Spiral Notebook: Good neighbours bad

By Giles Broadbent on February 9, 2013 4:11 PM |


I often wonder if I found London or London found me.

I visited the country to see a friend at the weekend but she had last-minute plans on the first evening. "Pick the keys up at No.7," she said. "You've met them before. It's Daniel and Amanda. He's a broker and she works in a nursing home."

I had met them before. At a village bonfire gathering. But I couldn't place them because, well, you don't do you? There are 8.2million of us in London, no point cluttering the hard drive.

"If it's Daniel* say 'hi Daniel'. If it's Amanda say 'hi Amanda'." (These instructions are neither patronising nor superfluous. She knows me well.) "Amanda makes the most amazing hard apple cider. She'll invite you in for a glass. Be nice. Say yes."

This bothered me. Much the better option was to scale the cottage walls via trellis and tenuous ivy, reach the tiny bathroom window that would scrap leg and tear trouser and forward roll into a bath-tub of doom.

Even at the heavy end of the cider spectrum, things did not look good.

My neighbours don't even share the same tongue let alone bottle. Those awkward lift silences? That's our entire lives in London. In a crowded city, you just want to be alone with your thoughts.

I shouldn't have worried. Your face becomes you. I have a London face now. You don't invite me in, not for hard apple cider, not without a warrant.

The keys were swapped in a jiffy and I had no chance at a "Hi Amanda" even if such an greeting were within my repertoire of fake sincerity.

My friend is made for the country. She could nip into a baker's, emerge with a bloomer, a low-down on the baker's love life, a confession that he wanted to be a candlestick maker all along and a pledge that right now - right now - he's shedding the apron and reaching for the tallow.

She has a galvanising aspect, a priestly confessor's face and a convivial air that suggests conversation, while not efficient, is also not pointless.

That's the kind of person she is. I'm the other person.

I'd emerge from a baker's with no bread. Bakers? A whole shop just for selling bread? WTF? We ain't in Tesco Express any more Toto.

I'm better in London. Earbuds, isolation, online, cold shoulder and simmering resentment. Should community break out, it's only because of riots, or fire, or snow, or apocalypse not because, you know, it might be nice. *shudders*

And once the emergency passes, we move on, faintly embarrassed at our lapse. Like a drunken one night stand. Or Britain after Diana.

We can't go back to how it was, so let's not go there in the first place is our thinking. London. I love it.

* Names have been changed because, frankly, I've forgotten the real ones.