Asked Fifi about her impressions of England and Scotland as formed on our little trip. She'd been struck by the general friendliness of people in the cities we'd visited, forming a sense of genuine community beneath the glitz and garishness of the season. It was particularly interesting to note the contrast she saw between this and what she felt was the sometimes false sense of community back on our little island. To her much of that seems driven by the wishes of a government imposing notions of community on those below (though for good reasons) whereas over here the spirit grows from the actions of individuals and small groups acting together.
One example that straightaway sprung to mind for us both was that of Jeanette and her angels. These little woollen representatives of the cherubim (or seraphim, who knows?) were made by Jeanette and other ladies from her church and given out free to folks in Romiley and environs, each coming with a little quotation from scripture. Our three girls were lucky to be given one each - and totally delighted at the lovely gifts. The initiative for this little project came from Jeanette and her chums, with nobody and nothing needing to prompt them except the goodness of their hearts.
In contrast to the above, we also talked about the plight of the homeless rough sleepers who were so conspicuous in every place we'd been, except the small Devon villages, Fifi wondering whether the situations they faced were tied to issues of unemployment. A good question, for which I had no simple answer. I don't know exactly what their ominously sad presence says about this society but I do know there were more of them around than at any other time I've visited the UK since 1988. As we were walking back from the joys of Aladdin the other night across the centre of Manchester to get the car from the Dale Street car park they seemed especially conspicuous to us since the streets were otherwise deserted of shoppers at that time. As we walked I was thinking of times I'd walked across the city as a teenager to get the bus at Piccadilly and not seeing any rough sleepers at all. I don't think this is false nostalgia for a better world in the past; it's just the way it was.
It was bitterly cold last night, by the way. Hope all those poor souls made it through to the morning.