A couple of days into the latest national lockdown and 2021, Derbyshire Police, handed Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore £200 penalty notices for alleged breaches of lockdown rules while on a walk at a remote spot around five miles from their homes in Leicestershire. The fixed penalty notices were issued after the two friends were told their hot drinks were in breach of the laws as they were “classed as a picnic”.
During the 2nd week of 2021, Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, came under pressure to clarify details of a Sunday bike ride seven miles from his Downing Street residence after No 10 refused to say whether he was driven there. Parkgoers spotted Johnson cycling in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, along with his security detail, at about 2pm on Sunday 10 January.
COVID-19 guidance, in England, states ‘you should not travel outside your local area’ and during a national radio interview later that week, Metropolitan Police Chief, Cressida Dick, helpfully clarifies these guidelines by saying, “Local means local”. The same regulations also tell us we are allowed ‘essential travel’ from our homes for one session of exercise. (There is no time limit applied to this essential exercise). The rules, needless to say, vary across the UK and are different in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Derbyshire Police, it should be noted, have previous on this. Like using drones to track (or perhaps more appropriately stalk) walkers who are in remote parts of the countryside, with no one to socially distance from, in an attempt to pour shame on a practice that should be encouraged. More recently they adopted the tactics of ridicule to deter ‘stupid hikers’. It also worth remembering that while the rest of the UK has been bouncing in and out of various tiers and levels of lockdown many people in the north and midlands have been under stricter regimes for months.
But just what is ‘local’ in London? I’m lucky to have Richmond Park a kilometre from my doorstep. (I know this for a fact because my phone tells me this when I go for my daily run and enter the park at Ham Gate.) If I walk from my front door to the park, then round the periphery and return home, that 13 kilometre-ish walk would have me visiting 3 London boroughs – Kingston, Richmond and Wandsworth. I’m also about half a mile from the Thames Path and in 30 minutes I can cross from south of the river to the north bank. Long a physical, cultural and philosophical divide for so many Londoners. Is it better for me to take a short bus ride to somewhere like Feltham and avoid adding to the number of users in the Royal Parks or on the Thames Path by walking across the much less used London Air Park on my way back home?
At the same time there is abundant evidence that despite the marvellously hopeful news of several successful vaccines showing us a potential path out of the pandemic, that many people are finding this iteration of lockdown tougher to bear. As a collective we seem to have gone through various phases of lockdown. As Simon Armitage, the Poet Laureate, “At first, people associated it with the weather and being outside, so although there were restrictions, there were also compensations. I probably started to feel it most keenly recently, as it got darker and colder and the days got shorter.”
Speaking personally, there were times during last summer when you might have mistaken my local park for some sort of idealised Victorian sanatorium, filled with joggers, skippers, stretchers and barbell-raisers. On the deserted roads nearby, families cycled in liberated unruly gaggles. People were gazing admiringly at magnificent street trees that they usually ignored as they scuttled to the station or bus stop as part of their daily commute. Inside living rooms, children started the day by doing star-jumps with their parents. It felt like a new start. It was, of course, one huge mirage. Subsequent research by Sport England found that overall activity levels fell dramatically for both adults and children. During the pandemic, an ongoing crisis became even worse.
And activity levels were frighteningly low beforehand. Even in normal times, about four in 10 British adults are so immobile they risk their long-term health. Around 25% are almost completely inactive, meaning they exert themselves for less than 30 minutes a week. It is suggested that we do 150 minutes of exercise a week. Judging by the number of books published telling us how good exercise is for us, how to do it better and cheaper and how to have more fun doing it, more Britons are buying and reading these books than actually doing any exercise. Great though the various apps (and yes there are so many to choose from) that take us from the couch to 5k are, what we really need is a couch to front door approach.
You don’t have to be a COVID_19 denier nor a lockdown sceptic to be concerned about the long-term effects of any recovery of the nations as we journey to a new normal. Lockdowns are undeniably successful at reducing that dreaded ‘R’ number and crushing the virus. Trouble is they are also wonderful at choking the life out of the economy at the same time as exacerbating the various other social epidemics that were afflicting in the before times.
walking class hero lockdown days playlist :
The Tracks of my Tiers
Diana Krall – California Dreamin’
Aretha Franklin – Tracks of my Tears
Bruce Springsteen – Stayin’ Alive
For What It’s Worth – The Staple Singers
John Fogerty – Weeping In The Promised Land