I'm loving the new national hobby of spying on and judging each other | Grace Dent

‘The problem with eating in glass houses is other nitpicker diners throwing figurative stones’

We may be teetering towards a vague genre of semi-normal – some pubs are serving takeaway pints, Mr Whippy is being eaten in parks – but as we gain back some small freedoms, we won’t give up our new national hobby lightly. Many of us have learned the simple pleasure of spying. Actually, scratch that: spying, judging and sometimes even a little light dobbing. To the council, to the police or on social media. I’m as guilty as everyone else. I love being shown evidence of a rule-flouter, because it makes me feel ever so righteous and holy. But as I packed two plastic glasses this week and set off on foot to toast a friend’s birthday, I weighed up a new threat. I’d stay four metres away for the full duration, and we could even fit in some Zumba stretches, but that wasn’t what frightened me. It was more that if I went into the sunshine, I may be spotted by someone else in the sun who would get angry at me for taking a risk.

This dual-think is increasingly common. The new patron saint of the national hobby, freshly canonised, is that amazing woman on Durdle Door beach BBC News spoke to earlier this week. Jane and her family had driven for an hour and a half to breathe some sea air and enjoy the feeling of sand on their toes. But when she got there, she found something quite harrowing: there were other families on the beach who were flouting the law. This summer, I reckon, all pub landlords, restaurateurs and shop owners will find their job specs stretched to include unofficial Covid-19 refereeing. Their work will involve one long, confused, tit-for-tat customer square-up. “I am drinking a quiet pint in the sun with my uncle to help with his lack of vitamin D,” some might say, but others will complain: “Those people across the beer garden are simply on the piss – you need to make them leave.” Or: “I am keeping the local economy thriving by using the local bakery, but these other people who queue up for pastries are idiots.”

One way of reopening restaurants I saw in America involved guests sitting in small outdoor greenhouses, in tables of four and shielded from other diners. But the problem with eating in glass houses is the other nitpicker diners throwing figurative stones. “How can table three be sharing a bread basket? We overheard them say they’re not even in the same household!” Heaven knows what we will do with children eating out in the new world, not least as none of us can agree on their place in proceedings at the best of times. Perhaps we’ll return to the good old days of British childminding and leave them in the car with a packet of Salt’n’Shake and the window ajar. It was fine for me and the rest of Generation X. Absolutely no problems to see here.

I saw something freshly peculiar by the see-saw in the local park this week. A gran, her son and a toddler, all drinking brought-from-home cups of tea in the sunshine. They also had a bag of brought-from-home sandwiches. It was a lesser-spotted, cross-generational grouping! They scoured my expression nervously and hid the flask from my sight in case I took some sort of issue or called an authority. This slightly paranoid feeling of watching and being watched is getting more normal by the day.

And as for some snooping friends, well, I didn’t know they had it in them. A woman I know in her mid-50s, famed for her lively parties where the guest list stretches to hundreds, took to social media last weekend to complain that some of her neighbours were having a barbecue. Should I call the police, she asked rhetorically. “It’s like they think lockdown is over!” she said, clearly upset and, yes, possibly within reason. “Definitely call them!” came the answer from many, including the kind of people who last year were being sick in her rhododendrons.

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Source: theguardian
I'm loving the new national hobby of spying on and judging each other | Grace Dent