Neighbours In London

Living in London is pretty strange at the best of times. People can house share with complete strangers but hardly ever say hello to them or in extreme cases not even know their names. In other places people can become the best of friends with the neighbours.

There is a view of London that suggests people keep themselves to themselves and there is not really a sense of community or any sense of friendliness between one household and another. From personal experience I have found it to be the complete opposite.

I grew up in a hamlet, where people that lived in the nearest town a five to ten minute drive away had apparently never heard of, and you pretty much knew everybody. From the old lady in a bungalow to the family that just moved in with their toddler you would say hello to them, have a chat at the bus stop and look out for them if something a bit dodgy was spotted going on.

But places like that have their issues. Everybody knows your business. They know if you turned the lights off and went to bed at 9pm or if you got a food shopping delivery or if a family member popped round for a cup of coffee. It was a community but there was no escaping from it and it was part of your life even in the most private of moments.

In London it obviously is not like that. People are busy, are not interested and are more cautious of others and besides your neighbours are unlikely to hang around more than a couple of years before being forced out because of ‘regeneration’ causing a massive hike in rent. That does not mean that people do not look out for others though.

A few years ago, in my partners shared house, they had a lovely neighbour. Their house was in a really tiny little cobbled road off a fairly busy bus route. She would spend time once a week sweeping the pavements and keeping the plants tidy. If you happened to head out she would always say hello. And between both houses was another house where an old lady lived. Nobody ever really seen her or heard anything of her through the walls but the other neighbour knew her, would talk to her at the doorstop and over the back garden fence. One day the sweeping lady came to the door and asked if they had seen the old lady or heard anything from her. They all said no. Later that day the sweeping lady had contacted the daughter of the old woman and the old woman was found dead. It is a very sad story but it shows that people are looking out for their neighbours and pay enough attention to things to realise when something goes wrong.

And despite all the issues that I mention about the flat my partner and I used to live in and how it was not right for us we had great neighbours. Out of the five flats in the house we were the only ones renting for a while, later another of the flats got sold and became a rental property, but that meant that those living there wanted to get to know people and be friendly. One neighbour clearly got given a lot of red wine through her job and one day just put them in the hallway saying for people to help themselves to a bottle. When the outside door would not open and upstairs was stuck inside my partner climbed out of our bedroom window and opened it from the outside because that is the nice thing to do but also because they asked for help so nicely. I agreed to let them point deliveries in my direction if they were going to be out and needed a package to be delivered. I think the doorbell went more often for post for other people than it ever did for us but that is a sign of trust in the house. We would say hello, we would be thoughtful of the people in the building and it felt like its very own little community.

Then onto our new flat. We technically have no reason to come into contact with the people in the upstairs flats as we do not share their front door and they top up their meters when most people are thinking about going to bed on a Sunday night. But if we see each other we will say hello, they will pop down and ask questions and they had the decency to double check they could park a car in a parking spot (that I still do not think is this flats anyway). But we have an issue. We think they are larpers. They go away on a weekend after packing a sword, giant shield, tents and cooking items into their cars (which are right in front of our lounge windows. If we are in there it is impossible to avoid seeing them doing so without closing your eyes or the curtains at 5pm). But how can we be sure without seeming too nosy. We want to get to know them and we want to be friends or at least be a bit more friendly with them when passing by. This is London though and according to the common rules and myths you are supposed to keep yourself to yourself, not know anything about anybody and avoid becoming friends with neighbours. So what are we to do?

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