To quote Glenn Shorrock of the Little River Band from the 1970’s “Curiosity killed the Cat” is the perfect character description for Mrs Witherbottom, the nosy neighbour living next door to David, Brian and Simon Bradberrie in Gingerbreasd Aliens. She is curious about everything that goes on in her neighbourhood, sometimes to her own detriment. She is the typical interfering neighbour who must know everything about everyone much akin to the delightful Gladys Kravitz of the much loved 1960’s sit-com Bewitched. Forever peering out of the front curtains or over the back fence, Mrs Witherbottom is always poking her nose into everybody else’s business. Unwittimgly, in Mrs Witherbottom’s attempts to involve herself in the bizzare events that surround the three brothers disaster in their kitchen, she becomes entangled in a whopper of a tale and circumstances that escalate quickly out of her control.
I have had many people ask me “Where did I come up with the idea for this wonderful character?” To be honest, I think she has been bubbling away in my mind for years. Fortunately I can admit that she is not a representation of any one neighbour we have had in particular, but rather the cuddly friendly sort of figure you wouldn’t mind having as a neighbour as long as she kept a little more to herself. I have a rather soft spot for Mrs Witherbottom, she is a lonely charactaer that is crying out for friends but in her desperate attempt for attention tries a liitle too hard. At least her little dog is faithful and will happily follow wagging its tail, wherever she goes,
On school visits, I have asked children if they have known a busy-body neighbour like Mrs Witherbottom? Surprisingly many laugh and nod in agreement. I think that is one reason why children love this character so much, they can relate to her just as much as the brothers with their sibling rivalry.
Recently I made a return visit unexpectedly to the street where my boys spent their early childhood. It was a small suburban cul-de-sac where everyone knew each other very well. My husband and I were lucky enough to meet up with a couple of our ex-neighbours and to my delight and laughter it didn’t take them long to fill us in on all the gossip over the past ten years of the lives (and loves), of the people in just about every house in the street! Mres Witherbottom was alive and well even though she was living within a mix of quite a few people.
These days I am lucky to live in a quiet rural estate where the neighbours are so far apart you think twice before walking next door. We usually drive, ride a motor bike or bush buggy depending on whether we are gathering fresh vegetables from a neighbours garden or just popping over for a chat. It’s a great community where everyone is friendly, will give you a wave as you drive by, happy to stop for a cuppa and a catch up, or be there whenever they might be needed. I’m lucky enough to be able to say with yet another quote, this time from the Neighbours thene song, it’s where “good neighbours become good friends.” We even have a Saturday morning ritual where five of us mum’s take time out from our busy schedule to meet amd walk our dogs for about one and a half hours around the valley. I’m not sure who enjoys the exercise and interaction more, us or the dogs!
In truth though my favoutite neighbours that stop by would have to be the wild ones!
As a teacher or parent reading Gingerbread Aliens with my kids, what are the lessons to be learnt from Mrs Witherbottom and the interaction she has with the boys?
Curiosity, can be a good thing, you can use it to learn and grow, but sometimes a little too much curiosity is not always beneficial. Sometimes neighbours (and friends) like to keep to themselves. Privacy can be appreciated just as much as a welcomed freindly hello! Getting the balance right is what keeps neighbours living and communicating happily togther.