During my childhood, I lived in a total of two neighborhoods. The first, about an hour above London. The second, about an hour below. I moved with my family when I was in Year 1 so my dad could be closer to his new office. Coincidentally, I now work in the same town as my dad did while I was growing up. For me, neighborhood friends and bikes go hand in hand. I would cycle down the cul-de-sac to hangout with Jack and Peter in my first neighborhood. Even though the trip must have taken only thirty seconds, I never thought of doing it on foot. In the second neighborhood a kid called Oli had a cooler bike than mine, and was better at cycling than me. But none the less, bikes brought us all together.
“Even though the trip must have taken only thirty seconds, I never thought of doing it on foot.”
One of the best things about neighborhood friends was the lack of expectation. If you got bored of hanging out, or hungry, you could just go home. Neighborhood friends were also the most inclusive of all the friendships. Being that most of the playtime was at each others houses, there wasn’t really a choice in spending time with siblings or parents as well. You got to see what they were like around their entire family.
“Neighborhood friends were also the most inclusive of all the friendships.”
A few years after moving house, I gained more independence. After being taught how to safely cross roads, I was allowed to walk myself to school. This gave me the freedom to go anywhere, as long as I told my parents where I was going. I could now bike to friends houses who lived on the other side of town. Actually it was the 90s, so I probably scootered there. But those visits needed planning, or a prior invitation. I never turned up at a friends house outside of my immediate neighborhood unannounced.
“Bikes gave me the freedom to go anywhere, as long as I told my parents where I was going.”
So even with the whole town at my disposal, neighborhood friends were still there for spur-of-the-moment activities, and two wheeled vehicles weren’t the only source of fun. There were also video games. It was around Jack and Peter’s that I got my first sense of them. They had Rayman on PC, which blew my tiny mind because up until then I’d only seen the Dorling Kindersley educational games, although I had no complaints. That and MSPaint were still very exciting.
“So even with the whole town at my disposal, neighborhood friends were still there for spur-of-the-moment activities.”
There was another neighbor, an older kid, who used to sit with his legs dangling out of his bedroom window. I used to go over to his house and watch him breeze past the impossible bosses in Sega games. When it was my turn to play, I would die against the first enemy. Later, below London, Oli brought the video games to me: an early installment from the Mortal Kombat franchise for the PS1. I knew the government’s recommended age of playing for this game was higher than my age at the time, but this was an era of video game violence that was acceptable to me since the graphics weren’t advanced enough to scare me. The same can’t be said about subsequent generations, especially with a later installment of Mortal Kombat and a particular finishing move that a friend from the other side of town pulled out of a cheat code book (the finishing move allowed the character to pull the spine out of an enemy, much like my friend had pulled the cheat code out of a book).
“When it was my turn to play, I would die against the first enemy.”
A lot of talk about school friends is about how they’re convenient, so you shouldn’t put too much pressure on them if they don’t last. But neighborhood friends are of the utmost convenience because they live right next to you and they happen when you’re a kid so you don’t even consider the idea of pressure. You’re just kids having fun, kicking it in your back yard. Neighborhood friends aren’t stepping stones to your next group of cooler friends. They’re just clean plain fun, without expectation.
“Neighborhood friends aren’t stepping stones to your next group of cooler friends.”
I don’t remember saying goodbye to Jack and Peter. I don’t know if that’s because I don’t remember saying goodbye or because I didn’t say goodbye. But it doesn’t seem to bother me either way. Years later, when Oli moved to the other side of town, he didn’t say goodbye either. But he didn’t need to. We had already drifted apart, finding new friends through school, and hobbies. We did reconnect briefly for me to teach him how to edit cool music videos of his car, a form of transportation that was a step up from the two wheeled vehicles of my childhood.
Alex Papworth is a jack of all trades, with a casual interest in music, film and tech. He works to improve the speed of the internet during the day, and works to edit this very podcast during the night. He is married and has two cats. Follow Alex on Twitter.