Come closer. Check behind you. ‘Lean in,’ as the Americans say. Here’s a secret. We stay at home parents know it. Retired people know it. Freelancers and gas engineers probably know it. People who’ve taken the day off to move or the morning off for a dentist appointment know it momentarily, but soon forget.
During the day, in London at least, people who are not at work are nice to each other.
There. I’ve blown it open.
Neighbours greet each other in the street. People help you on to buses with your buggy, and passengers on the bus stand up for those more in need than themselves. Passersby smile at your toddler as she sings her way along. You easily find a table at lunch and waiters and waitresses smile and take an extra five minutes for a chat. The toddler lunch-rush at 11am is a much more relaxed affair than the actual lunch-rush which begins an hour later, since the point of a toddler’s 11 o’clock lunch is generally to pass as much time as possible with the added bonus of a few crumbs making their way into your kid’s mouth. Fellow customers smile indulgently at your Cinderella-clad screaming three year old. Somebody is always available and willing to hold the door as you leave.
Posties really are cheery and they even shout ‘good morning’ as they whistle their way down the road (with the exception of the lady who drives a van delivering parcels round our way. She beeps her horn and chucks your parcel at you with a grunt before squealing off in a cloud of burnt-rubber smoke. My mate down the street told me the only time she’s seen her smile was when she – the postwoman – nearly knocked her – my mate – off her bike. But she’s probably got a lot on).
Recently I’ve been feeling a bit Januaryish. The drudgery of the school run, the nursery run, and the drizzly dash from one to the other. The frustration of food refusals, tantrums and the Heath Robinson nature of the day with small kids. My feet have been dragging and shoulders hunching, my mood dreary-hearted and filled with ennui. Also, I think, I really need a job, before my brain is finally devoured by the fearful and self-propagating laundry creature.
But today was Saturday and we were all at home, together. A walk through the park and lunch out seemed a relaxed way to spend the day. We fought for a table in the cafe and the waiter was perfectly polite but distant, hurried. Sharp-elbowed Pickle had found a swing free in the packed playground and was not best pleased at having to get off it. We’re planning a new bathroom and thought it a good plan to have a look in the bathroom showroom down the street (yes, I KNOW). Amongst other horrors that occurred in there, we got told off for letting Pickle open and close a ‘very expensive’ toilet lid (lucky the man didn’t see her other crimes against sanitary ware). On the bus on the way home everyone studiously ignored my three-year-old as she stood, holding on for dear life as we lurched over speedbumps and round corners. Then a guy in a car revved his engine aggressively as we crossed the road in front of him. And we were there FIRST. Staying at home has its definite down-sides, I thought, as I flipped him the bird in a white flash of rage. But you would never have a day like this in the Marvellous Secret World of the Day.