I promised myself that 2014 would be a year of adventures (this was before I changed my word(s) of the year to Big Magic). And in order to have adventures, you have to get out of the house. So last night I went to see John-Paul Flintoff speak at Alternatives. It was part of my new year’s resolutions to get back to Alternatives more. If you have never been and don’t know what I am talking about, Alternatives run a series of Monday night talks at the beautiful Wren church in Piccadilly, St James’s.
I was meeting my friend Marion there and we bumped into another pal, Jenny, wearing a beautiful pale pink coat. And the audience was relatively small so Marion took a role, lighting the third candle for the energy of John-Paul’s choice which was Humour, appropriately, as he’s a funny guy and Marion’s got a GSOH. Then I took the role of his auditor, counting hands at one point during the proceedings. Audience engagement neatly accomplished.
John-Paul asked us if we wanted to change the world and if we could think of one thing we could do within 24 hours which would make a small difference to those nearest to us. You can’t change World Poverty, for example, if you live next door to someone living below the bread line without offering the hand of friendship in support.
Time was given for us to dream up a problem we’d like to fix and the thorny old problem of me and my neighbours and our dustbins was the only thing came to mind. Damn. I had no inclination to deal with that one! I’m the old lady in the block and I’m the one who is left, martyr-like, to put the bins out on the pavement each week in all weathers. I vacillate between love and loathing for my neighbours that they let me do this and I bore even myself on this topic. Don’t start me on the new recycling rules which I am the only one to have embraced despite our dustbin capacity having been reduced summarily by Lambeth Countil from 4 bins to one.
So I sort of decided I wasn’t going to do anything about it. And yet…
John-Paul recommended a list of Gene Sharp’s 198 methods of non-violent action that we might look at if we want to change the world, one step at a time. We focused on three – (1) removing ourselves from the problem, (2) naming the problem (so it cannot be ignored) and (3) taking on the role of sorting out the problem, being the solution. I knew I did not have the stomach to do what was required, have another go at talking to the neighbours, finding a way to create a relationship, offering them something in return, finding a subtle way of us all working together as a team. I just knew there wouldn’t be the willingness. I just knew. But how wrong can a woman be?
Extraordinarily, the “problem” was taken out of my hands and negotiation with my neighbours was just around the corner; surprise, surprise. When we got home we couldn’t get in. Yikes! Homeless with a house guest. Access to my garden flat is via a side wooden gate which, in all the rain, has swollen so badly I have to slam it really hard and tug it really hard to get it to open and close and last night it wouldn’t open, nor would the key work. What to do?
I thought I would need to throw myself on the mercy of my neighbours, but no-one was in. Not the guys next door who could have stepped over the garden fence, not the man upstairs who could have jumped down from the flat roof, nor the other guy next door who could simply have popped over his Juliet balcony by my front door. But the ladies upstairs offered me the chance to come in, sit down, have a cup of tea, use their phone and their loo if I needed any of those and they suggested who was the most likely to be helpful to me in the building. He wasn’t in either, or at least he wasn’t answering at 10 p.m. at night. Fair enough.
I knew I needed a fit(ish) bloke and a ladder and the girls upstairs didn’t have either of those and all the blokes weren’t answering their doorbells and meanwhile I had left Marion standing outside in the cold with all our valuables. So I did take advantage of their loo, but then I went on with my quest.
As we were standing in the front wondering what to try next, the neighbour over the road came out of her house (she’s helped me before, this woman, by witnessing my signature on a legal document) and I asked her did she have a man with a ladder indoors. She had both. Julian appeared and the problem was sorted pronto. And there’s a man on his way round right now from 0800 Handyman to create a more permanent solution.
But, look! Honestly? Where would I have been last night without my neighbours? And be amazed how willing they were to help me, we are in London after all. And see how I had to throw myself on their mercy. And how easy it was to ask. That was one of John-Paul’s points. Just ask.
Life. You couldn’t make it up.
So now I have nice girl neighbours and the dialogue is open. I have my overture and now the rest is down to me to either keep on doing the dustbins myself, in love, or enjoin them in the project. It seems that what you put in is appreciated and reciprocated after all, even if it doesn’t come back precisely from the crew with whom you share your refuse arrangements.
When it comes to neighbours, it seems, I am blessed.