500 people: Week 33–34

See this post for a brief description of my 500 People challenge.

As we reached the end of lockdown and got out into the parks to picnic in groups of (mostly) the legal five or fewer, we seemed generally even less likely to talk to random strangers. However, I had some genuinely warm transitory encounters in those last two weeks.

1. Monday 27 September. The Emerging Artist and I were exploring Pyrmont, at the edge of our permitted 5 k radius. We were about to climb a short flight of stairs signposted ‘Cliff Walk’, when a woman who was busy with a trowel in a small vege garden beside the stairs called to us: ‘Going up to the windy place, are you?’ So we stopped to chat: it transpired that she is a little older than I am, has lived in the area for 10 years or so, and manages the hilliness with some difficulty; she cultivates this little garden as a community service as well as the windswept one in her own back yard; her husband, older than she is, is active in a community recycling project.

2. Thursday. We were back in Pyrmont with Ruby, where she frolicked among water spouts and we had leaf-boat races in a shallow waterway. Between activities, the EA asked Ruby if she’d like a snack. A young masked man sitting just within earshot spoke up: ‘Oh, what snacks are there?’ Not that he wanted to know – this was clearly an invitation to chat. But I told him what I knew of what was on offer at the little kiosk. The conversation expanded, so soon we knew he lives in Camperdown, and that we have places in common where we go with our young ones (his daughter was asleep in a stroller next to him). He gave us a number of tips about good places elsewhere in the Inner West. When he and his daughter headed off, it was with the possibility of meeting again.

3. Monday 4 October. On our morning walk by the Cooks river, we passed a man and a woman picking mulberries – or rather, he was reaching up into the branches looking for ripe mulberries while she was eating one he’d found earlier. I picked one from the opposite side of the tree, and gave it to the EA, saying, ‘I hope they haven’t been poisoned.’ The young man didn’t catch my exact meaning (I was masked and I’m guessing English wasn’t his first language). He said, ‘Oh no, they are mulberries.’ The young woman stepped in: ‘We ate some yesterday, and we’re still here!’ This is a different tree from the one in Week 32.

4. Monday, on the same walk, we passed the Earlwood Spoon Project. People are invited to decorate wooden or plastic spoons, make them into characters of some sort, and add them to this installation. There’s another, smaller installation along the Wolli Creek section of the Two Valley Trail. The recent heavy rain and wind had laid the spoons low, but someone had rendered them upright and orderly. Two youngish women were bending over the display, exclaiming: ‘Look at the bride!’ ‘There’s Wally!’ and so on. I inserted myself by telling them of the recent devastation, and then all four of us spent a little while pointing out clever creations: Homer Simpson, Chuck Norris (?). Someone apologised for swearing. A brief good time was had by all.

Photo by Penny Ryan

5. Tuesday evening, I was walking through our underground garage, maskless though we’re supposed to be masked in the common areas, and listening to a podcast – the Thoroughly Modern Mozart episode of Christopher Lydon’s Open Source. To prevent further ear damage I don’t use ear buds, and I was filling the garage airwaves with the sound of a classical piano. When a masked man with a shock of black hair appeared, I hastily turned the podcast off and fumbled for my mask. We nodded to each other – frostily on his part, I thought. Then he called back over his shoulder, ‘Whose is that piece?’ I could tell him it was Beethoven, but I was way out of my depth, so the conversation couldn’t go much further.

6. Sunday morning. We were helping some friends scope out an apartment they are considering putting an offer on – they’d done their inspection, this was just the environment. A woman emerged from a ground-level apartment and we bailed her up and plied her with questions: strata arrangements, rules about pets, use of the swimming pool, public transport, most convenient shops, development proposals for the nearby green space …

7. Sunday afternoon, it started to rain a few moments into our regular Cooks River walk. We persevered, and a couple of minutes later overtook a large woman who was walking with a stick. As we passed her with the usual nod and smile, one of us said, ‘Wonderful, isn’t it?’ She managed a wry grin: ‘Sort of!’

Running total is 228. Let’s see if I manage to be any more sociable with strangers now that the Sydney lockdown is officially over.

6 responses to “500 people: Week 33–34

  1. It’s called community – you, EA and Ruby are part of the glue reminding us that it is the combination of acknowledgements of each other’s existence which gives us our community – without which we are Margaret Thatcher/Ronald Reagan’s selfish society-less “individual” – mere ships passing in the night – unseen, though maybe distantly heard?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t gravitate to these posts as much as to your literary ones, as I think I have tended to do the connecting with strangers thing unofficially; but ANYWAY, I did read this one, and my comment pertains to the wooden spoons. I believe these undertakings are called Spoonvilles and they are popping up all over. There are definitely a few in Hornsby LGA – some in parks and some on the verges of private property. I believe they are inviting kids to connect with this activity to help with the community feeling. I believe also that there has been a run on wooden spoons as a result and they are not so readily available.

    I realised anew in reading about your walks, how decidedly urban (of course!) they all are, making them interesting in a different way from mine – which are nearly all in the bush. Easier on my knees than yours. Pavement is hard on joints. But you definitely have more interesting chance encounters. I, however, have learned the names of many wildflowers and have had sightings of lyre birds, wallabies, python (singular), and others.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve fallen behind with keeping up. We have a spoon project in the reserve across the road from us. The person, a kindergarten teacher, who set it up, calls is Spoonsville.

    I did have a couple of good interactions recently, both in my front yard. One was a fellow who glided to a stop in his hybrid, got out, called “Horace” and over came a cat to him, which he picked up and put in a car. He told me that they have GPS on the cat, and every night, pretty much, he goes out and brings it home. He lives a few streets away, and was keen to chat. He showed me the cat’s journey on the GPS app on the phone, and quite cheerfully said that the cat that I thought had killed our resident blue tongue was probably his!! I realised that his was the cat that our cat-loving and owning neighbours had been complaining about, but it appears that Horace’s chatty owner has now befriended our neighbours so all is apparently well there.

    The other was with a person on foot, walking his dog, and looking for his son’s house!! I didn’t recognise the name of the street, but he got out his phone and on Google Maps I could see it was a little street off one very near us (one that we walk along regularly) so I was able to point to him which way to go. He seemed a little clueless so I hope he got there!

    Hope you are enjoying your freedom. We are actually going out of town for two months next week! Woo hoo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sue. Since writing about that little Spoonville, I’ve been seeing them all over the place. It’s apparently a thing!
      Your encounters are so much more substantial than mine. Both those could be scenes from a novel, the first a novel of intense local politics and the second a family tragicomedy.
      My biggest ‘freedom’ is going, masked, to the Sydney Film Festival. Unbelievable luxury! enjoy your trip out of town


      • I half guessed it might have been a thing, but your post confirmed it because I hadn’t seen another.

        Haha, love your characterisation of my two encounters – intense local politics and family tragicomedy. Re the former, Mr Gums got up the other morning to get the paper and found a very sweet note from our cat-owning neighbours, left there at 11.30pm. We were awake then but they must have knocked too quietly at the door for fear of disturbing us. Anyhow, it was to say that they believed that one of their cats was locked under our house, as they could hear in miaowing. It was! But we hadn’t heard it all night – probably because our bedroom end of the house is pretty much on the ground while the back end is much higher so it was down that end. This has happened before with their cat. Mr Gums has the under-house open while working in the garden and unbeknownst to him the cat goes in. Mr Gums hates cats, but is very polite in return to our neighbours!

        Liked by 1 person

      • what a lovely glimpse of life on your street!

        Liked by 1 person

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