I worry that one day I may be arrested—not as an art thief, cat burglar or master criminal, but as an altogether less interesting and entirely profitless Peeping Sally. This was never really a possibility until I moved to Edinburgh--although I do remember a fortnight spent in a 4th floor cold water walk up in Greenwich Village many years ago when it was simply not possible to avoid looking in the neighbour’s windows. As a result of this experience I can state categorically that ‘ugly naked guy’ is not an urban myth—or at least not in New York City. During this same week I learned always to keep my toothbrush in the refrigerator, having found a cockroach sprawled across the bristles one morning I. I also learned to put the light on before getting out of bed at night—the sensation of walking barefoot across hundreds of cockroaches is only made worse by the snap, crackle and pop that goes with it. The apartment also featured a bathtub next to the kitchen sink under a hinged section of counter-top--something I still consider a remarkably practical arrangement and suspect may be where the notion of multi-tasking originated. I could have a bubble bath, scramble eggs and chat to the neighbours, all at the same time.
Edinburgh offers endless opportunities for the casual observer. Those tall Georgian or Victorian windows are warmly lit stages on winter evenings--shop windows featuring a selection of room settings for our consideration; alternative lives to envy, pity or deplore. The warm yellow light of these domestic interiors draw us into a series of still life paintings-- infinite and often surprising in their variety.
I like to think that Edinburgh is special in this respect and refuse to believe that I would be likely to see a full-size yurt in an elegant drawing room in any other city (with the possible exception of Ulan Bator). It was there, taking up the whole of what was obviously a very big sitting room, throughout my first winter in the city. Or the stuffed brown bear wearing a hat and a tartan sash, standing with its front legs (I want to say arms--do bears have arms?) stretched out as if in a welcoming embrace, in the porch of a flat of my acquaintance. And of course you might see almost anything during the Festival, when drawing rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, and hallways all become Fringe venues and virtually anything is not just possible, but probable.
The bus lends itself particularly well to this pursuit and has the advantage of making Peeping Toms of us all, so that odd bit of peeping or peering goes entirely unnoticed. Staring in someone’s windows when you are a pedestrian can be a little obvious, but sitting on a bus (unless you are reading) you have nothing to do but gaze out the window...often into another. Just as when we are in a car, we seem to feel that the additional layer of glass makes us invisible...or at least unaccountable.
Trains, of course, offer similar opportunities, though they show us a possibly more intimate, but restricted view of domestic life. Railway lines tend to run past the backs of houses: from the bus we see the face their owners choose to turn to the world. Whether carefully or carelessly arranged, they make me think of Eleanor Rigby, ‘keeping her face in a jar by the door’.
So unless you live above the first floor, or behind a hedge, or keep your curtains, blinds or shutters permanently closed, remember you are a shop window. You might want to consider having some fun with it—pretend to be strangling someone next time the number 27 pauses outside your window; decorate your sitting room with spray-on cobwebs and black crepe paper and pretend you are either a distant cousin of the Adam’s Family or Miss Havisham. Startling people can be the joke that keeps on giving.
Actual shop owners might wish to join in as well. Ever since a colleague told me about a music shop she saw featuring sheet music in the window titled: 'Adele for Ukele', I have been unable to think of it without imagining George Formby performing ‘Rolling in the Deep‘. I refuse to look too closely when I am passing, in case it turns out to be something not at all absurd and that mildly diverting illusion is shattered, just like a great big pane of glass.