Fringe Box



XX Notes: Neighbour Watching

Published on: 23 May, 2020
Updated on: 23 Jul, 2020

Maria Rayner

Maria Rayner‘s observational, fortnightly column from a woman’s perspective…

“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”

This line came up as a question in our latest Saturday night Zoom quiz and it’s my favourite literary quotation. Do you know the author? Being confined to our four walls for the last Lord-know-how-many weeks has given us ample opportunity to observe the habits of our neighbours.

There are the shielded stay-at-homers who have shopping fairies or a precious supermarket delivery slot, glimpsed rarely as they cautiously answer their door, or chatted to through the garden fence. We now know so much about these neighbours’ shopping baskets because, generally, we are filling them. I know a couple who refrain from asking for what they really want in case the shopping fairy “judges” them.

But I have admiration for one of the shielded whose beer delivery went missing. He went from door-to-door along our road, asking if anyone had seen it. Some things are worth risking Covid for. We’ve been invited to a party after lockdown has ended; definitely one for the diary!

For some, lockdown gives the chance for that diy project

Other neighbours have taken the opportunity to get on with the DIY. These folks usually have the latest noisy power tool or have planned a feature worthy of Grand Designs. They are the ones who have a pallet of manure delivered in the early hours of the morning or spend a sunny afternoon stoking the flames of neighbourly discord with their bush cuttings.

Yet the neighbours I love the best are the exercisers. In the early days of lockdown, when only one form of exercise from the doorstep was allowed, few cars were on the road so pavement social distancing was easy, just step into the road.

Most of us walked. We were all shy and suspicious of each other. Would we catch the virus from a passer-by? How close exactly was two metres? Eye contact was minimal. You could spot the cautious ones, wobbling along on bikes pulled from the back of the shed, a little out of practice, but confident this bought a bit more social distance.

How the daily exercise has changed as we’ve become used to the “new normal”! From my working bedroom vantage point I spy people passing with a friendly wave and a grin that says, hello, how are you coping, nice to see you, keep going, we’re going to beat this thing, all at the same time. Just within my circle we have had confirmed dance exercisers turn into runners and wobbly learner cyclists become off-road distance specialists, if only to escape the rest of the family.

Cycling has certainly been a coronavirus winner. Even before Grant Shapps announced “Pop-up bike lanes with protected space for cycling, wider pavements, safer junctions, and cycle and bus-only corridors…” [and]… “a £250 million emergency active travel fund” for England on May 9 ( bike shops were experiencing higher than average sales and The Times reported that nine out of 10 of Halford’s cheapest bikes were sold out.

We found some long-forgotten children’s bikes when clearing out our garage and put them by the front gate with a sign saying take them and donate to a young person’s charity. They were snapped up, one within hours.

If those with a newly acquired cycle habit stick with it then they will soon see massive health benefits. Research in The Lancet Planetary Health showed “compared with commuting by private motorised vehicle, bicycle commuting was associated with a 20 per cent reduced rate of all-cause mortality, a 24 per cent decreased rate of cardiovascular disease mortality, a 16 per cent lower rate of cancer mortality, and an 11 per cent reduced rate of incident cancer’.

Not bad, although I’m not sure there are many benefits to the pocket as the hybrids I’ve been looking at aren’t cheap. As for ebikes, my Dutch friend says the price of these will drop after more cyclists in Holland adopt them. Nearly everyone cycles there.

Back to Jane Austen (Did you get the quiz question? It is from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice). In addition to the lockdown bikes and a few Grand Designs of our own, the multiple deliveries from Majestic and the Garden Cider Co, I’ve been wobbling along on my mountain bike and repeating Week Seven of “Couch to 5k” endlessly.

One thing will help to satisfy curiosity: with the return to work of those who can social distance, we’ve finally been able to have our hedge cut, exposing our garden exploits to ridicule yet again. Time to put away the sun-lounger.

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Responses to XX Notes: Neighbour Watching

  1. Becca Rayner Reply

    May 23, 2020 at 12:29 pm

    I am ashamed of myself, a brilliant quote that I didn’t recognise at all.

    Neighbour watching is definitely a lockdown hobby, never before have I known the neighbours surrounding my student house better (that is, the ones who aren’t students and so haven’t run to the perceived security of their parents’ homes).

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