Posted in face masks, running

The Unmasked Runner

Everyone understands the severity of this virus and the majority of people agree that measures imposed to restrict the spread are vital, but today reinforced my view that we also do need to apply some common sense.

Here in Crete, the current rule states, ‘Mandatory use of face masks in indoor and outdoor public spaces.’ Earlier, as I was about to embark on a run, this ruling raised some interesting discussion in our household. Mask or no mask?

Picture the location: I was up a fairly remote mountainside, with the exception of a smattering of houses – some occupied, others not. The landscape is largely untouched, where proud olive trees stand collectively in the fields, fields which are separated by low walls made up of precarious piles of stones. The bell tinkering of the sheep, who roam daily in a nearby field at sunrise and sunset, had silenced. The lonesome farmer had already moved them on. Looking around across the expanse of the land, I saw no one. It was here, on this mountainside, that I would begin my run. First along a deserted dirt track and then on a trail that would lead me down the hill – down a quiet tarmac road which sees very little action.

Starting track

My initial thoughts were how could I possibly run with my nose and mouth covered with a mask – the temperature was already in the mid 20s and a full sun was shining. However, as I pondered further, I realised that if I didn’t, strictly speaking I would be breaking the ruling. I mulled over what I perceived to be the madness of running in a mask; the idea of exercising and thus breathing heavily whilst constricted by a fabric covering didn’t sit well in my mind. And yet, to fully comply with the ruling, anyone out in public should wear a mask. Surely this is where common sense had to come in?

The CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) states that ‘masks are recommended as a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people’. As we all know, Covid-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact with one another (about 6 feet or 1.83 metres to be precise) and the importance of mask wearing where people are close to each other is clearly understood. The chances of me coming in close contact with anyone on this run was next to none. In fact, not next to none, it was none. If I was to meet another soul walking or running then we could easily maintain the distance of the road width (approx 3-4 metres) should we happen to pass each other.

I pondered further on the ruling versus common sense. After about 2 km, I would have to pass through a tiny village (with one small local convenience store and a taverna) and then a second village, which although larger, would still be fairly empty due to the early hour. Continuing downhill, I would eventually reach the quiet sea resort of Almyrida, which sits nestled in a gentle and quieter-than-normal bay. Here I would end my run. Here I would mingle with the somewhat despondent local employee in a cafe who, if his establishment was lucky enough to be selected, would be tending to the odd tourist seeking breakfast. August had ended, holiday makers had left – or not even arrived, the place was quiet.

Almyrida

After much thought, I decided to carry my mask as I ran. That way, should I meet anyone along the way, I could easily put it on at a safe distance before we crossed paths. I decided that I would wear the mask when going through the villages, but not along the deserted road. And so finally I set off.

For the first kilometre, despite not meeting a soul, I felt an element of guilt. I almost expected a police officer to stroll out from behind a prickly pear cactus as if waiting to catch me! Just before reaching the first village, I did actually pass an older lady who was strolling up the hill on the opposite side of the road. For the record, she wore no mask. This made me feel a little easier; I wasn’t the only one who was applying some common sense in our remote surroundings. In fact, she was the only pedestrian I passed for the entire five kilometre route. It was that remote.

The prickly pear patrol

As I reached the second larger village, I stuck to my decision and slowed to a masked walk. The tavernas had not yet opened and the local store was empty so other than a couple of cats, I was the only life form on the road. I suspect that many would consider me a touch over cautious; others perhaps not. Once through the village, I unmasked (keeping it close to hand) and continued down the twists and turns of the silent tarmac, yet still on the lookout just in case my sweaty undressed face met another. Soon, however, I arrived at the beach, masked up and headed for a well earned breakfast. Whilst contemplating my journey down the mountain, I released a final sigh of leftover guilt mixed with a feeling of ridiculousness at my worry of breaking a rule which was based on close human contact of which I had none.

On the home straight

Upon returning to the house, I googled a little further and was pleased to find that the CDC have a section entitled, ‘Feasibility and Adaptations’ which suggests that mask wearing is not always possible in all situations. It mentions running and suggests, ‘…conducting the activity in a location with greater ventilation and air exchange (for instance, outdoors versus indoors) and where it is possible to maintain physical distance from others.’ So after my initial concerns, my subsequent research and the sight of another lonesome maskless runner later in the day, I am content with my decision to be a law abiding citizen whilst applying an element of common sense.

Posted in corona virus, hobbies, Travel

Time Well Spent

With my travels unexpectedly interrupted by the spread of the corona virus, on more than one occasion it has been mentioned by friends and family, “Oh but you must be bored,” or “You poor things not being able to travel.” When I hear this, I find myself having to justify why I don’t feel either boredom or self-pity. I thank them for their concerns with an underlying feeling of guilt because at this point in time, there are far more pressing worries in these ‘COVID-19 times’.

Initially we did have to adjust and accept the fact that we could not continue our travels to Spain, Croatia and then take the planned long road-trip through Italy to Crete. However, it has actually been relatively easy to recalibrate and I am certainly not in a position to be dwelling on my misfortunes of not being able to travel. There are clearly other people on whom to focus: the elderly, the vulnerable, the key workers and how the effect of isolation and inaccessibility to vital resources can be managed.

“Oh, you must be bored?”

Bored? No. It is not worth dwelling on what you can’t do. The best thing is to focus on making the most of the opportunities that are presented by unforeseen circumstances. In this case, I have settled into home-life just loving the fact that I have time to discover new hobbies as well indulging in long-term loves, which I never had time for before or which I was too exhausted to do when my job dominated my life. I can now spend hours at a sewing machine, learning Greek, running an increasing number of kilometres, cooking, yoga, catching up with the classics on audiobooks, chatting to my family and friends, crocheting, thinking about and writing a number of unfinished blogs, reading paperbacks and also e-books on a Kindle, painting doors and walls, growing vegetables and herbs, catching up on TV, listening to podcasts, as well as learning through thoughtfully-selected online OU courses.

“You poor things not being able to travel.”

When people expressed an element of feeling sorry for us for not being able to travel, a sense of awkwardness set in when I considered my current situation. I wasn’t a key worker, I wasn’t a front line NHS worker, and I didn’t have to worry about my job – whether I would lose it or put myself at risk by working. Having already given up work with the plan to travel, no one was expecting me to be anywhere to do anything at any time. So it was easy to adjust to the changes: I was just in a different country than I had intended to be in. I certainly didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for me. For the time being, travelling has to wait, which it will.

With time at home now available and in an attempt to contribute some sort of worthwhile support in this current lockdown, I signed up to be an NHS volunteer. Once accepted, with much anticipation I prepared to be immediately busy helping others, however no alerts came (or have come) through. Although initially frustrating, I can only assume that the lack of request calls has to be a good thing. So what else could I do to help?

With recent discussion on whether face masks are beneficial or not to help prevent the spread of the virus, I am now busily putting my sewing skills to good use and making these. This was prompted by a request from my brother, who lives in London (with its concentrated number of corona cases) where he asked me if I could make some face masks for him and his family. This has since sparked off further requests so now I am feeling vaguely useful. My contribution maybe small, but it is valuable to some.

Face masks #handmadebyluce

None of us planned for these last few weeks and who knows what life will be like over the next few weeks or months. But, cliche to hand, don’t forget that every cloud has a silver lining – you just have to make sure you find it.

Posted in Travelling

Social Distancing on the South Coast

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’.

Thank you Luxemburg!

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.

I circulated the Oyster Pond at least once to ensure social distance

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!