While this is all good news for burglars, voyeurs, stalkers and private detectives, it's also a good wheeze if you just happen to be down-right nosey. Not only can you see so much more, you can hear more as well. In my neighbourhood, at least, this access to the secret lives of those around me is better than the telly, although it does have its down side in that it works both ways. I didn't relish being greeted, this morning, through my open kitchen window by the old man whose house backs on to mine, while I was washing up in my underwear. The house is so hot I don't get dressed these days until I'm actually about to leave for work. I can hear the jibes: "She leaves all her washing up until the morning. And she does it in her smalls. Slut."
Frankly, it's of no interest to me that the man opposite has a penchant for doing his hoovering in women's tights, or that the teenage girl over the road sits in front of the telly cutting her toenails meticulously between the ad breaks in Brookside. It's what you can hear that makes life more interesting. Who isn't interested in eavesdropping on the details of other people's private lives? Especially if the overall impression contradicts their public persona - the one they show you when they're out cleaning their car or coming back from the supermarket - of wholesome and happy families.
I found myself outside a cosy Le Routier restaurant in the country at the weekend, while my friend went inside on a recce to discover whether I'd be let in wearing shorts. A couple dining in the corner by a wide open window, were talking. The man lowered his voice, and I crouched to the window to hear properly. "When I get you home, your big horny lion is going to give you the best rogering you've ever had," growled the man. "Mmmmmm" came the reply. "Are you going to punish me first?" The restaurant's position on shorts was positive, and when we went to our table, I could hardly believe the John Major clone in the corner was about to soar the heights of passion with the Laura Ashley clad girl opposite him, who looked as if she would have been more at home behind the window of a building society counter than being roughed up by the Man From The Pru.
During the last week, I've learned that my neighbour opposite has a rather good voice and sounds a bit like kd lang, that the mantra of the 25 year old librarian next to her is "yehonoma", and that the couple next door, who I thought were so ideally matched, actually fight like cat and dog on a regular basis. As a single woman, this was reassuring.
But it's not just neighbours who are contributing to my evening's entertainment. Sitting on my balcony last night, I heard snippets of many conversations as people passed by, ranging from the price-of-strawberries-in-Safeway type stuff, to sexual intrigue. There were even drug dealers on mobile phones arranging deliveries. Some kids were throwing dustbin lids up into the pear tree opposite in the hope of loosening some fruit and I began to worry that they might be prey to the dealers. And this from someone who has never really engaged with the local community on any level. See what opening the windows does for your social conscience?
And then there are the snippets that simply give you an interesting insight into other people's lives. The well-spoken young professional woman saying to her partner "We can't move to Muswell Hill. We couldn't send Jack to the Christian school, not now that he's so multiculturally enlightened having lived here. He'd miss it." And the young gay man to someone he'd clearly just picked up "I don't really go for that sort of thing. Call me old fashioned, but I have to know someone first." What an education this hot weather business has been.
As the night on my balcony wore on (well, something has to replace This Life), I wondered how much the repression and reserve for which the English are renowned is linked to our being shut off from our immediate surroundings for most of the year due to our ghastly weather.Or perhaps it's just that when people around us open the doors and windows to their world, we realise everyone else doesn't have perfect, smoothly running, super-fulfiled lives after all. But as I've said, it works both ways. My neighbours have already caught me having a ridiculously soppy conversation with my cat on the balcony. I just hope no-one saw me sorting out my sock drawer on Friday. I like to think they've always thought of me as a busy, glamourous sort of figure. I think I'll just shut the windownReuse content