Like many people around the world I’ve spent a lot of time at home during the last year. Living, exercising and socialising in once place the novelty can certainly wear thin at times. One of the biggest changes however has been the transition from office-base to home working and it’s a change that has made me view my familiar environment in a completely different way.
When lockdown started last March a decision was quickly made to convert the seldom visited spare room/junk room into a home office. In the course of a weekend it was out with the bed, boxes of tat and broken bits of furniture and in with desks, monitors and mouse mats. Previously it was a room that was only ever frequented by the occasional overnight visitor or family of spiders. Now however it’s one of the most used rooms in the house and has given me a whole different perspective on my home.
My work desk is set at right angles to a large window, perfect for gazing out of. The window itself faces on to a garden area which has previously been underwhelmed with attention over the years. I’m no gardener so, other than mowing the lawn or sitting out on a summer’s day, the garden and I just quietly get on with our separate lives. Until now that is. Now I as look up from my newly sited desk, out of the window, I’ve discovered there’s a whole world of activity just a few feet beyond the glass.
For a start the garden is full of animals, birds, foxes, insects and even bats. However the most prolific and enjoyable visitors are the 5 members of the Fat Pigeon family, impossibly rotund feathery balloons who look to defy gravity every time they heave themselves skywards. The Fat Pigeon clan especially love to squat in the tall, denuded tree in my direct eye line. Having never sprouted leaves in recent memory I’m pretty sure the tree is dead, seemly held upright by some particularly determined ivy. The Fat Pigeon family love it however and will spend hours draped around its branches billing, cooing, fighting and eating. My favourite and fattest pigeon of all is Big Kevin. Big Kevin is instantly recognizable, apart from being humungous, by a clutch of bent feathers on his back, sustained in a feeding accident I happened to watch unfold.
Going in for an enthusiastic landing Big Kevin must have been overly optimistic about the strength of the bush on which he was alighting. Touching down with all the grace of a monster truck with wings, it became apparent that the shrubbery was definitely not going to bear the weight of this particular chunky pigeon. The bush broke spectacularly on impact and Kevin tumbled to the ground in an embarrassing flurry of leaves and feathers and squawks.
Luckily the only real damage was to Kevin’s ego but since then a little tuft of feathers remains stubbornly sticking up on his back as a reminder.
Kevin’s nemesis technically belongs to the student house next door, however this bush knows no boundaries and for years has been attempting a stealth takeover of the entire street’s back gardens. Despite its pernicious nature it’s a magnet for birds and insect life. Along with the Fat Pigeon family it also attracts blackbirds, starlings, robins and jays and at certain points in the spring and autumn it comes alive with the music of thousands of bees. The vibrations from the mass of insects can be heard many metres away indoors, sat in the office I can see the air around the bush shimmer as the bees zip around stocking up their reserves. I studiously avoid going near it during these weeks, the thought of all those bees in close proximity is not a comfortable one and I’m happy to leave them to their office job as I carry on with mine.
The other regular garden resident is James Bond Squirrel (or JBS), a whole family of greys with an interchangeable name! Whenever a JBS is spotted the Mission Impossible music starts playing on a loop in my head as he leaps and swings his way across fences, shed roofs and garden furniture; a secret agent on a stealthy squirrely mission. Despite his spy credentials JBS has also recently been unmasked as the prolific flower thief who plagued the gardens last spring. With shrubbery bursting into life, neighbours were suddenly noticing that their beautiful flowers disappearing, with bushes being stripped bare. The only traces remaining were a few discarded petals on an empty lawn. What can be going on?
Looking out of the office window one morning, I see a stealthy movement as a pair of grey furry ears appears over the fence. It’s none other than JBS who promptly sidles over to a beautiful red camellia bush and plucks off a flower. Holding it delicately between his front paws he proceeds to systematically pull off all of the petals, discarding them on the ground before eating the heart of the flower. I’m spellbound as he then plucks another bloom, then another. In just a few minutes a large bald patch has appeared on the bush and all that remains to be seen is a fluffy squirrel tail disappearing over the fence. Busted!
Alongside these feathered and furred visitors, I’ve also become acquainted (at least visually) with neighbours I’d never seen before. Although well versed with those who live on either side of the house, in a busy everyday life how often do we look wider than our own front door? But taking a break from the computer screen and standing at the window, stretching, looking out I start to see others doing the same.
At the back of the house (in the next street) there’s a wannabe racing driver. The television on his games console fills the whole of his upstairs window so, gazing out from my vantage point, his window becomes a giant screen. Most days I can see him racing round various circuits, crashing, tackling chicanes, rival racers, crowds of fans. It’s like total immersion in someone else’s video game world, even to the point where you start leaning into the corners with him!
Next to Gamer guy is another chap who works away with his computer facing the window, head bent, eyes down, shirt off……. Fortunately I only ever see his top half so I’m not sure if this state of undress extends downwards and I’m happy remaining in the dark about that one. Sometimes he looks up and I find we’re both staring out the window at the same time. I sort of want to wave but I’m not sure on the etiquette of engaging semi-nude neighbours so I chicken out.
Finally there are the unseen occupants of the neighbourhood, the ubiquitous DIY-ers operating angle grinders and drills, competing full volume with the mowing, strimming, chainsaw wielding garden enthusiasts from 8am until dusk and an ever present background buzz to zoom meetings.
Most recently, some keen person has taken on the lockdown project of learning to play the clarinet. I have awarded them 10/10 for enthusiasm, however beginner’s clarinet is not a happy sound to experience. After sixty minutes subjected to the repeated opening shrieks and squeaks of the jazz piece “Take 5” I feel they may want to consider that more as an instruction rather than a song choice?
After a year of home working there are many things I miss about travelling in to an office; colleagues whom you share highs and lows with, trade gossip and stories, cake and coffee with. On the flip side however, working from home I’ve discovered a whole world happening outside of my window, one which I never knew existed and of which I’ve grown fond. When I do finally head back to work again in the real world there’s definitely a bit of me that will miss my alternative colleagues, the Fat Pigeon family, JBS and my neighbouring window companions. Maybe not the clarinet practice though!
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