Wally Harbert: Bring back the real-life theatre of the streets

Local communities have become soulless dormitories, writes our contributor

Wally Harbert
Wally Harbert

The muffin man was last seen in the early 20th century, along with the butcher's boy, the knocker-up, the rag-and-bone man, the insurance agent and the rent collector. They have been replaced by the jogger and the chugger. The chimney sweep, meter reader, milkman and coal delivery man will be the next to disappear into oblivion.

Public servants were once highly visible. The midwife, district nurse, school attendance officer, probation officer and policeman were all integral to communities. Now they work from air-conditioned offices, occasionally venturing out in shiny cars to visit customers. Their roots – and allegiances – are not in the community but in professional associations.

Local communities have become soulless dormitories

Wally Harbert

The corner shop and post office, once venues for neighbourhood gossip, are fast disappearing, along with bingo halls, launderettes and public houses. Television soaps have replaced the real-life theatre of the streets. Instead of proclaiming "God is love", the wayside pulpit now announces "Live football tonight".

Local communities have become soulless dormitories. Residential areas that once swarmed with tradespeople, public servants and shoppers have become ghostly. Older people no longer sit at their front doors to exchange banter with passers-by, for the streets are deserted. A walk to the bus stop or the shops no longer promises encounters with familiar faces. There are fewer pedestrians to deter exuberant teenagers and vandals, so more of life is led behind bolted doors.

The good news for elderly and infirm people is the vigorous debate about euthanasia. It shows someone cares. I would rather see the return of the muffin man.

Wally Harbert is a retired UK director of Help the Aged

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