I don’t know about your current home-working set-up, but mine has offered that most treasured of peculiar pastimes – people watching.
From my perch at the third floor window of an Edinburgh tenement, steamy brew in hand at my new self-appointed tea break time, I truly become one with my nameless neighbours. I spy the family at number four battling with the kids before eventually settling on another hour of Disney+. I bravely challenge, but don’t quite win a staring contest with the cat across the street. And I see that the man at number seven is quite content to Zoom with his unsuspecting colleagues in a curious combo of a shirt and boxers.
But in an odd way, I’ve grown rather fond of them. Thinking that it was all getting a bit creepy after two weeks of this idle spying, my partner and I decided to balance it with some altruism and post our numbers round the doors, just in case the odd errand needed done. I can heartily recommend it – the response has been the unexpected joy of our current predicament.
In the past few days, I’ve got to know the Venezuelan couple in the flat below, Mr Becke who’s lived on the block for forty years and has a proclivity for sultana cake and the ICU nurses down the street who we’d only otherwise known from walking their Cairn terriers. When I came back from my allotted hour of exercise last night, I passed two neighbours on the stairwell who were sharing a glass of wine from their respective porches, a safe four metres apart.
I’d read of similar things taking off in Italy – pop-up serenades and shared meals over balconies – but figured that sort of thing doesn’t happen here. Instead, the internet, mobiles and apps like NextDoor are reinventing what it means to be a community in the digital age and are utterly vindicated in our hour of need. The Guardian chronicles the Wiltshire village of Chilmark this morning on their efforts to continue community life in the age of Covid-19, Thursday’s online pub quiz and all. Long may such efforts last.
Clearly our global situation is frightening, and this introduction might be my rather blithe, Richard Curtis-style avoidance of an otherwise serious subject. But it is heartening that we can be cheered in surprising ways, and by those so close, on the other side of the apartment wall.