Community in the back streets of our lives

I was meant to be exchanging on a house in Hampshire tomorrow. I had got all geared up to finally move from London to the country and then a conversation with my lawyer on Thursday changed all this. A couple of caveats have emerged around the house that she needs to look into. When she told me exchange would be delayed I felt relieved.

“Life is what happens to you whilst you’re making plans."

The truth is I have felt unsure about the move. There have been some big changes in my life recently - that I will probably write about one day... when the time is right. But despite these changes  and in light of the amount of effort and time and expense that has been spent on looking for a home in the country, a part of me insisted that I must see this through. When my lawyer told me the exchange wasn't going to happen, my body just went ommmph. Like a great exhale of relief had softened it. The news felt like life was helping out. Not yet lovey, not yet. Pause, you've found your home and it's your daughters home, now go take a look around you.

Because yes I’d like to live in a place where my daughter can flourish and make friends who she can share good times and heart times with and run to their front door and say hey, come play, I’ve missed you since yesterday. I’d like to live in a place where my dog can come too because Bongo’s my soul dog and he ain’t going to be around for ever and I’m just not complete without him. I’d like to live in a place where there are folk around, who you look out for and who look out for you and you share things with around a proverbial roaring red fire. I want to live in a place that feels like home, where friends can come to and say I feel safe here and here’s where I wanna have fun.

And well a lot of those boxes, well all of them really apart from the one with my dog are actually really happening. I was just so busy looking in the other direction that I didn’t take the time to really truly appreciate how damn lucky we really are.

"There is nothing either good or bad, it is thinking that makes it so." William Shakespeare.

I've been longing for community for a while, and made plans to live everywhere from Italy to Devon in order to create more of it in my life. In the meantime missing the fact that we have become a part of a community right here in London. Because sometimes what we long for, it can take a while to appreciate that it actually exists in our lives already.

And so here we are living on a street where people really chat with each other, (I've lived in 8 houses in London and have never experienced such a friendly street). People support each other through the highs and lows, births and deaths and our neighbours here put themselves out for you. When we were burgled last year, our neighbours took turns to stand virgil at our house till the police came (it took them 2 hours).

Here we live in an area where we have Tony, our local Dry Cleaners.

“'ello Tony,” waves Eve every time we pass his shop. And he always waves back and we chat and he works so hard, actually this is something in common with everyone here: these guys who make up our community work so hard, for so little. Business is tough. And on top of that it can be isolated work because apart from the people who rush in and drop off their clothes, for a lot of the time Tony is mending clothes and going about his work alone.

"What to do?" He says shrugging his shoulders the other day.

Then there is Crystal DIY the shop of husband and wife Nick and Elma. When I am with Eve we always go in. In fact she now makes a point of stopping by the window of Tony’s and waving and then running on to say hello to Elma and Nick. These guys feel like an important part of our day. To walk past and not say hello feels odd.

Here is where we come to say hi, buy candles and batteries and the occasional door-bell. It’s also where I’ve come to camp out after I had shut myself out and it was cold and late and so I went to the shop and asked Elma please can I stay here whilst I wait for Ben who was going to be an hour or so and she said yes of course. And whilst many may say this, not many would really mean it.

So 6 months old Eve and I hung out with Elma and her mother around their electric fire and then Eve got hungry so I headed to the loo at the back to feed her, as as accommodating as they might be I appreciate that breast-feeding isn’t for everyone, and well some folk might be a bit surprised to come for a light-bulb and find a lady feeding her babe by the till. But also a bit of truth is that it took me ages to feel comfortable breast-feeding in public so that first year of Eve's life, I spent an awful lot of time in the loo.

Then there is the grave yard – I have to include the grave yard! I have spent much time here, alone and with Eve. Eve and I have re-homed slugs and snails here, I come to run here, do yoga here, meditate here and I’ve come to walk around and get some fresh air whilst thinking about the Buddhist monks who meditate in graveyards and contemplate impermanence and death and I think about a friend of a friend who was one of the first Ashtangis in Hawaii and who told me about how they used to sleep in the graveyard as no one had any money, but they just wanted to be together and close to the room where they practiced practiced practiced.

Time for cards?

We have The Olive Tree, our local health food store. The family business of Costas and his French wife Virginie. We love going here. Eve to pillage their carrots and to try her dam nest to eat a whole medjool date without me noticing and me to buy food, and hope that this time will be the time that I am able to make something edible. And whilst I am walking around Virginie will sit and play card games with Eve. And when I am running low on cash they let me run a tab so I can buy some food. And that's community spirit, as it sure as hell doesn't do their cash flow any favours. And Starbucks have tried to imitate this small business culture with their give us your name and we’ll write it on your cup gimmick, but that’s all it is: a gimmick, because what is a name without a story? Without taking the time to actually chat with your customers and find out who they are?

And slowly, day by day in this little spot of London where we live, we are finding out who our neighbours are. (We are finding out who we are?) And it's happening slowly, and in unexpected places such as the play-area opposite The Olive Tree, which isn't the tidiest of places and you don’t really want to visit on a Saturday morning but generally it's alright: a place to play and run off some steam before supper.

Here is where I come with Eve and most of the time I’ll sit and have some phone time whilst she runs around, singing and playing and making friends with the local kids. And most of the time phone time is short lived and I sit and watch as my daughter reaches out to hold the hands of her new friends, getting them to help her up and push her on the swing. And I sit on the steps watching, occasionally getting up to help whilst Eve totters across the raised pathway that she loves. But generally, I just sit watching - a beam in my heart blooming.

For this is it, this is community. The wish of a tender ol’ heart.

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