As we look forward to a long weekend (for those of us still working), which will be followed by the 11th week of lock-down – assuming I’ve done my sums right, I just wanted to add a few observations, gleaned mainly from my drives to and from work.
The first is a particularly unpleasant and disturbing one which raised its head very early on during the restrictions. I was appalled one morning by what can only be described as “fly-tipping,” admittedly not on the scale that makes the local headlines, but enough to really annoy me, and spoil my drive into work.
It was if someone had driven along and ejected their household rubbish, for that is what it was, out of the vehicle. Pizza boxes and plastic bags containing domestic detritus, littered the normally pleasant country road, for a couple of hundred yards, causing me to really question the mentality and intelligence of the individual(s) concerned.
Fortunately, this appears to be a “one-off” incident, and thankfully most of the litter has gradually disappeared – the hard-pressed local council may also have removed some of it. Even so, such behaviour does little to restore one’s trust in human nature.
This brings me on to the next set of observations which relate to an increase in people using a reasonably busy country road as part of their regular exercise routine. Now I am all in favour of the population at large taking more exercise; and for the government to encourage them to do so is one of the real positives to come out of this situation.
But country roads have blind bends aplenty, as well as places where they narrow and if, as a motorist, you suddenly encounter someone huffing and puffing along the wrong side of the road, or worse a family with young children on bikes, wobbling along a road which, in normal times, they wouldn’t dream of using they and, by extension, you could be in all sorts of trouble.
I am writing this as someone who doesn’t drive particularly fast and who has been tailgated in the past by the odd lunatic, frantic to get ahead in order to arrive at his (it’s always an alpha-male), destination that few minutes earlier.
To be fair, during the first few weeks of the lock-down, the roads probably were sufficiently quiet to permit both safe walking, running and cycling, whilst still observing a degree of caution and common-sense. This still does not apply to allowing young kids to wobble all over the road on their bikes; wearing a safety helmet is not much protection from being hit by a car, even when it’s travelling at normal speed.
As the weeks have drawn on though, traffic has steadily increased; particularly the number of vehicles belonging to builders and other contractors. We are not quite back to levels seen in mid-March although, if the trend continues, we are probably not far off them.
Most walkers seem to have disappeared. After all, given the preponderance of footpaths and attractive countryside locally, why would you choose to walk along a potentially dangerous road anyway. Also, with dry weather throughout April and most of May, conditions underfoot are ideal for a cross-country ramble.
The suicidal runners (the ones who ignore the rule about facing on-coming traffic), have also largely disappeared, which just leaves the over-weight cyclists, riding in small groups, huffing and puffing as the line of cars builds steadily behind them.
It’s true that as a nation, we have failed pitifully to provide proper and safe off-road facilities for cyclists. A visit to the Netherlands, four years ago which did include an opportunity for off-road cycling, proved to me just how inadequately our provision for two-wheeled transport is.
It is rather ironic then that bike sales should have soared during the current crisis, and the government are now belatedly, looking at increasing facilities for off-road cycling, but in the meantime, whether you’re a cyclist a car-driver or both, please take care out there.
So, will the current exercise fad continue once things slowly return to normal? I would like to think that it will, and as long as people are sensible about it, and take their exercise well away from moving traffic, then that can only be a good thing.
We were fortunate in the UK that outdoor exercise has been permitted by our government, unlike Italy and Spain, for example, where people were incarcerated in their homes for weeks on end, and only allowed out for essential shopping. With luck we will end up with a fitter and healthier population, meaning some good will have arisen from the unfortunate situation we find ourselves in.