There’s nothing worse than a grass. Or so goes the wisdom expressed in soap operas like EastEnders. Of course, there are worse things than being a grass, but such an overstatement does reflect a common taboo found in many cultures: no one likes a snitch, telltale, narc, informer or sneak.
Which is why the news that South East Water is asking its customers in Kent and Sussex to get in touch if they notice a neighbour ignoring a forthcoming hosepipe ban is unlikely to win it many plaudits. The supplier has placed a contact link on its website for people to report on miscreants they see flouting the instructions, inviting people to grass up neighbours they see watering the grass.
What a charmless, alienating idea. It’s not as though people are much enamoured these days of corporations that provide us with life’s essentials. Encouraging snitching is only going to instil even more resentment towards big business. And there’s nothing more likely to foster grievance and division in communities, particularly at a time when community cohesion is so gravely needed. The stakes are high: those caught breaking the hosepipe ban face a fine of up to £1000.
The cost of living crisis this year comes straight on the heels of a two-year Covid crisis, which necessitated a heightened sense of community throughout the land. It wasn’t so much the banging of saucepans in support of the NHS, but those acts of spontaneous generosity we read about: people helping the old and lonely with food deliveries, or keeping in touch with friends and relatives they had previously ignored. We heard about acts of neighbourly behaviour and acts of kindness in areas hitherto not-known for their amity.