by Anne Mayer
Our regular columnist, Anne Mayer (86) tells how her daily walk has turned from an enjoyable opportunity to have a break from home to having to deal with anger because of awkward walkers and cyclists. The lockdown stemming from COVID-19 has done that.
In Britain, as in most of the world, we are held prisoners in our homes while a pandemic rages outside. Most of us have never been captive before and unlike, say, a tropical storm which will end in a day or two, no end is in sight. When I am at home alone, I am lonely but aware of how fortunate I am to still be well, to have lovely surroundings and plenty to eat, a back garden full of bloom and birdsong, and a good deal of control over how I spend the solitary hours. I have good friends and good family, and do not feel cut off from the world, although I certainly miss seeing real people and being able to touch them.
Whatever emotions this experience has aroused in me so far, anger is not one of them until I go for my daily one hour walk. My flight path takes me through an area of natural beauty called The New River (it is, of course, ancient). When my husband was ill and I needed solace, in all seasons and weathers I would walk up the canal path, cut through Islington, and the special treat was this area of natural beauty with cycles banned and few walkers. The canal path is out of the question, despite glorious spring weather. Crammed with cycles, runners, large family groups and NO social distancing, it is both unpleasant and dangerous. Even sadder is the desecration of the New River area. The police came in recently, taped off all the benches as a daily walk does not mean lounging on a park bench for hours, and made it one way as the paths are narrow. That act, welcome to me, seemed to bring out every person who wanted to flout the rules; kids and Deliveroos on their cycles, tape torn off all the benches immediately, over half the visitors deliberately walking the wrong way and no social distancing.
Should I speak to someone, however mildly, I won’t even tell you what comes back verbally. I am just waiting for the first punch. Outside on the pavements is just as bad. Runners have replaced cyclists as my pet peeve. They tear up the middle of the sidewalk and woe betide anyone walking there. The old habit of being glued to text messages while walking seems to give those on their phones the excuse to walk straight into pedestrians when we are supposed to watch out for each other and keep two metres apart. No one seems to remember even normal courtesy much less spacing and, once again, if I so much as indicate I would prefer a bit more space I get the diatribe. These people are, on the whole, millennials, and much younger than I, but not entirely. Some older people are just as thoughtless. What they have in common is anger, and after nearly six weeks of my daily walks, I am joining them. No matter how gorgeous the day and how calm I am on setting out, I come home seething. I tell myself that, unlike me, they probably live in crowded flats with no garden and screaming brats. I remind myself of all the good deeds and selflessness which the pandemic has inspired. I remember fondly all my real friends and how nice and generous they are.
But the bad lot have sucked me into their collective rage. My legs may have had exercise but my brain has turned sour and feverish. And what I fear is that the length of the emergency lockdown, as yet unspecified, is changing us all. I am certain some of the people who have said horrible and rude things to me are not normally that way. I used to walk with spring in my step and smile warmly at fellow walkers. I did not mind joggers although I have for some time had issues with cyclists. Basically, happy in myself, I was equally benign in my attitude to those with whom I share the planet. I am no longer that person, and that is worrying as we are only a short way into the tunnel. The antidote? I have a steep staircase with 14 stairs and when I return home every day I run up and down it 30 times, which I am reliably told is equal to an 18 story building. It is hard, dogged work, but it irons out my brain and lets me get on with my peaceful indoor existence. Until the following day, when I set out on my walk again.
Photo: by Carole Railton (copyright). "A daily walk"