Monday, 15 March 2010

Doorstep play and the molecular family

This is me outside my house in Paulton's Square, Chelsea. It was very mixed in those days, with a lot of refugees, struggling artists, and shiny-elbowed academics. I can well remember, as the youngest of six children, playing out in the street or in the garden square. The area was safe, with little traffic, everyone knew each other, front doors were left open and babies left for the afternoon snooze on the front step. We spent much of the day running in and out of each other's houses. It was common to see people nipping up to the letter-box on King's Road to catch the early post in their dressing gowns.

Apart from my own extended family (my Spanish granny lived with us periodically, making us a family of nine) we adopted various uncles and aunts in the neighbourhood, and it took me years to work out who were actually related and who were family friends. This idea of the molecular family, as I call it, rather than an introspective and self-interested nuclear family, is so embedded that I have spent much of my life forming molecular bonds, which is just as well as our blood family can often disappoint.

I live off Ladbroke Grove and while it is quite different to old Chelsea, we do have our molecular bonds. Just recently a neighbour had lent his car to a friend (who no one knew) but he couldn't start it. We could all hear the engine turning over outside. By the time I had gone out to offer my jump-leads to this total stranger, another neighbour had had the same thought, and a further one had come out to offer to line up their car for a jump-start as they knew mine was elsewhere. By the time we had got his car going, it seemed quite logical to ask for a lift down the road; we had adopted him.

These bonds take time to form, and are very fragile. This is why my heart sinks with the possible destruction of the delicate network of families and friends at Wornington Green; a proper neighbourhood where people who have very little are willing to share their time and help each other. Without the support of the molecular family, sadly, many will not survive.

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