When I was researching travel blogs, I remember reading a comment about how it can be important to reflect on your own local surroundings as well as writing about any visited distant lands. Given the current advice of ‘social distancing’ in the UK, which has meant that we have had to abandon our travel plans for now, this blog is me taking time to pause and reflect on the present situation.
We returned to the UK just a few days ago, with a mix of apprehension, curiosity and uncertainty. After a planned pit-stop weekend at home, we had flights booked to Spain (which left yesterday without us) but with events changing daily across Europe, it was clear that our travelling was going to be interrupted somewhat. The countries we had visited for the last 10 days (France, Switzerland, Luxemburg and Belgium) had shown no signs of any unusual behaviour, but we were hearing stories of panic-buying in the UK and lack of stock.
From across the Channel, it all seemed a little unreal and if I’m honest, a bit of a joke, but just to be on the safe side, before we headed home, we did buy one pack of toilet roll when our daughter at home in the UK said that she couldn’t find any to buy. With the situation becoming more and more drastic by the day, we arrived home with news of a lock-down in several countries – some which we had been planning to visit in the next few weeks. Resigned to putting our travels on hold, now like many others, we are settled at home and living as official ‘social distancers’.
On our first day back in the UK, we took a trip to the supermarket as we had nothing in the house. This was an interesting experience: there was a calm sense of almost-inaudible eeriness as people pushed their trollies around in hope of filling them up. Every so often, a customer was heard to exclaim, “I can’t believe it!” as they fruitlessly walked past an empty shelf or down a deserted aisle. I was quite astounded to see so many products absent, but I was adamant that I wasn’t going to allow myself to get annoyed. Instead, I felt the urge to start clearing up and flat-packing the vast amount of empty discarded packing boxes.
Continuing with an open mind, we mused on the profile of the customer who was buying up all those essentials, not just the obvious items but even products like sesame oil. I was so glad that I had bought that pack of precious toilet roll in Luxemburg before travelling home because we haven’t been able to buy any in this area. At odd moments, I half-heartedly find myself doing mathematical calculations on number of sheets x people in the house x visits to the loo. Plans for a compost toilet are in their early stages and use of newspaper or rags are up for discussion! In reality, it doesn’t matter; I am sure we’ll find some if we get really desperate. Toilet paper is the least of problems when you consider the issues people are faced with: jobs, health, finances, childcare, housing, isolation…
So far, I think I am doing this social distancing thing pretty well. Yes, I know we are only at day 4 so positive thoughts all round at the moment! Ask me next week and my optimism may be waining. Initially, I was worried that I would have endless hours indoors and end up watching pointless TV and eating for England, but the beauty of ‘social-distancing’ is that you can still go out for a walk, run or amble as long as you keep a sensible distance from others.
Yesterday morning I went for a gorgeous 8 km run around my local area and it was perfectly fine. At the start of my run, it was lovely to bump into a friend I hadn’t seen for a while. When I say ‘bump into’, we actually stopped and had a catch-up, each standing on opposite pavements with the road as the sensible safe space between us. For a good number of years, we had been playground mum friends, but since our children have grown up, we don’t see each other often, which is a shame, but if I hadn’t gone for my ‘social-distancing’ run, then I may not have seen her so it was a bonus!
Observations during my run were that most people are mutually maintaining a respectful distance from each other in public areas. Where necessary, it was acceptable to cross to the other side of a road, veer off onto the pebbles on the beach or pause and reroute in order to avoid a person or to distance from a group of people enjoying a more spaciously aware chat than usual. People moved out of each others’ way and we did it with a smile.
It was lovely to be able to say ‘Good morning’ to everyone I ran past. This is, however, with the exception of one person and I must belatedly apologise to them. In my somewhat poor defense, I was at a rather tense moment in my Archers omnibus podcast (if you listen, you know what I am talking about!) and so I have to confess, I skirted around the lady without acknowledging her.
There was only one slightly awkward moment on my run when I was about to turn inland and run down an alleyway. Coming towards me, down this particular narrow walkway, was an elderly woman walking her dog, so I turned and jogged along the grassy area just off the beach until she was clear of the alley. As she exited the path, she appeared to look nervously across to me. I hope that this was because she didn’t want to pass too closely to another individual rather than her feeling offended that I had deliberately waited until the alley was clear, but better to be safe than sorry.
People will have various thoughts on this difficult and unfamiliar situation that we are currently experiencing here in the UK and elsewhere; there may be acceptance, denial, refusal, confusion, sadness, uncertainty – even humour. Whatever these unusual times bring to us over the coming weeks, if you don’t have any symptoms and do have the opportunity to go out and enjoy the outdoors, I highly recommend a walk or run. Exercise can be a real tonic for both physical health and mental well-being.
And if you are out and about, please don’t forget to smile and call out a friendly hello to anyone you pass at the now socially-acceptable-greater-than-usual distance. If you do see me and I ignore you, it will only be that I am gripped in the middle of a dramatic moment in a podcast – I apologise in advance!