Bring back the lost art of windae hingin' - Susan Morrison

Scotland’s tenement streets were ideal for a long look at the neighboursScotland’s tenement streets were ideal for a long look at the neighbours
Scotland’s tenement streets were ideal for a long look at the neighbours
People just don’t seem allowed to simply not do anything for a wee minute any more.

We’re always urged to be doing something like learning Mandarin or leaping on one of those stationary bikes in front of a screen to be hectored by a man shouting, “I see you, Berkhamstead! Keep it going Airdrie! Get your glutes ripped to the max, brother!” Not entirely sure anyone in Airdrie has ripped glutes. Even to the max.

We used to be good at taking a moment for ourselves.

Take windae hingin’, a great and honourable tradition in Scotland. The simple act of sticking your head out the window, to just watch the world go by.

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Scotland’s tenement streets and its back courts were ideal for a long look at the neighbours.

To do it properly, the window had to be boldly open. None of that twitching a net curtain for a quick sneaky peek to work out what was being delivered to next door. Also, it aired the house out. Handy.

A cushion was essential, not the best ones, obviously. Heavily brocaded with a fringe was a favourite. It had to be thick. Those elbows required comfort and support. A good windae hinger planned to be there for a while.

After all, the beds had been made, the furniture polished and the close stair swept. It was time for a break. A comfy old lean out with a sizable mug of strong tea and possibly a Tunnocks Caramel Wafer.

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It helped, but was not essential, to have someone in the dark behind the open window. It was always deeply satisfying to shout the observed intel over the shoulder.

There’s a taxi outside Number 8. There’s a man in a suit looking at the drains. Mrs MacIntrye coming back from her appointment at the doctors, although the information stream probably wouldn’t run to explaining just what condition drove Mrs M to consult with the GP.

She was known to have trouble with her “bits”.

Mrs M’s return to the surgery could easily be telegraphed to women coming out later for a hing, across the court, and in full detail.

There was a kind of facial semaphore that could convey the finer points of delicate health concerns without a word being spoken.

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There’s no denying that windae hingin’ had a mild smack of totalitarianism. After all, like Big Brother, they were always watching.

The sound of a sash window flying open can still make me jump.

It usually heralded the beginning of a windae lean for a stair neighbour, and she’d nearly always start by making sure the kids were alright. Encouraging advice would be bellowed out, such as "get aff that wall or ah’ll leather yez”.

Remember, this was a time people were just randomly allowed to shout at other people’s children.

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Until I was about five years old, I thought my full name was “Susan Morrison Stop That”. What’s more, if your mother leaned out, she’d agree with Mrs Campbell.

There was a brief resurgence in windae hingin’ during the recent Unpleasantness, but we all seem to have returned to our screens to work, play and be yelled at by a man in lycra on a stationary bike.

Take a break. Make some tea. Go stare unashamedly out of the window. Watch the world going by.

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