Knowing your neighbours is a really lovely idea. In streets with proper houses, you can see people come and go, even speak first without them looking at you funny and backing away slowly.
You rarely see other people in my new block (nickname urgently needed now, btw.) It’s not like Dovecot Towers, where alienation was born of fear. In my new block, things are different. The inhabitants cross a broad spectrum of society: young, old, owners, and some, but not too many tenants. There are students, a few creatives working from home, teachers and business people. And unlike Dovecot Towers, where people ignored each other or stepped back inside when they hear footsteps on the corridor, we rarely see each other.
Whenever I write about modern urban social dislocation, some wiseacre usually comments, well, do something. I don’t want to be mates, but I would like to know who they are. I do talk to people when I see them, but it’s hard to do without sounding needy and a bit creepy.
Neighbourly interaction can be kick-started by random events. In one former flat I was having a clear out, and packed a box of unwanted, but readable paperbacks, too heavy to take to the second hand book or charity shop, so I left them in the corridor by the stairs, where everyone passed, with a sign saying ‘Help Yourself.’ Not only did people take them, but they donated books of their own. Still nobody spoke. We didn’t even see each other, but for a while, there was an informal book swap network running. People even borrowed the books temporarily, and then replaced them.
Back home, I have seen some of my neighbours, from the balcony on a sunny day, so I know they exist. One man was sunbathing, eating tomato soup for breakfast (each to his own.) I have joked with the caretaker about the man living below me. I’ve never seen him, and the effective sound proofing means I never him, either. I asked the concierge, who hasn’t seen him for a while. He joked that if smell anything strange to let him know, which made me think of Dovecot Towers.
There is a tenants association here, but here’s the funny thing: it rarely meets. Since the building is well managed, and complaints are rare, there’s no need to convene a gathering. The worst building I lived in, we only ever met at furious tenants association meetings, where we would be thinking: “…so you’re the bastard shouting in the foyer at 4am.”
At the moment, I can’t alter my hot water timer, and it’s costing me a fortune; I’d like to ask my neighbour how to reset it. In my heart, I suppose I’m worried about the things our elders warned us about: don’t speak to strangers, and the memory of Dovecot Towers, where every front door hid a problem. So, when you’d like some help, how do you summon the courage to knock on a the door?