Steve Fallon

The View from My Front Door: Open Sesame

It’s time. Slowly and with resolve, I close my bedroom window upstairs and walk down the steps into the hallway. It’s been a while. I open the front door. The world is at my feet.

The View from My Front Door. Photo Credit: © Steve Fallon. The View from My Front Door. Photo Credit: © Steve Fallon.

But like so many around me and around the world, I look to the left and to the right and I wonder: Is this what I want? In almost four months I’ve seen acts of human kindness positively overflowing, enough to fill that half-empty glass many times over. Among neighbours who clap and share meals… With family who have kept us afloat with online birthday and engagement parties (who’s zoomin’ who?) … Among many colleagues, fellow tourist guides, whose profound knowledge and bright ideas during lockdown have left me mesmerised and speechless (which is no mean feat) … With the rangers, council workers on secondment and fellow volunteers in Victoria Park who have taught me the tricks of domination… Am I ready to trade the new normal – the slowness, the freedom from social pretence, the lack of deadlines – back for the old one?

Let’s not romanticise all this, though. There are still – and always will be – rogues, rapscallions and scallywags about. Why should the new normal be some sort of Paradise Found? Among the 99.5% of people who complied with the (admittedly stringent) rules in the park after it was re-opened – no sports, no static exercising, no cycling, no picnicking, no having fun – under lockdown, a tiny percentage argued about their inalienable right to do whatever they damn well pleased and either ignored our warnings (at best) or threatened us with violence (at worst). Even WWII and its Blitz, which is cited in the UK by anyone and everyone who wants to deal the `stiff upper-lip card’, had its less-than-commendable moments.

I live very close to Bethnal Green underground station, the site of the worst single British civilian disaster of WWII, at long last remembered with a moving memorial. Some 173 men, women and children were crushed or suffocated at the bottom of the main entrance stairwell as they rushed for shelter on that rainy night of 3 March 1943, slipping on the wet steps by the dozens. The panic was not caused by enemy action, but by the sudden and unannounced test-firing of a battery of 60 anti-aircraft rockets secretly assembled in nearby Victoria Park and tragically mistaken for hostile fire. At the bottom of the pile of tangled corpses were several well-known pickpockets. Life carried on as in peacetime, even with a war on. Almost refreshingly, the new normal mixes with and blurs the old.

Stairway to Heaven Memorial, Bethnal Green. Photo Credit: © Steve Fallon. Stairway to Heaven Memorial, Bethnal Green. Photo Credit: © Steve Fallon.

The 10 things I’ve learned while under lockdown – from the mundane to the magnificent:

  • Ordering takeaway takes the fun out of cooking;
  • Watching `TV’ (well, in my case YouTube movies on a computer screen) is fine and dandy but only when you have exceptional large amounts of time to kill;
  • It’s easy to live without flour (less so toilet paper);
  • Long hair is the New Black (bushy eyebrows are not);
  • According to Woody Allen, you can meet some interesting men in a conga line, which also applies to queues, it so happens;
  • The birds will come back, and they will bring their song;
  • The stars will shine and twinkle again;
  • It is possible to see a smile through a mask – as my mother used to say, `the eyes are the windows to the soul’;
  • The world can stop – grind to a halt, in fact – and be started up again without a reboot;
  • Of all the true words that Anne Frank wrote, the truest of all were these: `How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.’

I walk down the front stoop and am faced with a crucial decision: whether to head east to the park and frolic or west to Hackney and work. It’s early and I can hear the young writer Stingo paraphrasing Emily Dickinson as he crosses Brooklyn Bridge at dawn at the end of Sophie’s Choice: `This was not Judgment Day, only morning – excellent and fair.’

And so I conclude this journey around my head. Four months, 10 episodes, infinite memories, and for you, dear readers, some distraction, I hope. Yes, it’s true – All This is not All That, not just yet. But it’s on the way. And so am I. Judgment Day can wait.

This was and will forever be my beloved London from my window. Continue to look out yours too. You’ll always be astonished at what you see.

Victoria Pub in London Reopens. Photo Credit: © Steve Fallon. Victoria Pub in London Reopens. Photo Credit: © Steve Fallon.

Victoria Park Famers' Market. Photo Credit: © Steve Fallon. Victoria Park Famers’ Market. Photo Credit: © Steve Fallon.

*****

Read all 10 posts from Steve Fallon’s London lockdown series: 

Steve Fallon

A native of Boston, Massachusetts, Steve can’t remember a time when he was not obsessed with travel, other cultures and languages. He lived in Paris as a student, taught English in Poland before the Berlin Wall came a-tumbling down, worked as a journalist for a dozen years in Hong…

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