So, here we go again, locked away until things improve, even as government advisors tell us that we may well still be under some form of Covid restriction as we stagger into 2022. It is impossible not to be depressed by it. The vaccine is our salvation, we are told – except that it just might not be effective against the potential new strains of an ever-mutating enemy: Godzilla, Swamp thing, Piers Morgan… In the UK, we have all become friendless hermits, locked away in pristine homes with the ever-present smell of fresh paint and Lynx Africa; staring out of the window through metaphorical net curtains (real net curtains having been removed from all glazed units except those in ‘greasy spoon’ cafes and once-trendy French Bistros, now Pizza Takeaways) and making note of any over-sized social gatherings marching by – especially if they appear to have strayed rather further from their own homes to exercise than the law permits (eg you don’t recognize their faces and their walking boots are far too sturdy for a gentle tramp around the block). The village has become like a Moscow suburb in the 1980’s: everybody is boiling up leftover beetroot and onion roots; we are all suspicious of the actions of others; everybody is prepared to turn in their neighbours for the promise of a supermarket delivery slot. Every curtain in the street twitches when the Amazon delivery van arrives.
We have a car that parks outside our house every day. The driver walks around the corner and down the road to visit whomever it is that he does not want to be seen parking outside the house of. I cannot tell you which house that might be; it is far too cold for me to follow him in a Homburg and a raincoat and, by the time I have dressed suitably for the weather – at least five cosy layers, plus hat, scarf and coat – and packed my flask of soup in case of unforeseen circumstance, he will be long gone. Whether he fears the Lockdown Police, or whether he chooses to park so far from the house he intends to visit for more nefarious reasons, I cannot say. I know only that the annoyance it causes my wife is on a par with that caused by me hanging my coat on the coat rack – it covers the radiator apparently. I’m sure that, in these times of grocerial drought, if she thought we could spare a potato, she would ram it up his exhaust, or – if he was lucky – that of his car.
We are allowed to leave the house only to shop, to go to work (which I no longer have) and to exercise (which I do daily, as it is free, it gets me out in the fresh air and it gives me space to think – although I still have no idea of where I should hang my coat). Now, those of you who have stoically stayed by my side since The First Lot, will know that in May of the first Lockdown I began to run and I published the first part of my Couch to 5k Diaries, which ran weekly for ten weeks and thence more sporadically through to the last entry, ‘The Running Man in the Dark’, in November; providing material for twenty two posts in all (I think – I am certainly prepared to be corrected on that or, indeed, anything else that doesn’t cost me money). Although the running posts have appeared more intermittently since the initial ten weeks of the ‘course’ my running has continued, predictably metronomically. Whilst the world around me has changed, I have trundled myself out onto the village streets three times a week, without fail or enthusiasm, in order to lug this ageing frame into a position on the BMI chart that does not automatically alert paramedics across three counties. The UK emerged from the first Lockdown in June and I finished the Couch to 5k regime in August – behind the curve as always. As a nation we staggered on through various levels of restriction – from the brief window of hope in the summer to the drifting fatalism of doom in the autumn – and into Lockdown (Episode 2) in November when my running thoughts became, once again, a more regular feature: it pays to have something to hang your ‘coat’ on. This mini-lockdown ended in early December – although the world in general didn’t get any better for it and my own part of it spiralled down like a tumble dryer tipped from the top of K2.
Through December, I began to appreciate the joys of running in the dark. My pace slowed as I strained to ensure that I did not trip on kerb and unlit pothole, but the streets were generally empty, save for other runners and dog-walkers. Even burglars did not venture out, as there were so few empty houses and the streets were full of people who looked as if they just might be able to chase them. I began to ladle on layers: hat, gloves, snood, running tights, and I filled in on an exercise bike when the weather was too bad for me to venture out (I am notoriously unstable on the ice). Running became a refuge from fear.
And then? Well the gentle slide into worsening fortunes turned into a breakneck plunge into the abyss. New, more infectious Covid strains, a hastily abandoned Christmas, the NHS in crisis, lead to the inevitable Lockdown#3 and the weakening of spirits more usually associated with an unscrupulous seaside landlord, a funnel and a bottle of water. I have run through it all. The reality of these thrice weekly ambles is seldom of interest to me, let alone anybody else, but then in times of crisis…
Through both previous lockdowns, my running has provided the peg on which I have hung my coat of pain and – well, I think you can guess what I am going to say…
Thursdays may well become the day of the Running Man once again. I’m sorry. I realise that things are bad enough already.
Remember – Hands, Face, Space and Open the Windows. Good times are just around the corner!
The next instalment of my running diary, ‘The Running Man and Beats per Minute’ is here.
The last instalment of my running diary, ‘The Running Man in the Dark’ is here.
This whole sorry, loping saga started in May, last year, with ‘Couch to 5k’.