Australia since 1985, that ironically has to do with the same subject that I am talking about.

Neighbours is a soap opera in Australia that debuted on March 18, 1985, and over the last 26 years has continued to air story after story, keeping viewers all over the world entertained by either cheering for their favourite couples, or screaming at the television at their favourite baddies. It's a show that has kickstarted the careers of several relevant stars. Kylie Minogue, Natalie Imbruglia, Delta Goodrem, Jesse Spencer, Russell Crowe, and Guy Pearce all had roles on the soap opera, and in many cases, it was their breakout performance.

What made Neighbours different from a lot of soap operas that have aired over the years is the fact that all of the characters lived on the same street. They all lived on a cul-de-sac type neighbourhood called 'Ramsay Street', kind of similar to that of Knots Landing's Seaview Circle. If my research serves me well, it was very unusual for most of the action of a soap opera to take place on the same street. Certainly EastEnders takes place in the neighbourhood of Albert Square, but there are at least four or five different streets in that area. And American soap opera 'The City' (which was a reworking of the soap opera 'Loving') took place largely in a building on Greene Street in New York City, but that serial lasted a little less than a year and a half.

Therefore, Neighbours success is rather unique in that aspect.

Of course, over the years, more and more locations have shown up in the show's setting, the fictional Erinsborough (which is ALMOST an anagram of Neighbours), but the heart of the show is with the neighbours of Ramsay Street. There are six houses in total on the street (22, 24, 26, 28, 30, and 32), and dozens of families have moved into the six houses where they are faced with temptation, lust, envy, and even murder. Some of the houses have stayed the same, while others have burned to the ground and were rebuilt. Whatever the case, there's been a lot of friends and foes on Ramsay Street over the years.

Just like in my case. Sometimes, my neighbours and I were like the theme song for Neighbours...good neighbours becoming good friends. In other cases, my neighbours and I steered clear of each other. In some rare cases, I hated who happened to live near me, and wished I could hop in some hot-air balloon and fly away. But I suppose life would get pretty boring if we all got along with our neighbours.

But, as I said, sometimes, neighbours can become good friends. My experiences with my neighbours at the school residence when I went off to school were mostly positive (aside from a couple of people who were so narcissistic that they couldn't so much as say a simple 'hello' to you as you walked by). It was pretty cool to be able to walk down the hall, and just visit people in their rooms at whatever time of day you wished. Of course, they were student dormitories and not a full-fledged apartment building, but the fact that I had people my age who accepted me for who I was certainly helped me out. I'm sure that some of the teenagers who have lived on Ramsay Street over the years have felt the same way about new teenagers who have moved onto the street. They do the neighbourly thing, and welcome them to the street, and show them around the fun places.

Well, until one of the teens steals another guy's girl, and fights break out. But that's a soap opera world. I never ended up having that happen with me...yet.

Going back to the college experience, I was thrilled to finally have a chance to have neighbours that were fairly close to my age, because in my childhood, I never really managed to have that.

Most of the homes in my earliest childhood years were ones where we only managed to live in a few months at a time. I think a huge part of that was the fact that my parents never had the money to actually buy their own home, so we ended up moving a lot during the first three years of my life. So, I never really had much of an opportunity to know neighbours long enough to actually form any sort of bond with them...good or bad.

The childhood home that I ended up living in from age three to age five was a decent house. And there were a couple of kids who lived two doors down from me that used to play with me all the time. Actually, come to think of it, the neighbourhood that I used to live in at the time was a really nice one. It was by the waterfront, close to the downtown area (which at the time was worth going down to), and the house was a lovely one.

Which is why when the whole neighbourhood was torn down by a greedy developer and all of us were left homeless as a result of this, it broke my heart. I hated to say goodbye to that house, and all the great people who lived near that neighbourhood. All in the name of progress. All in the name of a state-of-the-art shopping plaza that would be built. A state-of-the-art shopping plaza that we've been waiting for now for...oh...about twenty-five years now.

Needless to say, the person who authorized the neighbourhood purge all those years ago owned a furniture shop downtown. A furniture shop my family and I have boycotted ever since. I doubt he misses the business though.

Going back to the television show, Neighbours, a similar fate almost occurred on Ramsay Street.

Keep in mind that I am not Australian, and I've only managed to see a grand total of maybe six episodes of Neighbours total, so a lot of this information about the show is from research that I have done prior to writing this blog entry.

Anyways, one of the main characters on the show (who also happens to be the only original character left from the show's beginning) is Paul Robinson, and at first, he was a fairly decent character, working as a steward for an airline. But then Paul discovered his business side, and started becoming more ruthless and arrogant. He actually was spearheading a plan to bulldoze Ramsay Street to build a supermarket in its place. Fortunately, the plan fell through, and Ramsay Street was spared, although the neighbours never really trusted Paul after that. Over the years, Paul's behaviour grew even more twisted, including embezzlement, womanizing, and he even set fire to a commercial plaza so that he could then buy it back to have more control.

Of course I don't mean to compare Paul Robinson to the person who ripped apart the street that I used to call home. Paul was an over-the-top character. But there were similarities as in both cases, a respected member of the community had an idea that was filled with greed and the idea would end up wreaking havoc in certain areas of the community all for big business. In one case, they were successful in getting what they wanted, but in the end, it was all smoke and mirrors, and nothing came out of the deal.

So from there, I moved to my next home, which is where I spent the most time out of my life. The home itself was huge, but as far as the condition goes, the place was a wreck. Still though, the place was fixed up as best as it could be, and for fourteen years, it was home.

One thing that bugged me about living there though was the lack of children in the area. There wasn't anyone remotely close to my age who lived on my street. Most of the neighbours were elderly (which made sense, since the hospital was a block away), and it was hard for me to find my place there.

Though to their credit, most of the neighbours on that street were kind. There was one lady in particular that I would like to single out. Her name was Sarah, and she lived in house number 30 (my family was in number 11). She was an elderly lady who kept to herself. This was evident every Halloween night, as she would often close her door to trick-or-treaters, so I would often bypass her house on my trick-or-treating route.

The following November 1 (or if Halloween was on a weekend, the following Monday), I would be off to school and Sarah (as if she knew that I was coming) would often be outside to greet me (keeping in mind that in my younger days, my mom would walk me to school). It was there that she would hand me a plastic bag, and inside the bag was a package filled with Halloween candy! She later explained to my mom that she didn't really like the fact that high school kids would come to her door, asking for treats. And actually, I could see what she meant because often if the nearby high school had football practice, they would go trick-or-treating in their football uniforms. Because I was one of the few kids on the street, and because she liked me and my family, she wanted me to have some Halloween treat from her. I thought it was a nice gesture, and I thought she was a one of a kind lady.

There were other neighbours on the street that I mostly liked. The man who lived next door to us at number 15 was a nice guy. The man who lived across the street from us at 12 was an okay guy too, though his wife was kind of nasty with me. Long story there. And don't even get me started on the freaks who lived at 14 and their evil demon dog they called Sparky. I actually threw myself a celebratory party the day they got rid of that nasty, nasty furball.

But, really, the gang on the soap opera Neighbours had all sorts of backgrounds and personalities like the street I lived on. Some of them were really nice, down-to-earth people like the Kennedy family. Some like the Scully family were loud and brash, but deep down inside meant well and had a good heart. And some like the Robinson family had one bad seed right after the other. It was just part and parcel of any neighbourhood that you would have some good and some bad neighbours.

Oh, and like every neighbourhood, there always has to be some gossipy person who cannot leave well enough alone. On Neighbours, the person in question happens to be one Mrs. Mangel. Mrs. Mangel was gossipy and she loved to spread around the secrets of the residents of Ramsay Street and sit back to watch the fallout from the bombshells she dropped. One person she seemed to really get under her skin was Madge Ramsay, and here's a clip of the two of them in a heated argument.

And the only reason why I bring Mrs. Mangel up in this blog is because the conflict she had with Madge greatly resembles some of the conflicts that my current neighbour across the hall seems to have with a lot of the people in my building. She would knowingly cause a lot of problems with her huge mouth, running around the building, spreading half-truths and gossip around. And when the gossip was spread, it got people angry, and while people fought with each other, she sat back and played dumb as to how the gossip had spread in the first place.

Like I said, every neighbourhood has one person like this. Mine is no exception. In my old neighbourhood, the wife of the nice guy at house 12 was that nasty gossip...but of course, I just ignored her. And I ignore the current one, because really, I wouldn't resort to the silly argument between the two of them. Although, looking back on that clip, Mrs. Mangel was all bark and no bite.

Of course, I would like to think that most of us will remember the times in which the neighbours would come together to help someone in need. I can remember during a terrible ice storm that we had back in the winter of 1998 here that the neighbours around my grandfather's place came together to see if he was getting through the storm just fine. I can also remember instances in which our neighbours at 15 and my family would have food exchanges (where he would give us some apples, and we'd give him apple pie...although it dawned on me that maybe he was just doing that TO get the apple pie, but whatever, it was still a nice gesture).

And on Neighbours, people came together on that show through weddings...



...and celebrations.

And really, isn't that what a good neighbour does?

Well...within reason, such as this screenshot from Damn You Autocorrect displays...

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