Stay Safe, Stay Sane.

It’s a funny old world. 2020 was looking fairly sweet for me. 13 events booked in 12 months and some hefty old challenges in the mix. But in the words of Monty Python, “nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.” Or a global pandemic. We didn’t expect that.

And we didn’t expect a big hand to descend from the sky and to press pause on the world. That was a bit Terry Gilliam too, now I come to think of it. But less funny. Definitely less funny.

Even before Boris announced his swingometer of stages, I had been aware of a gradation of my own reactions. And since BoJo knocked out a bit of algebra to “clarify” it for everyone, here’s mine.

PT x SPL = LL

(Where PT = perceived threat, SPL = society panic levels and LL = lockdown loopiness.)

Because yes, the State enforcing a nationwide lockdown due to a highly virulent, potentially fatal super bug threatening to wipe out the population of the entire world, can be a bit frightening.

Luckily, there was plenty of advice on hand for us plebs. Things like “get out of bed in a morning and put clothes on,” were the lifestyle gurus’ antidote to lying prone, in our nightwear and weeping the days away. “Routine, routine, routine,” they preached. Because screaming at your kids all day because The Plan had slipped by 9am was a fulfilling way to spend our days? I read frantically (in 1hr slots) cooked wholesome meals (whilst worrying about food shortages) and turned into a 1950’s housewife (any length of time scrubbing the door of your fridge is time you will regret.)

And then there was Joe Wicks. Because all of a sudden daily exercise was State sanctioned, and time outdoors was restricted. I was like one of Joe Exotic’s tigers pacing my enclosure. Saint Joe of Wicks was the salvation! I opted for 7 days of Sweat rather than his child-friendly PE class, and to be fair, it’s a decent HIT workout.

But we didn’t get on. 5 days in and I was snarling every time he fiddled with his scrunchie and whined that his legs were shredded from yesterday. I mean, if he’s struggling… The final straw was when I realised I’m not built for jumping. I contemplated training for jumping. Getting one of those Crossfit boxes or a skipping rope. Then I realised I was a very active 42 year old woman, feeling insecure because I couldn’t be bothered to put 100% into pogo-ing around my lounge for a poodle-haired twonk off YouTube. So that was the end of that.

Next, I tried running fast. Because, if you’re only allowed outside for a brief time each day, you should aim for maximum gains right? I don’t like running fast. It’s horrible.

So I’d lumbered myself with two choices. Stay indoors. Be miserable. Go out for a run. Be miserable. Chuck that into the mix of feeling completely useless as a non-key worker with no value to society, sleepless nights with weird chaotic dreams, and supermarkets limiting how many tubes of Pringles I could buy in one go, and I was full on lockdown loopy.

Now, I always knew that running is an important part of my mental equilibrium, lockdown has made me value it even more. The days I didn’t run where the gloomy ones. So stage 2 for me, was accepting that all bets were off; all races were cancelled, I didn’t need to “train.” Instead, I would milk every bit of joy from my Boris runs.

But, all of a sudden, the world and his dog were out daily exercising! The park was busier than Crufts and was being patrolled by Stasi-esque police cars. There were runners everywhere! I don’t know where all these runners came from? Jogging loops around the park in their gym kits and football shirts. Folk waxed lyrical about discovering new footpaths, right on their doorstep. They were not new paths, they were my quiet running trails! My runs were spent leaping 2m into bushes and scowling at people who were quite happy to be lazy sods before.

I limited my outings to an hour, as that was the accepted permissible allocation. Geographically that didn’t give much scope to a trundler like me. During one run, I glanced at my watch around a mile and a half from home, it was ticking over to 57 minutes. The panic I felt at breaking the rules had my heart pounding more frantically than on a trip to Aldi.

Stage 3 was accepting I’m not a buffoon. Buffoonery, according to a reliable police source, was having all your mates around for a load of cans and a bbq, driving to Llanberis to climb Snowdon because you’ve got a bit of time on your hands, meeting up with your pals on Westminster Bridge for a bit of clapping, that sort of thing. As long as I was exercising within my limits (ie not being the buffoon who had to call Mountain Rescue) and from my own home, I should use my own common sense and discretion.

Epiphany time. It turns out I live in a rather nice corner of the world! I kind of knew that already but now I’d be willing to argue the case. I’ve been running these hills for years and perhaps I got a bit jaded. Lured away by worthier fells, more spectacular scenery and a search for adventure. Hobbled by lockdown, I’ve not been able to do my long run on Pendle or skip up to the Lakes, instead I’ve roamed a bit wider from my doorstep.

Our local moors are barren, unforgiving expanses. Soggy underfoot with panoramas studded with boulders of millstone grit. The wind sweeps across them even when the sun is shining. They are inhabited by raggedy sheep and mountain bikers.

Running in the Pennines hills is not for the feint hearted. Stray off the beaten track and you can run miles across this desolate landscape, bracken-scratched ankles, sodden feet from the rust coloured mire, hoping to goodness there will be a reservoir over the next brow to give you your bearings. There are few rolling green pastures around my neck of the woods, and the few there are are guarded by temperamental (evil) cows.

But, there is an unusual satisfaction in running this terrain. The colours change, not seasonally; almost with every outing. Last week’s rusty reeds have already started to dry and crackle, softened by the fluttering cotton grass. Paths seem to shift; step from the Pennine Bridleway at your peril! Trails disappear after a few days rain and reappear months later when the ground is less sodden. Ruined buildings loom unexpectedly and ground nesting birds shriek and flap at invaders. It’s inhospitable and exhilarating and I love it!

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. None of us do. Coronavirus has made my world smaller. For the time being I’m very happy with that. Life is simpler. My lessons from lockdown?

Love yourself. You are responsible for finding your own balance in an uncertain world. Sort yourself out, give yourself a talking to and a kick up the backside when you need to. Some days you will cry, others you will laugh and that’s fine.

Love your family. A big family is hard work. Being confined with teenagers has had it’s moments. But without the diversions of life, this time together has made me appreciate the idiosyncrasies and strengths of each member of my family. I marvel at the maturity, wit, perception and sarcasm of each of my children. I wonder at the way my husband unerringly provides ballast and laughter. Our child-rearing days are closing in, and I reckon we did pretty darn well! One day, our nest will start to become less crowded and I will look on these days together fondly.

Love where you live. It’s easy to take for granted what is just outside the door. It’s easy to moan about litter, the state of society or the weather. Stop and look around. Listen to the birds, look for the rabbits and the roe deer. Take time to appreciate the unfurling leaves, the carpet of bluebells, the aroma of the elderflower in bloom. Stop and look at the patina of a whorled, wonky flagstone, set amidst the bog, and contemplate the footsteps that have gone before you. And, know that ultimately, in this moment, you are happy. And life will go on.

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