Like many writers, I’ve always been an avid people-watcher. I idly speculate about fellow passengers on buses and trains, giving them personalities, life histories and even names. )You’d be surprised how many axe murderers use public transport.) I inspect the trolley ahead of me in the supermarket queue and wonder what is going to be on the menu. The woman whose shopping consisted of a bottle of sherry and a large bag of Kettle chips was in for a guilty pleasure of an evening. I know this because it was me. Snippets overheard in conversation when I’m out walking can provide me with endless hours of speculation and sometimes even the germ of a story. Now that I’m spending a lot more time in my newly-created Sunburst Lounge with its amazing view, my people watching is bordering on the obsessive.
Way back at the start of the most severe lockdown here, we were confined to a five mile travel radius. Being obliged to work from home or being on furlough meant whole swathes of people got stir crazy very quickly. The first thing I noticed was that the volume of dog walkers increased significantly. Dogs which were probably used to being alone in the house all day, or maybe just walked once by a service, were suddenly being dragged out three or four times a day. My net-curtain-twitching self watched in amazement as people I’d never seen before trotted along the prom with their pooches. We took to waving at each other. But alas, either the novelty wore off or the easing of rules meant they went back to work – I’ve never seen most of them again.
Then there was the keep-fit fad which the pandemic triggered. Joggers of all shapes and sizes huffed and puffed past my window dressed in a weird assortment of clothes. Hardly any have kept it up, but there are three or four who, seven months later, have lost a visible amount of weight. There were cyclists too. It’s hard to believe now, but back in the spring, it was almost impossible to buy a new bike as the fad for cycling took off. People were dragging their ancient models out of their sheds and pressing them into service. Ancient BMXs which kids had long abandoned were commandeered by dads. I even saw one man riding a Chopper. Like the runners, most of the cyclists lost their enthusiasm after a couple of months, but one gentlemen has become a regular feature in my day, riding along the pavement on his tricycle do to his shopping. I still live in hope of seeing a penny farthing.
Most prevalent of all were the walkers who came out for a stroll in the long summer evenings. Families. Singles. Couples. All had their regular time and their regular route. I gave them names, and got worried on the nights they didn’t appear. There was Jean Jackson, a brisk walker always impeccably dressed, who I decided came out for her constitutional after dinner (named for my boss in the Civil Service). Barbara (named for Barbara from the Good Life) is a jolly and very staunch dogwalker who is out in all weathers. She has an excellent variety of coats and hats, knows everyone, and when she’s not shouting out a hail fellow well-met, she’s on the phone. I’ve decided she’s something senior in education. Then there was John Noakes and Shep, his collie (no need to explain the origins of their names). I had them down as a bachelor ‘couple’, and so was completely thrown one day in the bakery when I heard him talking about visiting his grandchildren. Since then, I’ve seen Mrs Noakes with Shep several times, but there’s still a bit of me that thinks of her as a usurper.
**Breaking news** I can now confirm, thanks again to a chance encounter at the bakery, that the woman I thought to be Mrs Noakes is not related to John at all. She will henceforth be known as Val, and her dog as Petra.
It was ages before it occurred to me that I might be part of the show. As they passed me by, sitting in my front porch, aka The Sunburst Lounge, with my coffee or my glass of wine, was I featuring in someone else’s fevered imaginings? What would they make of me? An ex-IT Project Manager scraping a living as a full-time writer of Historical Romance? Nah, you couldn’t make it up!