I’ve spent more time than I would like to admit lingering on the front steps of my London home over the past few weeks. They get the sun all morning so they are the go-to spot for coffee and papers. I laid Turkish rugs out there one day and painted the steps with blackboard paint for the children to doodle on the next.
There’s lots to recommend porch-side living. At an elevated two metres from any passerby, I’ve had the chance to get to know my neighbours: the octogenarian Mehmet, who appears on his mobility scooter; the baritone Ivona, who hails from Gdansk; young fathers trailing their toddlers on tricycles. I’ve come to look forward to seeing Colin (never without his bullmastiff) and hearing his gardening tips. In just a few short weeks, the glacial, big-city anonymity that was the norm has ebbed away.
British people used to spend a lot of time on their front steps. They would sweep them, scrub them, lime or redden them, and then stand at them and chat, front doors open. Now, without traffic pollution, endless cars and imminent places to go and things to do, Londoners are once again talking over the fence and in the street. Front gardens and neglected quadrangles have been put to use. We’re beginning to reinhabit the thresholds of our homes – and expand beyond them. On our steps, for example, potted plants are making their way onto the pavement and there’s an informal gardening project sprouting up next to an ugly row of bins.
It’s an important change of tone. Human presence on the streets has given confidence to our corner of London that seems self-perpetuating. We now know our postman, we’ve enlisted Steve the milkman, and the fishmonger drops off our order on his cargo bike every Thursday. We spend the day
with the door ajar and I have come to love the sound of the people who live around me. I enjoy the loud reggae remixes from a neighbour who lives diagonally opposite. I even relish the shouts of a hotly contested game of rounders going on in the street.
The UK had become a nation of frosted windows, net curtains and louvre shutters. But the crisis has propelled many people back onto their porches and front steps. It’s an irony that a government instruction to “stay at home” has acted as an icebreaker and given us the confidence to speak to our neighbours. And it looks as though it might just stick. As Colin said to me yesterday: “How can we ever go back?”
About the author: Grove has been monocle’s senior editor, Istanbul bureau chief and senior correspondent based in Paris. She recently swapped her perch on the Rive Gauche for one near London Fields.