Chairman Meow has been checking out the local restaurant scene: He came home smelling of fish when we only feed him chicken. Clearly, it was a dodgy late night take-away because next morning, we had a rather sickly kitty. A couple of days later and he still wasn’t better, so it was off to the Vet we go.
There’s nothing like a pet, especially a poorly one, to help break down traditional British reserve. I always remember as a child taking Clarrie (our corgi) for a walk – Half the neighbourhood would appear, demanding an introduction to my dog. Sure enough, the moment we stepped outside with the Chairman, the bloke next door waved from his garden and asked if everything was ok. As ice-breakers go, it seems it’s not just about doggy grins. A cat’s look of pure disdain is equally hard to resist.
London has a bit of a bad reputation on the community spirit front. The 2002 Lonely Planet guide famously claimed Londoners would “no more speak to a stranger in the street than fly to the moon” and not much has changed, apparently, in the last decade: In a recent survey, London was voted one of the unfriendliest cities in the world, second only to Moscow.
Strike up a casual conversation with a Londoner on the tube and it’s true, you might as well have mooned at their mum for the reaction you’ll receive. But Underground etiquette aside, in many ways London’s a far easier place in which to make friends than much of the UK. It’s not just the sheer numbers of people (8m of them and counting) but the diversity. When you’re surrounded day in, day out by more than 270 different nationalities and 300 languages, you have to accept people simply for what they are, rather than what they should be.
Life in the Village was a bit like sending a dyslexic to the World Scrabble Tournament. People weren’t actively unfriendly, but there was always this lingering sense of ‘why are you here?’. The default population was all middle class, middle management and middle school children (it’s not called ‘middle England’ for nothing). If you didn’t fit the mould, fitting in was equally difficult.
Not only does London have the highest proportion of DINKies (dual income, no kids) in the country, but around half the city’s population is single. In other words, there’s a whole host of people out there who have neither dependents nor the security of a domestic social scene and for whom a drink after work or the local football club isn’t just a luxury but a necessity. Don’t get me wrong, being single in London still isn’t easy: If you’re one in a million, knowing there must be at least another 8 like you isn’t much comfort when all you seem to find are the 7,999,992 who aren’t. However, at least you’re in with a chance of meeting them.
It was an invite to a local barbecue which really hammered the point home. Parties in the Village had revolved solely around kiddy birthdays and school fêtes, something from which we were automatically considered disqualified. Here, everyone in the neighbourhood was invited regardless: Aussies, Kiwis, bikers, fishermen, politicians, photographers and no doubt a few tinkers, tailors, soldiers and spies too. As a social mix, it shouldn’t have worked and perhaps it didn’t, but once the wine started flowing, we stopped caring and just had a good time.
As for the Chairman, he’s now fully recovered and back doing his bit: He was caught the other day in next door’s house and unceremoniously booted out. Clearly one way to meet the neighbours, if not to make yourself popular!