Monday, 5 October 2015

Neighbours? What neighbours?

In the past I might have been apt to dispute the idea that neighbourliness in London was a thing of the past, but the stark reality of our capital's unfriendliness has been brought home to me by our experience in the country.

A year ago we bought a weekend cottage in a Somerset hamlet. It's on a very narrow lane some way off the village main street. It's detached. There are neighbours. But they aren't exactly next door, if you know what I mean.

Yet since arriving we have been greeted with such hospitality, such friendliness, such a good-hearted welcome that it feels as if one has travelled back in time rather than just a couple of hours out of London.

By contrast, our little four house terrace in Kensington feels glacial in its indifference.

One resident can be excused. She and we tried at first to connect. But when this still stoic elderly lady forgot our names 5 times as we helped her back the 10 yards to her front door, we realised that it was going to be tricky.

The next house along is owned by perhaps the least friendly.  They are very English, they are not much older than us, they are clearly middle-class, and if they lived on our lane in Somerset I'm pretty sure we would at least have had a neighbourly conversation with them.

In London, however, they have never really had a civil word to say to us since our arrival.

I can remember only two occasions when they have spoken to me. And one of those was only because they were forced to.

Most recently, we had accepted (in a neighbourly way) a parcel that someone was trying unsuccessfully to deliver to them. When they popped round to collect it that evening, I sort of expected a smile, a gracious thank you and perhaps even a few words of conversation.

But no. Even the thank you was rather grudging. How weird.

Perhaps they're just shy. Or think we look like the kind of people they don't like.

Personally, I think they are just bloody rude. Or unwell.

The last house is occupied by a slightly younger couple. But we both have dogs so you'd have thought that would provide enough common ground. But no, the nearest they've come to friendliness is when they stopped to rather gleefully inform me that another house on the terrace was going on the market and would compete with my own.

That was it. Well, thanks a bunch.

Not without some cause, my wife often says that I'm an unfriendly old git. So perhaps I come across as badly as our neighbours.

Maybe there's just something about cities that changes our characters, makes us more insular, more self-contained.

Whatever the reason, it's rather sad.

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