With schools closed, playground gates locked and outings limited, a couple of families in our block released their offspring into the communal garden one afternoon to let off steam.
This was swiftly followed by a message posted on our block’s Whatsapp group by Amanda Jones (or “Mrs Amanda Jones”, as she styles herself on Whatsapp), one of the residents, who fancies herself as neighbourhood law enforcement and, frankly, has far too much time on her hands:
“The communal gardens aka the horseshoe and surrounding paths etc are not to be used as play areas. Residents under no circumstances should be outside ‘playing’. The communal areas are for getting to and from I.e walking or cycling through. Thank you”
Well, if that didn’t set off a blood-spattered free-for-all.
Parents who were desperately trying to work from home while their children were bouncing off the walls insisted that as long as social-distancing guidelines were adhered to, there was no reason not to exercise their kids in the communal garden.
One couple, one half of which is a lawyer, who have always had an absolute thing about kids playing in the garden, replied with a long message in impenetrable lawyer-speak, objecting that not only were the children dispersing coronavirus but they were also trampling the flowers, citing “Schedule 2: Mutual Covenant, sub-section 11 & 12, which states that the gardens are not for the playing of games of any description or any other sports or pastime which may annoy or inconvenience others.”
(Upon which one of the neighbours fired off a private message to some of us, commenting: “Why don’t those two just move into a retirement home right now??”)
Someone asked the lawyer if she had children, which took the conversation briefly off on a barbed and rather unpleasant tangent.
(“Can you STOP being personal!!!”
“My point was – would your view be the same if you had children? Not sure how this is offensive. In fact, I am offended for being attacked.”
“Oh, so now people without children aren’t allowed to have an opinion??”)
The father of one of the kids who had been out there said that although there might well be rules forbidding playing in the communal garden, it was reasonable to expect some flexibility at a time like this. “I am going on record and saying that I am happy to be in breach of a pointless contractual clause, and I will be seeking legal advice”.
Mrs Amanda Jones claimed that her intention had never been to be dictatorial: “The building management company will consider playing in the garden a breach of government lockdown guidelines. As one of the directors of the residents’ association, I’m just giving you a heads-up.”
Someone retorted that it certainly hadn’t sounded as if she was “just giving a heads-up”; it had sounded as if she was giving a diatribe very much her own.
“ENOUGH!” Mrs Amanda Jones snarled back. “You must STOP these personal attacks!”
Someone calling himself Plumb Turtle appealed for calm, rationality, peace and love: “UNITE PLEASE!”
Mrs Amanda Jones, feeling wounded, desired everybody to be aware that she was exhausted and had an early morning the next day, “and I am a Key Worker and don’t have the luxury of working from home!”
One of the parents who had offended her gave her an expertly crafted ego-stroking speech about how valuable key workers are and how they are keeping society afloat for us and how “we are extremely appreciative and grateful to you and your colleagues”.
Another parent cut the fawning short and yanked the conversation back to the core argument. “The government has said you can use your garden, if you have one, as long as social distancing is observed,” she said, adding that the Prime Minister himself had said you were allowed to exercise once a day.
Mrs Amanda Jones snapped out of her ego-stroked reverie. “Well, you DON’T have a garden!” she spat. “The garden isn’t yours! You have a balcony! Use it!”
(“All very well for her to say,” said the other neighbour in the parallel private Whatsapp conversation that was running among some of us. “She has a massive rooftop balcony for her kid to run around on.”)
The bickering went on until 2:40am, then started up again at 8am, finally coming to an end with Plumb Turtle exhaustedly appealing to everyone to “Listen, Respect, Be Kind”. Then someone asked if anyone wanted a cot she she was getting rid of, and the conversation moved on.
(I woke up in the middle of the night, and while I waited to get back to sleep I passed the time by going through the alphabet, thinking of an adjective beginning with each letter to describe the Whatsapp exchange: acrimonious, belligerent, critical, defensive, exasperated, fierce, grandstanding, high and mighty, indignant, etc. I didn’t get very far, though, because I kept drifting off to sleep after a few letters and then waking up again and going back to the beginning.)
Mrs Amanda Jones is big buddies with a woman who works at the building management company. A few days later we got an email from the company with various coronavirus-related updates – “We’ll be cleaning communal areas more frequently”; “Please inform us if you are diagnosed with covid-19 so we can tell contractors to take particular care”, etc.
The email ended with:
Use of communal spaces: We would like to remind all residents not to use the shared outdoor spaces unless it is for the sole purpose of walking through.
Given that nobody had ever told us (until the Whatsapp blow-up) that the communal spaces are “for the sole purpose of walking through”, they couldn’t very well “remind” us of the fact. Shortly afterwards, Mrs Amanda Jones took a screenshot of that paragraph and circulated it on the Whatsapp group, with a self-satisfied air.
The next day at lunchtime I was tickled to see a couple coming out to have their lunch in the communal garden. In all the time I have lived here, I have never seen anyone going to eat in the garden. (There is nowhere comfortable to sit and eat out there, and we all have balconies that are perfectly suited to al fresco meals.) Later in the afternoon, I saw one of the mothers taking her kids out to play. When another family came through on the way to the gate, she simply moved with her children to the other side of the garden to allow the other family plenty of space to pass.
One of the parents has now set up a Whatsapp group for neighbours who have children, so that they can mount a revolution under Mrs Amanda Jones’s radar.
Mrs Amanda Jones then moved on to putting a spanner in the works of my book-lending scheme, on which more in this post.
Further hostilities over the garden are reported in this post.