Sometimes I find myself in the homes of people whose genuine warmth and affability well exceeds what is expected in the customary client-handyman relationship. They go beyond the obligatory cup of tea and small talk because they realise I’m not just a faceless automaton with a drill. But I’ve learned that the respect they show relative strangers like me is directly connected to the respect with which they treat each other.

One of these families has proven their respect and love by actually living as neighbours. Three generations live in two houses opposite each other in one of London’s distinctive, idiosyncratic squares. On one side of the square, Mom and Dad and their two small children. On the other side, Grandma and Grandpa.

The parents, modern art lovers as demonstrated in the paintings I hung for them, both work full time. The grandparents, who also partake in London’s cultural scene to compliment Grandpa’s passion for cricket, help out with the child care. But when I was getting to know them, I sensed that wasn’t the only reason they live near each other.

They like being together, which – and I’m sure my family will forgive me – seemed odd. Daily, they share meals, possessions and time. They share the same likes and dislikes. They share priorities. They even share me. If they shared a house, not just the square, I imagine little would change.

I wondered how this family came to exist in such a domestic utopia. Most people of my generation couldn’t wait to move out and settle far enough away from their parents to be just on the other side of the ‘dropping in’ line, but close enough for convenient babysitting. What is their secret, I wondered; the source of their familial zeal?

Then one day I was over at the older generation’s house fitting some curtain rods, when some of the younger generation dropped in; Dad and his daughter came by for lunch. Dad walked into the lounge where Grandpa had the cricket match on the telly. When he greeted his father, he called him by his first name. I thought I might have misheard until he did it again. I didn’t think much of it; just two grown men calling each other by their given names.

As they ate their lunch – I was still working in the next room – I overheard snippets of the conversation. As you do. And I heard the young girl address her father by his first name.

That’s when it all made sense to me. The key to their success as a family is to treat each other as equals. To them, grandparents, parents and children need not be distinguished by their age differences or relationship to one another. They are all autonomous, esteemed citizens of their family where the hierarchy, at least in name, appears not to exist. It is a part of their identity, their DNA. It is one way – I’m sure of many – that they practise their belief in themselves; that distinguish their clan from all the others in the square and beyond.

I don’t know many families where this system would work. But for one London family, it appears there is no other way.

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