Love thy neighbour!

You can't be too careful when dealing with other people. So say two out of three of those questioned in a BBC nationwide survey to discover what the British think and believe in the year 2000. Usually I don't take much notice of opinion polls and the like, but this one does have a ring of truth about it.

If we don't trust our neighbours, or anyone else for that matter, the odds are we don't know them. How sad that people these days can live next to each other for donkey's years without ever discovering their neighbour’s name, where they come or what they do. Me, I'm nosy. I like to know these things.

Most of us simply don't communicate any longer. Television has a lot to answer for. It's work by day, the box in the evenings. The rest of our time is taken up with eating and sleeping. Precious few hours left to be sociable and get to know the people next door.

Crime also plays its part. Such is the fear of mugging and violence these days that many people won't go out after dark, however much politicians and police try to persuade us that our perception of crime is far worse than the actual thing.

"Tell that to the old girl of 80 downstairs," my mother would say. "She's been mugged twice." Mum always remained firmly behind the steel bars she had fitted on her front door. When 'This Is Your Life' caught up with me and invited her to take part in the programme, she said: "No thank you. We don't go out at nights."

Would you believe, I'm talking about a tower block on the Hackney Marshes, land of friendly Cockneys. My mother and stepfather thought they had found paradise when they moved in. Their euphoria didn't last long.

No more were they part of a community sharing the same interests. Gone were the days when people knew each other's folks, went to the same school, married the boy or girl next door, survived the war and stood side by side through good times and bad.

At the heart of it all was the family, living in a secure home they were taught to love and cherish. Dad the breadwinner ruled the roost and mum's word was law. Old folk were treated with respect and kids did as they were told. There were tears aplenty, but people still laughed a lot and were happy.

That spirit of community has all but gone. In the inner cities, the old family order broke down as town planners established concrete jungles largely inhabited by a shifting population. In town and country, people everywhere move hither and yon searching for work and a place to live. We chase dreams of a better life in the belief the grass really is greener on the other side.

Ah, if only it was true. We would do well to get back to days I remember so well when you would knock at a neighbour's door, step inside and ask the lady of the house: "Ma says can you let her have a cup of sugar till tomorrow?"

'Bye now - back here again soon.

Copyright © 2000 Derek Jameson / Retirement Matters Ltd. All rights reserved.