IT was with great trepidation that I heard I was going to get new neighbours. The trouble is that I like a quiet life. I am very much set in my ways and try to keep myself to myself.
Imagine the horror when I saw the van pull up outside my house. The driver got out in jeans and a shirt. Long hair fell across his shoulders in rock star ringlets as he and his girlfriend started to unpack what looked like the amplification for an Iron Maiden concert.
I wondered what joys awaited me as I imagined late night parties, my house vibrating to the cosmic sounds of a rock group and thousands of nocturnal visitors beating mistakenly at my door.
I waited for the mayhem to start, but as the days progressed I became intrigued. Far from being chaotic and frightening, the people next door have turned out to be great neighbours.
The first thing I noticed was they were incredibly quiet and incredibly friendly. Although they are many years younger, they didn’t hesitate in reaching out and being good neighbours.
They took the first step and invited me to their bonfire party. This was quickly followed by popping around for a cup of coffee and being told that if I ever needed anything I was only to ask. In this they have kept their word and I now regard them as being good friends.
Maybe this is the nature of the street in which I live. Since moving here in late summer, I have found a friendliness that I never saw in the leafy avenues of the affluent area I moved from. I can count on one hand the meaningful conversations I had in the seven years I was there.
Now I meet neighbours every day. They stop and talk, exchange a smile and I genuinely believe the people of my street look out for each other.
Last week my neighbours had a visitor. He was a big guy. Standing at least 6ft 8in, he towered above me. A knitted hat was pulled down to his eyes and a beard covered the rest of his face. A very scary guy. Yet, within minutes, I discovered he was a kind, genuine and likeable bloke.
I had made the dreaded mistake of judging a book by its cover and two and two making five.
Meeting the big fella set me thinking about what it meant to be a neighbour. Politicians rant on about Big Society, social disintegration and the problems of multi-culturalism.
I think the problem that we have in society is that in many places we have forgotten the simple truth of being good neighbours.
Growing up on a council estate, I saw the value of neighbours. There was the sharing of problems over the garden fence. The elderly were looked after by those around them. Food was even given to those who were in need. Perhaps this was the naivety of the late 1970s – the last remnant of wartime spirit.
The good neighbour seemed to be quickly killed of by Thatcherism and the cult of the self. “I” became more important than “we”. The desire for personal wealth led to community poverty.
People have become isolated through fear. We fear the incomer, the foreigner, those different from ourselves. Often we make the wrong judgments of others and sometimes we cannot be bothered.
The great complaint is that we don’t know the people next door.
In answer to that, I have to ask, have you tried to get to know them? I know there may be problems and people don’t get on, but by starting to speak to those around us we can break down the barriers that keep us apart.
My hope for 2015 is that it will become the year of the neighbour.
I really believe that we could change the society we live in for the better if we all started to get to know those around us.
There should be no strangers in our streets. Each road, avenue or crescent should be a community of people who know each other. All we have to do is knock on the door of those nearby and say hello. It doesn’t matter if they are a different race or religion. The one thing I have found in life is that what binds us all is that we are human.
If each of us could become a good neighbour, offer a smile of friendship or be there to help, our communities would change.
Loneliness could be banished, mistrust halted, fear of the stranger eliminated. It takes one word... hello.
Neighbourliness is a tradition in our county and has to be kept alive. Who knows what friendships could be made and lives changed? It doesn’t take a politician to change the world in which we live.