i Editor's Letter: Getting to know your neighbours


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The Independent Online


One potentially enduring legacy of this four-day celebration is that some of us may have got to know our neighbours — just a little, mind. We're funny about neighbours, us Brits. Inevitably, it's a generalisation, but in much of the country, and especially the south and the capital, our homes really are our castles. To close the front door is to pull up a drawbridge. Even, perhaps particularly, in flats where people live on top of each other, we remain strangers passing each morning and night.

As we always tend to view the past with rose-tinted spectacles, it's tempting to believe it wasn't ever thus. But, in the now long-demolished south London terraced street of two-up two-downs (with outdoor loos!) in which I spent my first 11 years, we never knew the neighbours. Well, that's a bit of a fib. We knew of one side, but they were misanthropes, and would never give my ball back!

Three doors down it was different. There, "Auntie" Connie and "Uncle" Tom (not real relations) were a real help to my twice-widowed Ma as my sister and I grew up, looking after us in the holidays when she went to work. But my, did Connie bitch about the other neighbours, and anyone else who dared knock at her door. Years later, I realised she was the inspiration for Catherine Tate's "Nan" character: "Bloody liberty" was straight from her lips.

Today, the renters on both sides of our house have recently been replaced by owner-occupier families. Suddenly, we all know each other. Singles have become couples, couples have become neighbouring families, and neighbours have begun to form a community. If communities then knit together, we have a society. All this from borrowing a cup of sugar and giving that ball back. Simples.