Tuesday, 16 August 2011

In which home is where the overly-active neighbourhood watch is

This post is partially in response to one I read by Amy, who was lamenting on Sunday that she’s finding it hard to see the good in people. I want to reassure her that, if you look for it, it’s still there. I'd also refute Hugo Rifkind's assertion in The Times that today we don't live in, but amongst, communities.

Blonde, read the text that came through at about 10am one Monday morning as I was sitting at my desk, there's a Volvo in your parking space. Do you know its owner or shall I pop a note on the windscreen?

So often I tell new acquaintances where I live, and confirm that, yes, I do commute in to London almost every day, and they pull faces as if to say Good God, you really have just fallen out of the nearest tree, haven’t you?

And sometimes – often when the alarm goes off at Godawful o’clock in the depths of January – I’m inclined to agree. But at other times, like when the next-door neighbour wants to check that the car sitting outside the front door is legitimately parked there, and not some cheeky so-and-so using the private road as free parking, I think I’ve actually got it pretty good.

We’re told so often that we’re living in a ‘broken society’; that individualism is all and that community doesn’t exist any more – and you only need to look at the terrifying pictures to come out of the London riots to make you think that’s the case.

But it’s not – not everywhere, at least.

The text from my next-door neighbour was in relation to a friend of mine leaving his car in my parking space. He and his brand new wife are back in the Home Counties after years spent in other parts of the UK. Living in a small village a few miles away, it’s easiest for him to commute into London for work from my station. So he can avoid the exorbitant cost of parking at the station, I’ve said he can use my (currently vacant) parking space.

Unthinkingly, I forgot to mention this to the neighbour who, doing her bit, was all ready to fight back in the way the Brits know best – with a polite, but firmly worded note.

It’s the small things like that which, although faintly preposterous, make me quite glad to live somewhere where the attitudes wouldn’t have been out of place in the 1950s.

When I leave my keys on the desk in the office, I know I’ll be able to get in, because the neighbour has a set. If I’m staying at The Writer’s for a few nights, she’ll pop in and feed the cat. If we’re both out in the gardens at the same time, we’ll have honest to goodness chats over the fence (at least, we do now. It’ll get harder when the clematis does what it’s been threatening to do for a couple of weeks and take over the county, Triffid-stylee).

Some people might find such an atmosphere claustrophobic and intrusive. I don’t. I like the fact we had a street party for the Royal Wedding (complete with several hundred feet of bunting, currently residing in bags in my shed for the next available opportunity). I like that, if I’m away on a Sunday night, my recycling gets put out to be taken on the Monday morning; and that when Next Door Neighbour is feeling off colour, I can pop round to supply tea and a stack of mindless and enjoyable DVDs to see her through.

So, Amy, don’t panic: the good in people hasn’t disappeared. We just need to give the good the opportunity to happen. And Hugo - communities are there; you need to choose to be part of them.


Amy said...

How much nicer and how much more British the riots would have been if, instead of setting fire to things and stealing, those involved had written polite but firmly worded notes and left them under doorways and windscreen wipers all across the country.

I live in a village in Warwickshire, and we have a similar community life here — I would give examples, but they'll just mirror yours. I think I need to remember that the bad things are more shocking, more newsworthy and seem more destructive, so they can overshadow the good. But you're right, the good is always there.

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

J'adore this post. Like, like and triple like.

In leafy London suburbia the situation is the same. Maybe not the whole road, but we have about 4 neighbours in the road who chat and know each other and help out. When me and my sister were little, we used to go round the neighbours house if we forgot our house keys after school and sit there watching TV until the rents got in.

Although there was that one time one of our labradors escaped and the neighbour rang the police to say "there's a Rottweiler in my garden". Ho hum.

Blonde said...

Amy: Now that is a riot I think we all would have preferred to see. That's exactly it - good news doesn't sell papers.

PDEWYMO: And that's how it should be. I firmly believe the people who all say, "No, I have no idea who my neighbours are" just aren't trying hard enough. And since when has a Lab looked (or sounded, or acted) like a Rottweiler?!

fwengebola said...

I smiled at everyone the day I moved into my new flat in nearer Home County. No-one smiled back.
I no longer bother

soupemes said...

When I lived down in Southampton and commuted up to London, I knew nobody else in the block of plush flats in which I lived (well, apart from my sister who lived with me). In central London, I didn't know anyone living in my road(s) and if we crossed paths in communal hallways, at most there'd be a bit of head nodding. The same was true when I moved out to Woking - people in the cul-de-sac weren't friendly.

So when I was being shown around the flat I now call home in Croydon, I almost scoffed aloud when the agent told me how friendly everyone in the block was. I figured it was just the usual bullshit to get me to sign.

But sign I did, although it wasn't the promise of friendly neighbours that did it for me. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the people that live in converted flats in this old mansion are indeed lovely. We've shared BBQs, had dinner around each other's and gone to the summer festival and gotten drunk on tins of lager.

I didn't expect rough'n'ready Croydon with its dodgy reputation to be the place - out of all the towns/cities in which I have lived - to be the most friendly.

Pity it doesn't extend to the whole of Croydon eh, but can't have everything... :)

Northern lass said...

I love this post.

I used to live in some of the suburbs where the riots happened. Within 2 weeks of moving into my flat I'd been introduced to all the neighbours and taken to the local for a pint to meet the locals. We always looked out for each other and it was a true community.

Amongst the horror pics, I hearted to see the brooms aloft in Clapham and residents serving tea to exhausted police officers. It's not reported but communities are there for those who look.

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