Millions of people do not know who their neighbours are and have no friends, according to two separate surveys in the papers this week, while a third survey reports that people in a perfect relationship have five cuddles a day, say 'I love you' at bedtime every night, have sex twice a week and are mostly likely to have met on public transport. But that survey was commissioned by National Rail so maybe we should add a big dose of scepticism there. Maybe we should add a big dose of scepticism to all three?
I do love a survey and I often use one to kick start an article because newspaper editors love something current, something with a 'topical hook', as they call it, but you do have to wonder where they get this stuff from. Actually I think those three surveys could combine to make one brilliant mega-article about making friends with your neighbour, giving him lots of cuddles and having sex with him twice a week, preferably on a train.
Is this really true, for example, that 50 per cent of people actively avoid those who live around them? Not in my world. That particular survey was commissioned by comparethemarket.com and involved 2,340 people, so not exactly comprehensive but quite a few folk.
We live in London, famed for its stand-offishness, and yet we are on extremely good terms with the neighbours on either side of us and the family living opposite us (ok, maybe they don't count because we were friends with them before and I suggested that they live there), and several other families in the street.
We are on stop-and-chat terms with the sweet elderly gent who lives up towards the Common on the same side as us, in the most decrepit house you can imagine, quite literally crumbling and rotting around him and yet he keeps his front hedge trimmed to within an inch of its life, and with a formidably energetic German lady a few doors down, plus several more families with children, who live further down towards the high road, and the drug dealer a few doors away, of course, you have to stay on nodding terms with him, or rather winking terms, his winking not ours, which incidentally really winds husband up, and even that woman with all the dogs over the road, the one who … actually, the least said about that the better.
So on one side of us is the most lovely Indian family, three generations, that you could ever have the pleasure to meet. They give us food, often, curries and chapatis and Indian sweets for the boys. We don't know if this is because they like us or if it's something the Hindu religion dictates, or possibly both. Either way it's win/win for us, although husband does fret that we don't give enough back and likes to rustle up egg-free baking for them in return as often as possible (mostly flapjack). I'm quite happy to roll with it, as it happens. I reckon I do quite enough food rustling for my own lot.
And then we have nice new people on the other side, in the bottom flat, a young couple who recently accidentally locked themselves out and so had to come through our house and borrow ladders to climb over and ingeniously break in from the back, which the chap did with the aid of a coat-hanger we found for him. Our boys were in their element watching - and helping with - that particular drama. I was happy we could be of some use because we had inconvenienced them quite a bit with our scaffolding, and they were absolutely charming about that.
Before they lived there there was this handsome young posh guy and his pretty young wife. She was an actress and scriptwriter, he proudly told me, with a successful movie on the go, which she was acting in and so she had to go away. Then I heard him swear viciously at her one day in the back garden, when presumably he didn't know I was outside as well, just on the other side of the fence, and later, one hot afternoon, she had a series of very loud conversations about the 'shoot' and the other 'actors' and the unreasonable 'agents' in the back garden on her mobile phone before disappearing off. She briefly came back to the flat and then vanished again completely, never to return. Handsome young husband lived there alone for a while, looking very forlorn, before suddenly selling up and leaving without explanation. Not that an explanation was really required. You don't have to be Sherlock to work that one out. Not that I'm nosy or anything.
Who am I kidding? I watch people, a lot. People are fascinating. I'm always trying to work them out, even the ones I know rather well, and I have to say it's not very difficult. If I don't know the story, I make it up in my own mind.
Take the late middle-aged couple behind us who I can see through my office window when they are in their kitchen entertaining, or out in their garden. I know nothing whatsoever about them, we have never spoken, except when they kindly throw the football back and we shout thank you, but I know they have dinner together every night at the kitchen table and talk to each other. I reckon they have older kids in their twenties who have left home and come back from time to time. I think she works in something like publishing, as an editor perhaps, because of her haircut and clothes (sensible). I guess that he works as an architect maybe, or a graphic designer or possibly in advertising because they have those modern chrome and black chairs around their dining table. That's my scientific analysis anyway.
You can see why Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window is my favourite movie, can't you? I love that film for so many different reasons but mostly because of the play-like quality of the lives acted out in the building opposite Jimmy Stewart's window, each one a little drama of its own. He does it too, doesn't he? His character, the photographer, invents lives for them all even when he doesn't have the facts.
I also like it because ultimately it is about love. He falls in love with glamorous fashion model Lisa (breathtakingly beautiful Grace Kelly) reluctantly, because he doesn't think she will be able to put up with his itinerant photographer's lifestyle, but she is so bright and fearless in the face of all that mystery and danger, he can't help himself. Hitchcock shows us this in the close ups of his face when she starts to believe his version of events. It's also about his incapacity, with her acting as the agent of his actions… Oh dear, maybe I'm getting a bit film-critiquey here and wondering off subject. Back to those people behind us…
I once saw them embrace very lovingly. They were standing outside their house, in the garden. She put her arms around him and lay her head on his shoulders, he held her in his arms. It was a beautiful tender moment and one of those uncomfortable voyeristic things when you know you should look away, but you don't. Just like when Jimmy Stewart sees the newly-weds arrive at the apartment opposite, and the husband carries his new wife over the threshold, and then the blind goes down...
And while we're talking about newly weds, the other ingredients National Rail listed for a perfect relationship were a shared taste in films, sharing the cooking, being able to admit you are wrong after an argument, talking, travelling to new places and having at least one romantic meal a month. Wow. Sounds like an almost impossible tick list for a happily married life to me, but maybe those neighbours, the ones who look like they have plenty of friends because they often entertain and who certainly don't avoid their neighbours because they throw the ball back to us, the ones I watch from time to time from my Rear Window, have got it sussed? I like to think so anyway.
Love E x
How to achieve the perfect relationship - research from National Rail - The Times Monday 11th August
Britons avoid their neighbours - research from comparethemarket.com - The Times Monday 11th August
No close friends for millions of Britons - research from Relate - The Guardian Tuesday 12th August
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