I heard this story from a neighbour the other day. It goes back about 30 years, to just before my time in this neighbourhood.
Apparently one of the residents had been knocked down, elsewhere, by a car. A policeman appeared at my neighbour’s door, asking ‘Do you know Mrs N?’ He hesitated - ‘No I don’t think so’ – only to be dealt a stream of invective:
‘Don’t you know your neighbours? What kind of effing neighbour are you?’
He protested: ‘I do know my neighbours but I don’t know that name…’
‘She lives two doors away. You say you don’t know her? How long have you lived here? You’re a disgrace.’
He told the copper that he’s lived here since the houses were built. And of course, it transpired that he knew the lady who had had the accident, by her first name.
As he told me this story I could tell that the police officer’s attitude still rankled with my neighbour. The officer was part of the dominant authoritarian culture that used surnames – and other techniques of course, especially ritual – to contain the risk of personality. I went to a school that tried to do the same.
The pompous and superior attitude is not the only thing that’s changed since then: we don’t submit so readily to the arrogance of people in positions of authority. If I had an official speak to me like that I’d report them. And blog about it.
Previously: Naming neighbours' names