Jeremy Lee
Jeremy Lee
A view from Jeremy Lee

An outdoor view from Windowsill Bay

There's more going on than perhaps you'd ever think.

There isn’t much to see from the living room of my small flat. There’s a service road that used to deliver supplies to the mid-market restaurants that make up the ground floor of the block where I live, but which have now been shut for months and are looking increasingly sad and early on the path to eventual dereliction.

The refrigerated food lorries have been replaced by delivery drivers, for Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Amazon and the like, with rather more urgent supplies, and with car loads of carers for some of the elderly residents here I’d never noticed. For both sets of these key workers, I’ve observed that English is frequently a second language.

There’s the communal bin area, where crows gather very early most days to peck at food scraps from poorly fastened and overfilled refuse bags, which someone will clear up later. Then there’s the staff car park for the local NatWest bank from which, later in the morning, a few worried-looking token staff – more key workers – clutch their bags and hurry inside every morning to try to take refuge behind Perspex screens from whoever enters and with whatever they have that ails them.

During the day, some of the older residents shuffle around in cords and surgical face masks, while taking their small dogs for a walk around the block; at night, you sometimes see a fox, or a homeless person using a litter bin as an impromptu urinal. Not much to see, as I say, but more than I’d previously noticed.

Like most non-key workers, I’ve spent more time looking out of the window in the past couple of months than in the entire previous time I’ve lived here. It’s now burned deep into my retina; a welcome distraction from squinting at a tableau of grainy, visually stuttering and verbally faltering miniature digital colleagues on my laptop screen. 

Little wonder, then, that the loosening of the lockdown made my heart leap with joy. Unlimited outside exercise; shops slowly opening and the prospect of sitting in the sun in a park with a friend, drinking cans of cider and smoking fags like a 15-year-old giddy on life.

Anecdotally, at least, some advertisers share this excitement at the prospect of the great outdoors, as we emerge slightly withered in leg and pasty in complexion, tentatively but grateful for the opportunity to be released from confinement. A bit like a compliant Julian Assange. 

Having pulled spend when lockdown was imposed, stories are emerging that there is an increase in proposed outdoor activity as the population (of England, at least) ventures out – some of us back to work, but all of us wide-eyed and ready to spend.

Evidence of a rise in confidence has yet to fully filter through to actual bookings (understandable hyperbole by the media owners, perhaps), but here’s hoping that commercial messages will once again appear, replacing those "Thank you NHS" messages that outdoor media owners dedicated their unrequired estate to. 

When ads for foreign holidays or cars on credit or TV and broadband entertainment packages do return, how many of those key workers who carried on grafting will be able to afford them? Will they even notice the ads? And will we even notice them?

Jeremy Lee is consulting editor at Campaign