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Old, rich white men make the best neighbours? Of course we do

A new report also reveals that old people make better neighbours 
A new report also reveals that old people make better neighbours  Credit: H. Armstrong Roberts /Retrofile RF 

Of all the challenging edicts of Christianity, the instruction to “love our neighbours as ourselves”, is the trickiest. Be honest, nobody loves us as much we do ourselves – it’s just not possible. There are so many unwritten rules to be observed; lending a cup of sugar or signing for a parcel is fine - but we draw the line at dog-sitting a pitbull terrier or jump-starting next door’s car at three in the morning. 

So the latest research from a think-tank, with the upbeat nom de plume of Bright Blue, falls into the category of blindingly obvious. From it we learn that old rich white men in Saffron Waldron trust their neighbours eight times more than the long-term unemployed do in Haringey - obviously. In the leafy suburbs of a mansion in the shires your neighbour could well be two miles away – you might just hear their tea-dansant in the distance, Dean Martin crooning from across the valley. But it’s not the same as heavy-metal pounding through the paper-thin wall of a terraced house in London’s East End.

The report also reveals that old people make better neighbours – of course we do. Unlike our grandchildren, we haven’t got headphones on all the time and aren’t blinkered by our hoodies -  yet we’re still driven by insatiable curiosity. We acquire our information not from the internet but from across the garden fence. My favourite opening sentence from any neighbour is, “Have you heard.....?”

Simon Williams plays Justin Elliott in The Archers Credit: Mike Lawn/REX 

We baby-boomers grew up in the aftermath of the war, when good neighbourliness was a key ingredient to our survival – our parents had shared their terror during the Blitz, the bereavements, the rations and the wild street party celebrations on V-day. But with so many elderly people now living in isolation and young children being drawn into gang culture, we must take stock - it’s not rocket science to understand that we need all the help we can get to bring communities together. 

I live in two villages – a real one, Nettlebed, and a fictional one Ambridge (I’m in The Archers). The two have a lot in common, they are both close-knit communities without being hugger-mugger, bound together by all manner of things from the harvest festival to the pensioners’ Pilates class. Outwardly, it would seem we all mind our own business – but we are by nature inquisitive animals and information about the people next door is a valuable currency. 

We like to know if they’re selling their house, having a baby, going to AA, being cuckholded, bankrupted or evicted – we want to know where we stand. Although in the case of The Archers if none of these apply you won’t have a storyline and are likely to be side-lined till things get worse  – in a soap opera the one thing you mustn’t be is happy.   

Although you can know too much. I once lived in a flat underneath a couple who were enjoying a very protracted and noisy honeymoon – the length and frequency of their activities upstairs was irritating; an irritation tinged with envy. Unbeknown to them I got hold of their telephone number and, spoilsport that I am, took to calling them up to interrupt their bacchanalia with market research enquiries or random sales pitches. They got divorced a year later. 

The most impressive act of good neighbourliness I’ve ever come across was from a young friend of ours who was in need of a kidney transplant – pinned on the front door one evening he found a note: “Would you like one of mine? They seem to be in good working order. Best Wishes Mrs X at no 37”.

As the world gets more crowded, we will find ourselves living increasingly cheek by jowl, so we need all the help we can get from boffins at think-tanks. We need to be encouraged to enjoy the prospect of sharing different cultures, customs, diets, fashions. 

City-dwellers would do well to follow the example us village people, and get back in the habit of saying “hello” to one another in the street; of smiling at children in check-out queues; of offering to carry the baggage of the overburdened; and of telling tales when we see something suspicious. Mostly, we need to follow our friendlier instincts – and do it without fear. We should remember the camaraderie of lettng a bit of carnival spirit into our lives. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to love thy neighbour as ourselves - just a little.