One of the allotment regulars waves to me as I push my daughter’s buggy up the steep hill to our flat.
He’s saying something too, but we’re on opposite sides of the road and I can’t hear for the traffic rushing past in between. Then I realise he’s beckoning me, and cross over.
“Do you cook with French beans?” he asks. “I’ve got some just ready to be picked. Would you like them?”
After establishing he’s got enough for his own family, I accept his invitation to have a look round his plot, while he cuts off the beans, as well as a large bunch of kale and several tomatoes.
As he works, we have a chat, surrounded by vegetable plants, sunflowers and even grapevines. As reliable as Maya’s 5am wake up call, he’s in the allotments most weekdays. I’ve waved to him on countless occasions, both from the path that runs next to the site and our balcony. This is the first time we’ve spoken, however.
Originally from Jamaica, Errol moved to London when he was 11 and has been here ever since. He’s had his patch for more than 10 years and it’s obviously his pride and joy, such is his dedication to keeping it up to scratch. I tell him how organised it looks, how wonderful it is to watch his attention to detail. He tells me he’s seen me hanging out my washing and wonders if I’ll pop back to let him know what I’ve cooked.
Tomatoes on toast, kale crisps and savoury kale pancakes thus far…
A short yet heart-warming exchange, I feel genuinely uplifted as we arrive home, our green and red treasures in tow.
It’s also a timely reminder of the good that can come of a simple act of kindness, especially when it’s bestowed out of the blue, not to mention the importance of talking to people and making connections with other human beings, in particular those who live alongside you.
A few days later, as if the universe is sending me a message, a second reminder is forthcoming when a stranger comes to my aide at the supermarket check-out as I attempt to pay for my shopping in the midst of an epic tantrum. Usually well behaved in the shops, Maya’s antics – seemingly sparked by my refusal to buy her a bunch of flowers – catch me off guard, but the Good Samaritan steps in exactly when I need her.
Again, a small deed. Invaluable in that moment, however. As the saying goes, a little kindness goes a long way.
A cliché, yes, but it is a sentiment we could all do with considering every once in a while, particularly now our politics has become so adversarial and uncivilised – both in Westminster and – in many cases – round the Sunday dinner table.
Downright nasty, in fact, with the division and animosity on show at the heart of our democracy reflected across the wider country. Viciously personal insults abounding, rules – there for a reason – being bent out of recognition amid escalating desperation in the pursuit of extreme goals, mass sackings by text, farcical – almost violent – scenes in the Commons in the run-up to prorogation.
How have we allowed ourselves to end up here? It is shameful and we must take stock of where we are headed, try to reset. Because none of this is without consequence.
Our failure to resolve the situation is taking its toll, not only economically but emotionally too. This week I read a story about a feuding family whose members aren’t speaking to each other due to opposing Brexit stances.
I’m not talking about the Johnsons, although I could be. Sadly, I expect I could be referring to a fair number of families.
What’s more, earlier this year, a survey revealed that more than a third of those who want to stay in the EU would be upset if a close relative married a strong Leave supporter. This is how deep-rooted views have become.
Acutely aware of this danger, I find myself regularly changing the subject if anyone dares bring up Brexit, as I don’t think it’s worth risking relationships, long-standing friendships over this toxic business. Of course I understand why people – politicians included – feel passionately, feelings inevitably fuelled by the issue’s total domination during the past three years. But that’s not, or at least shouldn’t be, an excuse for treating each other with so much contempt.
We need to start conducting ourselves with dignity, regardless of whether we agree or not. And our leaders, our representatives, should be setting the example on this front, not condoning bad behaviour by exhibiting it themselves.
Indeed, if we just took a step back, a deep breath and made an effort to be kinder to each other, I think we’d feel a lot better. Relatively easy when the going is good for sure; clearly harder with our backs up against the wall.
Besides, there’s unfortunately no outcome that will satisfy everyone.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope.
So let’s remember that we are defined by far more than this one thing and not permit it to consume us.
The late Jo Cox MP’s maiden Commons speech has been quoted numerous times Nonetheless, I think it’s worth reiterating that powerful line here.
“We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”
Lindsay Razaq is a journalist and former P&J Westminster political correspondent who now combines freelance writing with being a first-time mum