There are some neat vignettes in Guardian writers’ accounts of purposely meeting neighbours, illustrating for example that someone who has known the people next door for 30 years might not know their names; how you can assume yourself reasonably connected and suddenly realise that neighbourhood networks are partial and fractured, so that a neighbour will know plenty of others but not those known to you; and - echoing some of the history reported by Emily Cockayne in Cheek by jowl - that some architectural quirks mean you can have intimate relationships with people you don't actually know.
People mistakenly assume neighbourhood cohesion in much the same way they assume consensus, and probably for the same reasons to do with reassurance. Collectively, what these articles confirm is that the artificiality of a manufactured occasion (‘I’ve got to write 300 words on meeting a neighbour, can you help me?’) is easily overcome and can help to establish a relationship or even inclusion in a whole new network; but you need to have the occasion in the first place.
Like Hallowe’en, by way of example. The whole spectacle encapsulates the process of confronting the fear of neighbour. We get our children to do the ice-breaking, and complicate it by insisting that disguise is de rigueur.
Last night there were only two pairs of young children who came to our door, and one of the individuals I could not recognise. On this occasion, radically for me, I opted for a trick. OK, she said, throwing something like a small card frisbee at me.
‘What was that?’ I asked.
‘Sick,’ she said, taking it back, for re-use presumably in case any of the other residents was foolish enough to take them on.
To me there's also something seasonally symbolic about the adoption of disguise for Hallowe'en: with winter coming on, the children won't be playing out in the street for several months, after which I sometimes find it hard to recognise them again. Then next I'll be told they're back from university or running a major company or something...