There’s been another of those poxy miserable surveys that proves “the community spirit is dying” and these days we don’t know who lives next door, not like 40 years ago when you could leave your front door open and when you got home the neighbours would have popped in to decorate your bathroom and left a pair of pandas breeding in your kitchen as a gift.
There’s a vast industry dedicated to telling us we’re all foul and selfish these days, not like in the 1950s when we all knew our neighbours. It may be the reason we knew them was because we’d been round to smash their head in with a baseball bat for not paying protection money for their market stall, but at least we knew who they were.
The main piece of evidence that neighbourliness is dying, is “most of us never borrow or lend anything with our neighbours anymore”.
But the main reason for that must be that shops are open longer. In 1965 if you ran out of milk, you had to ask the neighbour, or wait three weeks for the corner shop to open as Mrs Mulligan, the owner, had gone to Clacton to feed her sister’s fish.
Part of the problem must be daytime television that appears dedicated to terrifying us – a presenter starts a show with a stern gaze, saying “Remember – literally everyone is trying to rob you. If you’re over 80 and someone asks if you’re feeling better since your hip replacement, they’re almost certainly trying to keep you distracted so their wily friend can steal your garden and sell it to terrorists to make their caliphate look more attractive.”
They know most people watching these programmes are 97, but they delight in giving warnings such as “When someone calls you, saying they’re your mother, how can we be certain it’s really them? It could be a scam, by criminals who have studied your family so they can impersonate them and get you to pop round and lend them a screwdriver, which you will NEVER SEE AGAIN. So whenever a family member contacts you, ask them a series of questions only they can answer such as which ice cream they had on a day trip to Weston-super-Mare in 1987, and if they say Cornetto instead of Magnum, ring the Army immediately.”
Then someone who presented Blue Peter 50 years ago will advise: “DON’T let your cat go into the front garden. Opportunist burglars will see the cat and sit on its back, then give it tons of food so as it grows the burglar will go up in the air until they can reach into your upstairs window and break in.”
This is followed by a programme in which they secretly film people who slip into Zone 5 on the London Underground despite only having a zone 1-4 travelcard, and it’s called “Filthy Repulsive Cheating Repugnant Lying Fiddling Scum”.
Every day there are hundreds of warnings issued from everywhere, that we’re all in immense danger the moment we go online. So we’re told: “Passwords must be at least two miles long and contain twelve separate alphabets including one novel in Cantonese, and ensure you have a different password for each website so it’s impossible to remember any of them even if you’re sodding Rain Man, otherwise someone could hack into your account with the National Trust and walk through the New Forest pretending to be you.”
Consumer shows tell us that if we buy potatoes we should get them encrypted, to protect them from the growing number of potato thieves that came here from Albania. And if we’re buying more valuable groceries such as raspberries, we should always take our personal sniper as it’s better to be safe than sorry.
But in many ways there’s more community spirit now than before. For example in the cities, there’s a greater sense of integration between nationalities than 40 years ago.
It’s the places with hardly any immigration where you find the worst hostility, because it’s not actual immigrants that frighten people, it’s imaginary ones. So a parish in Suffolk will return an 80 per cent vote for Ukip because of a rumour that the geese in the pond will all be made to wear burqas.
Whenever there’s a disaster, the community responds immediately, with hundreds of people in the area offering drinks and blankets and accommodation, and we hear on the news “this town has shown its compassion and proved it won’t be beaten”. We’re never told: “It’s unfortunate this happened in Swindon as everyone there’s a right bastard.”
The belief that most people in the country have become obsessed only with themselves, with no concern for the community, may be one reason why so many people believed the Conservative Party was set to rule unchallenged for hundreds of years, until two months ago.
But if you drop a bankcard, the most likely response is someone will call after you or hand it in or try to contact you. And there may have been times when we could leave our front doors open, but in most places you probably still can. Because most burglaries are committed by burglars, and they expect to have to break in.
If you’re not a burglar, it’s unlikely you’ll walk past a house and think “hmm, that door’s open. I’m not usually a burglar, but as the opportunity has presented itself, I’m going to walk in on the off-chance it’s empty, swipe their cutlery, drive to another town where I can’t be identified, disguise myself and sell it to a second-hand shop and make myself nine quid”.
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