Tuesday 20 December 2011

This is not a review.

This is not a review.

This is a commentary on modern life. I am currently on leave for the day. Long drawn out reasons - not Xmas related or shopping related, though I am using it to whip through HMRC related paperwork, tidy the house and generally make room for the tree which rather embarrassingly has not yet made an appearance.

I live in a turn of the century or so stone terrace. None of this new fangled brick here. The walls absorb the cold but once warmed keep us nice and toasty. The house needs a lot doing to it - it's work in progress. The walls are not as thick as you would expect and with families both sides of us and there just being the two of us, sometimes we feel assaulted by the by product noise generated on a day to day basis.

Mostly the sounds that drift through are of Bollywood movies, of calls to prayer, of the kids mimicing the sounds of prayer with little understanding of the shape or meaning of the sounds. Never is there the sound of recorders, Tomy toys or Strictly Come Dancing, nor is there pounding dance music emanating from the teenagers bedrooms.This would be because the teenagers don't have bedrooms of their own - these are two up two downs and the 4 children to my right all share a bedroom. I never hear the daughter, only ever the 3 sons. I have briefly seen the daughter pass through the garden and into the ramshackle wooden building in their back garden - but that was only once. I don't think she goes to school and I don't think she leaves the house. I don't know what she does. Sometimes I question whether she even exists at all.

They are Pakistani and the father is a pillar of the local community or so it seems. Groups of wise and elderly men come and go and the front living room briefly comes alight, showing men seated, arms waving passionately, words and thoughts flying and being meant.

On the other side is another family. I think Arabic though I am not sure. I never hear them speak and I never really here the children either. All I hear, occasionally, is the sound of the mother sobbing, a heart breaking sound. It happened 15 minutes ago and I tweeted about it.

Go round, go knock, take a cup of sugar, everyone suggested.

It's not that easy.

It should be that easy. I am a caring kind of person. Empathic. I feel for people very much and am a self confessed sap when it comes to sad movies. I've had to leave films 2 minutes early to fix my make up on more than one occasion and I don't really mind admitting it either - what's wrong with emotion anyway?

But her emotion is making me feel uncomfortable because I simply do not know what I should do about it. And I have come to the conclusion that I am incapacitated through nothing more than stupidity. I have tried, of course I have, to make eye contact, to say hello. The problem is, in order for a conversation to start, there has to be a response to the hello. There has to be some kind of engagement from the other side. And there just isn't. I can't even get eye contact half the time and if I do it is fleeting.

But that's no excuse for stopping trying. Not speaking English is no excuse for not making a connection. A smile is a connection so instead I'll try smiling and scrap the hello bit - maybe it's just not understood. A smile says a million things that would take hours to speak.

The simple fact is, I am not going next door to offer help because I am unsure how it will be received. I am fearful of imposing and intruding. I am awkward in my lack of understanding of what the right protocols are. I am hurting because I can't stand the idea of someone being in pain emotionally and not having someone to hug and reassure. But I don't know where to begin in trying to work out how to offer the care I would so like to.

As a footnote, in John Lewis on Sunday I saw a woman alone struggling with the contents of a pram and a toddler, the pram having evidently tipped over when the child had climbed out due to the sheer weight of shopping on the back. I did not hesitate for a second in asking if she needed help and was fine with her answer that she did not - it was an easy exchange, unmired as it was by the removal of knowable social mores.

I don't have the rulebook for the interactions that where I live demands of me. It's not as simple as knocking on the door. It should be. But there are language barriers, cultural barriers, gender barriers that I simply do not know how to navigate.

And it seems to me I am not alone in this and it seems to me, we should be focusing a little more on understanding and navigating these situations and a little less on offending people. So if anyone has suggestions on how to navigate such situations as these, please please please comment. I feel about as confident in my own ability to do so as a dead chicken.

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