These are strange and dark days in many ways – there is no hiding from that fact - but, and I am not sure if you have experienced something similar, there appears to be a change in many people’s attitude to life, community and sociability.
The weekly ‘applause the NHS’ occurrences not only see a grateful people thank those carrying out some of the riskiest jobs but there are smiles and ‘hello’s and waves from neighbours to each other as well.
I have spoken to more of my neighbours, at an appropriate social distance I hasten to add, in the last two weeks than in the last 3 years since I moved in.
I take my daily exercise, a walk around my village, and meet and greet strangers in a way I can never remember happening before.
It is civil, it is polite, it is ‘British’ – we acknowledge each other, say ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon’ or just a nod and a smile in some cases, but we interact. There is a decorum of meeting people on small pavements or paths, one stepping aside to let the other pass at a suitable distance, but it comes with a look of ‘sorry, I don’t really fear you but, you know, this is the way it has to be right now, so don’t judge me…’, all accompanied with a greeting of some sort.
My local pub has taken the initiative of opening a farmer’s market twice a week, shout out to The Bird in Hand, Sandhurst – pints of beer (I remember beer…) are replaced with fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, milk, cheese and butter. Locals all line up, spaced well apart, and patiently wait for their turn – one person in the shop at any time – but smile, and chat, and laugh and greet other people walking their dogs, cycling on bicycles that probably haven’t been used since the first and only time they were ridden after purchase, or just strolling out for some fresh air.
At home the mood is good with the resident teenager apparently with the devil cast out of her and talking to us, sitting and watching some TV each evening with us and joining us for meals.
We even had a ‘dress smart’ dinner last weekend to break the monotony of casual dress for days on end (who’d think you end up missing dressing for work…).
The garden is looking great. The house is clean, and I mean really clean. Cupboards that have annoyed us with their overflowing contents are now washed and items sorted logically for easy use. Furniture that we could never bother to move but kept talking about in a ‘that would look good over there don’t you think?’ kind of way are now in new locations in rooms and, guess what ‘they look good there’.
Family members are helping each other with shopping trips to minimise trips out, leaving goods outside the houses but always with a quick ‘hello, how are you’ from the end of the driveway to each other. We even set up a WhatsApp household quiz night yesterday, with each of our four different households choosing 5 questions each to ask the others. It was fun, argumentative, loud but wonderful at the same time.
Calls to parents have increased in regularity as have conversations through various social media to our friends.
Work related meetings are being supplemented with intentional ‘social’ meetings as well to replace the water-cooler/coffee machine chats and lunchtime gatherings.
And the sharing of the dark humour of our times; videos of small children being told that there are no more takeaways, the horse with no name brilliance, Jedi remote learning and many more. They all bring a much-needed smile.
My parent’s postman left a small parcel on their doorstep, on his day off, with two bananas in to share a ‘yellow smile’. They have also received many offers of help from people and shops in their village and are actually remotely socialising with more people than usual.
These are strange and dark days in many ways – there is no hiding from that fact – but we also seem to have begun to rediscover community and true sociability, and not be so focused and driven about ourselves and our own importance. We have time, a gift that was relegated to perhaps two weeks holiday each year in the past. Time, which is here – for those of us in lock-down – in amounts so large we really should be doing something positive with it.
The world holds its collective breath for this to be over, but we really do have a unique opportunity to exit this crisis a better, more social and caring global community.