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Friday 8 May 2020

Contagion Layman

Freedom, on two wheels

This week, Hannah Jane Parkinson goes in search of a bike – anything to put distance between her and the government’s daily briefings

Ok, I’m bored now.

It’s been seven weeks in lockdown and I’ve had relationships shorter than that. I’m sure the prime minister has too.

I am lucky enough to be faring well, for the most part, during this time. Lucky to not have taken a financial hit. But, also, emotionally and socially, I was perhaps more prepared than others. Quite a long period of what I’m going to euphemistically call “downness” – more accurately, that liminal space between ennui and full depression – had meant my world had shrunk significantly before everything was turned upside down and all the usualness of quotidian life tumbled from our pockets.

But that period of isolation wasn’t by government decree. I’d still wander around cavernous galleries and fill the space with thoughts. Watch theatre debuts. See some people. Eat at my local café so as not to go entirely mad. I miss these things.

The dullness is – as I am sure it is for many – setting in. I am not quite at the stage of throwing a ball idly against a wall, but I am close. This despite the fact I have been reading voraciously (even more than usual) and catching up on some excellent television. It is exhausting, though, doing nothing. I mentioned in a previous diary that I have taken up gardening. While I am still delighted to see the plants unfolding to reveal their colours to me, I have downed tools for the moment. It is said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. But what if it’s just doing the same thing over and over again?

To try to escape this and attain some sort of freedom, I walked for an hour to Halfords to try to purchase a bike. I live in London and have always been too fearful to cycle on its roads; burping fumes and boy racers and Ocado vans. I thought that lockdown, when the roads are quiet, would be an opportune time to build confidence on a bike and serve as my daily exercise. I figured some outlets would be closed, so I checked online to see which branches were open (not the one closest to me, hence the trek), but when I arrived, the store itself wasn’t selling bikes, but mostly dishing out parts ordered online to those who already know what cleats are. Always phone, folks; always phone.

But even the quest served as a good distraction. Learning more about handlebar styles; which tyres are best suited to which terrain. Being ticked off by a friend (who knows her stuff) for looking at an expensive model when I am essentially at tricycle-level. I had already slacked off on cycling at the gym before lockdown, due to an ongoing and quite frankly maddening medical mystery, so the bike I was looking at was akin to someone whose driving licence had lapsed browsing the website of Ferrari.

I glimpsed the prospect of a bike, however, as a means to put literal distance between myself and the ever increasing tedious daily briefings. I’m done with the phrase “next slide please”; and journalists as pixels. A secretary of state sandwiched between two advisers, looking like the worst pop band line-up of all time, but with lecterns instead of stools.

It’s expected that on Sunday Boris Johnson will announce easing of lockdown measures. The public message has already been changed from “Stay Home, Save Lives” to “Stay Safe, Save Lives”. I have already noticed an uptick of people out on the streets; cars on the roads; and lovers visiting SAGE members, so it seems restlessness isn’t limited to me. (I should make clear, though, that I have still been sticking to the rules.)

I don’t think things will be back to normal any time soon; but, as someone who lives alone, who hasn’t been touched by another human being for almost two months, the thought of hugging and kissing my pals is almost making me smile. I can’t wait to visit them. Hopefully, by then, on two snazzy wheels.

Illustrations by Tim King

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