Not so long ago, the electricity substation directly opposite my house blew up. We had experienced a power cut earlier on in the day (yes it seems to be an Iraqi thing) and we were pleased to see engineers lazily attempting to fix it. When power was restored, we were relieved and I temporarily took back my disdainful view of our electricity firm’s earlier slowness to respond. That mini-honeymoon was interrupted by a loud bang followed by a succession of pops and sizzles much like a big fireworks display. Given it was not Diwali, Guy Fawkes’ night or Baghdad I raced to the window and the sight before me did not disappoint. There was the substation engulfed in sparks and flames giving us a stunning visual display in the dead of night.
Our household was not the only one to witness this event and very soon half the street was outside in all manners of dress and undress. From the window I could see the neighbours I knew but also those I had never exchanged words with despite living here for almost 11 years. I could also see our rather plump Tory local councillor in pyjamas and robe, extremely excited and flitting between people outside theatrically recounting his version of events. Having witnessed this rare communal gathering I decided to venture out and enter the mix.
It was not long before Fat Tory came lumbering towards me all smiles and asked if I had witnessed the explosion. Now the last time I had spoken to him was several years ago while his was canvassing. Enquiring about my voting intentions, I explained that my voting strategy was to vote for any party that might dislodge the Conservatives even though it was one of the safest Tory seats in London. We had left it at that, but outside in the light drizzle his excitement was infectious and I soon warmed to him and the other neighbours, making acquaintances with the rest of my street.
What struck me was that my situation was probably not vastly different form the rest of the streets in modern-day London. In Iraq by contrast, up until recently at least, people would have quite strong relationships with their neighbours, their street and wider area. Communal links would help carry the burden of things like childcare, domestic help and a myriad of other services that the state would not have to be concerned with. Having said that there is no reason why we can’t make the effort to get to know our neighbours, bridging the multicultural divide here and if I’m not getting ahead of myself start forming the social networks that will help fix ‘broken Britain’ that everyone keeps going on about.
OK, maybe that’s a bit hippy but I’m seriously thinking about how to build on this fortuitous communal bonding and maybe all of us on our own streets should too.