The beginning of March was only five weeks ago but it feels like a whole world away. I’m trying to practice new habits, and in March I decided I wanted to connect better with people I met day to day. I was a painfully shy and awkward teenager and it’s taken me a long time to unlearn that behaviour, but like most of us, I crave connection and want to be close to people, to be seen and understood. I wish I was more like my mum and my sisters who can talk effortlessly to anyone they meet, but that shy and awkward teenager still comes to the fore far too often.
So this month, I’ve chatted to the Scottish woman who I see most weeks at the swimming pool about the best place to buy swimming hats and how her work was changing. I shower naked next to her regularly, and yet I still don’t know her name. I talked to the train guard on a delayed journey to Birmingham about how he deals with frustrated customers. I shared favourite parkrun stories with a runner at Leamington parkrun, which I did on my way to visit a friend in Walsall. I spoke to people in the bar at the theatre, and chatted to a neighbour who was cleaning his car
Then covid-19 happened and all those things – swimming, train journeys, theatre, parkrun and visiting friends – have disappeared from our lives with little indication of when they might return.
I thought lockdown would be the end of new connections, and yet there are have been different opportunities, haven’t there? Like people have done in many places, I put a note through the neighbours’ doors at our end of the road suggesting we support each other in these strange times and have set up a neighbourhood WhatsApp group. I’ve got to know people’s names after years of living here and not getting much further than saying hi. The performing arts student who lives next door did an impromptu concert outside his front door the other night and people gathered, socially distanced, to enjoy it. I’ve left flapjack outside our house for people to help themselves, and someone left some spare kale on my doorstep in return. People are sharing 5G conspiracy theories in the WhatsApp group, but also funny videos and maybe in an eclectic group of neighbours you don’t get one without the other.
Lately I’ve stopped and talked to friends who I’ve met when I’m out for my daily run, from a distance of course, rather than pretending that I haven’t seen them as I would have done in the past. We’ve showed my mum how to video call and for the last couple of Sundays have had a teatime call with all my sisters which has been delightful. I’ve rung friends in the evenings because I genuinely want to know how they are, and have spoken to people I haven’t seen for years who have rung up just to have a chat. A lot of people are expressing hope that we’ll come out of this pandemic kinder and more connected. I hope this is a habit that sticks.