Wednesday, 13 November 2013

That's nothing, I had sick thrown at me by an unknown neighbour 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...
Common interest? I have been thinking of writing something about the notion of ‘common wealth’ – partly as a reaction to the way the recent Commonwealth Summit in Sri Lanka exposed issues of shared principles, compromise, the value of inclusion and the meaning of exclusion. Time has not allowed, but at least I can point to one or two articles where the themes that need exploring, in my view, are taken up. Owen Jones, for example, last week was puzzling over some of the nonsense claimed for the private sector by people who deride the necessary platform of the public sector on which they depend. (I covered very similar ground here, baffled by some drivelling plonker claiming he or she made no use of the state except ‘when my driver drives on public roads’). Or Seumas Milne here covering the Haves' ongoing and highly successful project to transfer income and wealth from workforce, public and state to the corporate sector. This perverse determination to destroy the commonwealth that has been built up over centuries for good reasons, manifests itself sometimes in quite unexpected little corners, because the media surreptitiously encourages people to make more and more daft observations. Hence for example the predictably silly suggestion from author Terry Deary, that ‘giving poor people free e-readers would be a "hell of a lot cheaper" than keeping libraries "open at all costs." The only interpretation available here seems to be that what you can get from an e-reader and what you can get from a library are comparable. The possibility that they might not be, seems to be beyond this man’s capacity. Perhaps that doesn't matter to him so long as whatever is public gets demolished. In all this, one of the messages that seldom gets attention is the profligacy of the style of government represented. We know that the cost of privatisation, to the taxpayer, is exorbitant in most cases: it follows that any government that pursues this course while still spouting rhetoric about reducing the cost of the state is guilty of extravagant deceit at best. But the nonsense reigns under the aegis of acceptable ideology. Among those who are trying to do something about this are Shared Assets, New Start and Co-Operatives UK: they are jointly hosting an event on ‘Land and community: a 21st century commons’. London, 5 December. More here.

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