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.
Lamb Wrap at F M Mangal, Camberwell
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