Is blood thicker than water? Friends, Relatives and Neighbours from the Mass Observation Project

04 September 2020

Cultural Studies | History | Politics

“An old adage maintains that “blood is thicker than water” but this must have been proven false countless times, as such ties are no guarantee of help in adversity.” Ouch! Old friends, neighbours and relatives are at the centre of our support networks – particularly in times of adversity. This was the topic that participants in the Mass Observation Project were asked to write about in the winter of 1984. How would they weigh up ‘relatives versus friends’? An imposing question if you were asked in the street by a complete stranger, or by someone in a bar that has had one too many, but when anonymised, it is surprising how forthcoming we can be with our views.
 
Image © Mass Observation at University of Sussex Special Collections. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

The quote above came from respondent M372’s account. Her five pages are incredibly heartfelt and insightful into their experiences with her family, friends, and neighbours. With relatives, she comments that “Certainly, there has always been a gathering at weddings, and I include hospital visits, in sickness generally, and funerals” noting that with the “falling birthrate… we older members of society are experiencing the real diminution of “the family” as we once knew it.” Discussing her friends, she comments on how they can often be closer than relatives, adding “I would like to believe that genuine friends should be able to expect and receive loyalty, above all/else.”

 

Image © Mass Observation at University of Sussex Special Collections. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
Image © Mass Observation at University of Sussex Special Collections. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
But most beautifully, our writer explains how “Hopefully, “closeness” in the sense of loving and caring equally applies to friends and family, so that whatever applies, either groups can be the more important.” How that sentiment remains relevant today: some families are close, while others consider their friends to be their family. For some, their neighbourhood is their community and their life - though M372 would disagree, noting “I do not think we can expect from our neighbours other than what we ourselves are prepared to offer…” Each to their own!
Image © Mass Observation at University of Sussex Special Collections. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

One nugget in particular brings a smile to my face. Our writer confirms in her account that for: “…visits from friends, yes, I do “tidy up” and certainly care…” I can recall episodes from my own childhood where in the hours leading up to the grand reception of friends and family, my Mother would be screaming up the stairs, Dyson in hand, about all the cleaning still required. God forbid we allow those closest to us to see our home as though it is actually lived in. Clearly, some things never change! 

For more information, including free trial access and price enquiries, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

About the Author

Sophie Seddon

Sophie Seddon

I joined the Editorial Team at Adam Matthew in September 2018 as an Assistant Development Editor. My background is in English Literature and History with a focus on gender and social history, fashion and travel writing.