"You may say that I am a dreamer/But I am not the only one" John Lennon: "Imagine"

"So come brothers and sisters/For the struggle carries on" Billy Bragg: "The Internationale"

Elizannie has a reading room at 'Clarice's Book Page' http://www.villiersroad.blogspot.com/

Monday, 2 June 2014

The place where I live/the joy of communities

For Edna

A friend posed the question on social media, to make all of us 'correspondents' less anonymous to one and other, to describe the place where we live. I sent my little contribution, but being known for 'inane rambling' [I loved the insult that was levelled at me some time ago so much that I can't help using it as a good descriptive tag] found that I wanted to expand upon where I live and where I have lived. So read on...

I live on the Essex side of the Thames Estuary, just about where Compeyson was drowned by Magwitch if anyone is a 'Great Expectations' fan and not far from the spot where the boat is moored in the opening scene in 'The Heart of Darkness' [can you tell I used to teach English Lit?] I was born further upriver and have nearly always lived within sight of water although ironically I am scared about actually being *in* water! Probably because I am a Leo birth sign [Fire!] 

The town on the Thames Estuary where I spent my first ten years was in a part of Essex which is now included within the London Boroughs 'system'. The community then meant the children could play in the street with so few cars and someone always watching, we and our Mums all walked to school together. There were not too many 'fridges and no freezers in our homes so when we went on holiday our Mums would leave a shopping list with the next door neighbour who would get in the shopping which would greet us on the kitchen table on the day when we arrived home. When anyone fell ill all the usual 'help' was employed if there were no family back up: shopping, taking little ones to school etc etc. Those lucky enough to have a telephone would take messages for those without 'phones.

The Hippy communities of the 1960s/1970s thought the world could be changed with peace and love. Some of us still feel that way, although some of us also feel that we have to be more politically pro active at the same time and demonstrate [peacefully but vocally!] against what we perceive to be the injustices and prejudices of many government policies. Sadly this Coalition Government has given us too many reasons to become vocal, many of which I have 'celebrated' in these pages.

'Here' is a nice enough place to live, good neighbours and a strong feeling of community. We came here for a while and have stayed 36 years so far. We have grown old[er] alongside many of our neighbours, having walked our children to school together and now swapping pictures of our grandchildren and going to each others' retirement parties. We no longer need our neighbours to get our shopping in when we return from our holidays but any other 'help' is always on hand. I have picked up from the floor the lovely nonagerian opposite several times and waited until either the ambulance or her family arrived; her ninety six year old next door neighbour offered to get her shopping after one of her falls; another neighbour often welds up bits of yet another construction Other Half has made; someone knocked on our door last night to see if we could print something as his printer wouldn't!; online shopping now means that we all take in parcels for one and other rather than actually go to the shops for one and other! Last week, knowing our next door neighbours were on holiday, Other Half nearly choked on his dinner [not due to my cooking this time] because he saw someone entering their house. He hadn't realised they had arrived home and was thus relieved he didn't have to confront anyone....

I also spend quite a lot of the year in West Somerset, again within sight of water, this time the Bristol Channel, amongst another community of friends and family. This community has grown from mutual interests and again, without realising it. We all help one and other out, swapping clothes for growing children, knitting for one and other and bringing items spotted for others' strange hobbies! We look across to the 'land of my fathers' both figuratively and literally. My father was born in S.Wales and if one takes a hike out of his birth village and stands high up on the Bwlch [mountain] above the village one can look across the Bristol Channel from there toward the West Somerset coast. So sometimes at night when I look over to Wales and see the lights twinkling I imagine that some of those lights are on cars going down the road to 'our' village. Obviously that is a stretch of the imagination... But from the stories my father would tell about his life in that village before coming to England, there was always a strong sense of family and community to which I loved to listen.

Other Half and I and our older children briefly lived in what was then the 'Temporary Capital of W.Germany': Bonn, and again very near water - the River Rhine. A beautiful part of the world and the only time and place in the 1970s when we did not have any money worries! But despite that and the wonderful friends we had in the wider area, it was never 'home' for lots of reasons - we knew we would be moving on and there was no sense of community in the immediate vicinity. We would wish our next door neighbours 'Guten tag' and that was it.

Reading back through this post, I realise that the strongest part of the memories of places where I have lived is mixed with the sense of community. All these communities were formed long before David Cameron 'floated' the idea of the 'Big Society'. And these communities have existed for hundreds of years wherever peoples have lived in close proximity to one and other: in Welsh mining villages, on estates of houses whether privately owned or rented.

So what has made me write so passionately about all these various communities? Well this weekend would have been the birthdays of various of my immediate ancestors. And it has been on mind how much they relied upon one and other and their friends to get themselves through the bad days of two world wars and the depression, by sharing everything - good and bad. And how, if the 'Bedroom Tax' had existed then communities would have been shattered when the elderly would have had to move away. Those elderly who looked after their grandchildren whilst their mother's worked to supplement family income, and cooked the meals that sustained that family. And how Austerity was the way that so many lived all the time - and how so many joined Trade Unions and left wing Political parties to allieviate the suffering and ensure their children and grandchildren would lead better lives. And how communities in S.Wales and the North of England 'sponsored' with food, boots, the little money they could spare and communities en route to Westminster 'donated' bed space to the Hunger Marchers like my father who felt they had to march to show the uncaring MPs in Parliament what it was like to be unemployed.

And I wonder about the world that my grandchildren will inherit. Will it be the one that my parents and grandparents fought for? Will it be the world that we thought possible in the 1960s? Or will it be the world that this Government and the thoughts of UKIP seem likely to impose? I sincerely hope it is the former and not the latter.

The photograph above shows the mining village in South Wales where my father was born and good eyesight and a magnifying glass shows the house where he was born and the houses where many of our family lived and still live.

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