Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Uncle John and Grandad

"Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours" - that's not just a line from a daytime TV soap opera theme, it's a truism of life.

One aspect of the relationships between neighbours that is often overlooked is that between children and their adult neighbours, and one aspect of this overlooked area is the relationship between children from ethnic minorities and their "native" neighbours.

In the case of BFTF, his earliest and most formative years were spent with an (even then) elderly white british couple who lived next door.

As BFTF's own grandparents were thousands of miles away in the subcontinent, the couple next door somehow ended up becoming known as "Grandad" and "Grandmum".

And they did a pretty good job as Grandparents. They were always around for a chat and BFTF can remember many a day when he would stop to talk to "Grandmum" as she sat in her deckchair in their front garden. They literally saw BFTF grow up, from before he could ride a tricycle to after he went to university.

But more than that was the affection they showed for BFTF and his brother. Even in their later years, when (now grown up) BFTF would visit them, they would always say goodbye with a gentle kiss to the forehead.

And, in time, it was BFTF's own children who would pay them a visit, and be welcomed with the same love BFTF had received.

Sadly, Grandmum passed away some time ago, and Grandad a few years later. At Grandads funeral, a part of a letter from BFTF's brother was read out in which he described how he would fall asleep to the sound of the the chimes from Grandad's clock coming thorugh the brickwork to our bedroom next door. . .

And thne the cycle of life then proceeded to do what it always does - turn full circle.

BFTF was by now living in Nottingham, far from where he grew up "daarn saarf" and had some kids of his own, kids who were doted on by the couple next door (who were granparents themselves). This time it wasn't "Grandad" that they called their neighbour, but "Uncle John". Or,as No3 Son would say as a toddler "Uncajon".

There are perhaps three million Muslims in the UK, and BFTF wonders how many hundreds of thousands of them have had similar relationships with their neighbours as children.

Is is possible to put a value on the love that so many British people have given so freely to so many kids? Or the contribution those "Grandads", "Uncles" and "Aunties" have made to strengthening community cohesion? Or the reciprocal kindness that so many Muslim families have shown in return?

And how much of a crime is it that all these relationships - all this social cement - is completely absent from the debate about multiculturism and the place of minorities in British society?

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