Our neighbours recently acquired some windchimes. Which neighbours I do not know; the sound rises elusively above our collective tangle of gardens, the source hidden from view by the tall fences and hedges that make it possible to live yards apart.

When Swedish guests visit, they will often stand at an upstairs window, mesmerised. “You live so close to each other!” they say, marvelling at the sight of neighbours on either side, going blithely about their business, mowing their lawns, or sunning themselves with a cup of tea. It’s not uncommon for Swedes to live yards apart either, in flats for example. But flats offer a different kind of closeness, one where you never look directly into your neighbour’s back yard.

“Don’t you mind?” my friends will ask. The truth is that I often forget. Occasionally when I’m outside, I’ll hear the shuffling of someone nearby. But because I can’t see them, it’s like they’re not really there. And I don’t think about the fact that the garden is overlooked from above any more. Our garden, to me, feels entirely private. I’m surrounded by others, but for all I care our house could be plonked in the middle of a field, with no one else around for miles.

And those windchimes? Lately I have realised just how much they sound like the bells you might hear coming from a distant herd of goats, roaming the mountains of, say, Greece. And because I can’t see them, I can simply pretend that to be the case. That’s the beauty of a boxed in, English terraced-house garden. You can take solace from the fact that you’re not alone, while at the same time pretending you’re far, far away, in your own little secluded slice of paradise.

Maria Smedstad Bio

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