Thursday, 24 May 2012

On the fear of interfering Sunday morning, here’s a tap at the door and one of my neighbours says ‘I hope you don’t think I’m being terribly nosy, but, is everything OK?’ The previous evening we’d had a couple of ambulances outside because the baby we’re caring for at the moment needed specialist attention urgently. I don’t have any problem with neighbours noticing that sort of thing. I’d hate to live in the sort of place where it went unnoticed, and I’m perfectly capable of politely giving no more information than is appropriate when talking about children looked after. Comparable situations probably arise in our neighbourhoods all the time, and I can well imagine people tentatively discussing with members of their family, or maybe on the phone to a friend, should they pop round and check if everything’s ok, or not? Deciding no, then yes, then hesitantly setting out, perhaps half-hoping that their knock will not be answered… Something a bit like that happened to me a few years ago. But I’ve known this woman for about 25 years and get on well with the whole family. We exchange at least a cheery wave in passing several times a week. A few weeks ago I borrowed a tool from her husband and had a long chat about this and that. So why would she think that I might think that she was being 'terribly nosy'? Because in our culture it seems like an interfering thing to ask, even in those circumstances. I knew she was genuinely concerned about the baby. It shows how deeply embedded is this cultural privacy thing, this fear of interfering.
Jubilee street parties: a note for the reluctant A few conversations just lately have confirmed that I’m not the only one to find the coming weekend of Jubilee street parties a distasteful prospect. There are at least two kinds of diffidence, which get mingled easily: one caused by the rampant unreflective nationalism of the moment, the other by the familiar sense of enforced sociability. People feel under pressure to conform on both counts but it’s legitimate to feel reluctant. Streets Alive estimates that two million people will be having a street party of some sort: that leaves about 60 million who won’t be. Still, it’s a little scary how many apparently rational grown-up people turn into anthem-humming attention-standing serfs at the sight of those silly red white and blue flags. Even more scary to discover how many of them live around you. Meanwhile, UK Uncut held an alternative jubilee street party in Manchester the other day, with ‘austerity bunting’, a ‘Clegg and spoon race’ and 'upper-class austerity twits'. That's the spirit. Chris Gittins, the source of street party insight and experience, argues against the assumption that street parties are a 'celebration' of the Jubilee: ‘street parties are for life, not just for Jubilees. In any street there are a wide range of views about the Queen and the royals, but they still want a street party together.’ Which is fair enough, but for those who think that neutral unbranded street parties are a good idea, unless you’re governing the process with a few likemindeds, you’re unlikely to be able to stop the royalists dominating. So what to do? Personally, I’ll shuffle out there for a short while as a courtesy to my neighbours, especially those who have put organising effort in. I get on well with them all but the artificiality of the occasion and any tatty, halfmast nationalism will finish me off quickly I think.

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