I once worked in the theatre painting scenery at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, designing sets for repertory, touring shows, and even pantomime and ice shows.
At some time in this life of illusion I had to deliver a manuscript to Alec Guinness.
He then lived in a late Georgian square in Hammersmith. I was surprised and delighted to discover an area of London that seemed to be an ideal place in which to live. At that time I was in residence and rebuilding a bombed-out house in Fulham, right beside the Chelsea football ground. In time, noise, regular isolation on match days, and then the over-abundance of home games all became drawbacks to life there.
Time passed in many interesting ways until I needed to return to London from life in the Hampshire countryside. But where to look for a home? Why, near to that square in Hammersmith, of course.
A small house in the district suited me. Depending on the approval of my youngest son, I bought it – at a time when property prices were in a trough and, by present standards, low.
There was little to do structurally as the owners had done it up for sale – installing gold taps in the bathrooms, for instance.
But they had employed a lousy electrician. Although one could switch on the lights to climb the stairs, there was no way of turning them off having reached either the first or second floors.
Our street’s cars were possibly a couple of beat-up Fords. My soft-top VW not only looked rather out of place, but was vulnerable at that time to having its roof slashed by vandals.
I then knew most of the residents who lived in our street, many of whom were renting from a property landlord on a long term, sitting tenant basis.
What has prompted this blog is that Margreet and I have just returned from friends in a neighbouring road who were celebrating having lived there for fifty years.
We were almost newcomers among our fellow guests, having been residents nearby for only 29 years.
I wonder if there are many enclaves in London where residents are as happy as we and they are, and would not think of leaving voluntarily to live in another district.
But there have been naturally many changes over our years of occupancy.
Neighbouring houses have been bought to let. So their temporary occupants move on and have never had time to become part of our community. They are transient. Even those renters who we get to know move on and are lost, except possibly for a welcome Christmas card.
And there have always been at least one, two, or even three complete misfits around (I’m sure every street has them) who, for one reason or another, dislike the neighbours or the close community and continue to live among us, but apart.
One hopes that community bonds of friendship are not formed by class, breeding, nationality, birth, history, fortune, ancestry, accent, race, religion, origins, upbringing, occupation, schooling, or any other such mark of identity.
When I was a child in the country, it was thought that you became part of our village only after living there for at least 25 years.
So perhaps, even today, close communities are still formed mainly by the seemingly outdated idea of long residency.