(Read time: 2 cups of tea and a Tunnocks Caramel bar)
I know there was a time in April 2020, when I, along with most of the rest of this fragile planet looked forward to the day when COVID-19 disappeared and let us get back to whatever we thought normal life was. I also believe that we’re all clear that the new normal is with this fuzzy little sucker (new technical term) circulating and providing us with hours, perhaps years of suffering, ‘entertainment’, limitations and debate. Therefore, COVID-19 is clearly a bad thing that will not come to an ‘end’, but our perspectives, opinions and approaches to living with it will certainly continue to evolve (hello, Plan B).
I’ve written before about the positive impact that COVID-19 had on my cycling. Recently, I was reminded of another ‘upside’, as I lay on the sofa, with a banging headache, cramping stomach and a body temperature that’s normally reserved for a Le Creuset cast iron dish. Yes, I was ‘under the weather’, for the first time since February 2020, where I had very similar symptoms and ended up locked in a hotel room in Florence for 48 hours before making my escape back to Blighty… was that COVID-19? Who knows! But having been in the north of Italy just beforehand, the epicentre of the early issues in Europe, it’s possible, if not entirely probable. However there were no lateral flow tests then, nor did we appreciate the potential severity of what we may or may not have been carrying – so my single objective was to go home. And get home I did. Fast forward to November 2021, and I am pleased to say that all of tests indicated that I while I was COVID-free – all was not well.
On the one hand, I am first to admit that I am ‘crap at being ill’. I don’t know what being ‘good at being ill’ looks like, or why you would want to be good at it, but I am categorically crap at it. I don’t like being knocked out, and in particular I was frustrated by being unable to go and enjoy the final autumnal sunshine before it evaporated into the first of this winters storms. And, on the other hand I was frustrated, as the lack of bicycle time meant that I could not achieve one of my cycling objectives. I don’t need to tell you what it is, as stats are not cool, however for the first month since March 2020, I now could not achieve a monthly target.
Two weeks on from when I originally started this particular post, I have made it out onto the road on my bicycle just once. Clearly I was ‘under the weather’ because I was exhausted and with nothing left in the tank, my body won. After three days in bed, and only then starting to feel more human, I got the message, it’s time for a break from my bicycle. Accepting this was embarrassingly challenging – as you know, I love riding my bicycle. But, once I accepted that my training record stopped here, and rest was really necessary for my health and sanity, I was ok with it. Genuinely, ok with it.
Spoiler alert… I’ve actually enjoyed doing other things, and enjoyed not riding my bicycle.
These other things, are things that perhaps you, your family, friends and neighbours may all think to be quite normal. However for me, I was stepping out of my box. I watched a film, for no other reason than because I could. I said yes to a trip to the theatre with a friend who offered me tickets for something I’ve never heard of, and I didn’t even ask what it was about before I said yes. Both would (embarrassingly) have been unthinkable just three weeks ago. I’ve also been ‘away’ for a night, for no other reason than I had a free weekend. Cashing in some hotel loyalty points, I stayed in a lovely hotel in central London… taking the opportunity to watch the world go by. While the razzmatazz of London is obvious on a Saturday night, one of my favourite times to be out and about in the capital is Sunday morning. (Note: razzmatazz is an underused word, though perhaps this is because there’s too much razzmatazz around so we don’t recognise it as such?) Sunday mornings are relatively peaceful, as the revellers of Saturday night are dealing with the after effects at home, and those who are coming to spend their hard earned cash in eye-wateringly expensive shops have not yet arrived.
I never fail to be amazed that at 9 o’clock on a Sunday morning, in the centre of one of the busiest cities in the world, there is barely anyone around. Given the lack of a living or breathing thing (even the Pigeons are still in bed) the roads are quiet, so getting around in full view of the film set scenery is easy… and unless you’re heading from one side of the capital to the other, there is really no need for the Underground. Stay up top, and have a look around – it’s all a lot closer together than you think. Also, at this time the coffee shops are quiet, and crucially brimming with freshly baked cakes. (I know that cake is not a breakfast food, but a pastry might be, and if there is a freshly baked and iced cinnamon swirl there, it would be rude not to!)
I’ve always enjoyed watching the world going by. My late father always used to remark that ‘cafe culture’ was right up my street… as a child I was nosey / inquisitive, and would sit for hours watching the world go by, and wondering ‘where are they going?’… ‘I wonder where they live?’. Relatively normal thoughts for a small boy, I am sure, but most of the time I concluded that they would only ever be going wherever I was going, as my father and I went to all of the most exciting places – why would anyone go anywhere else? The truth is clearly somewhat further from my youthful (misguided) conclusions. I now know that ice rinks, motorsport venues, preserved railways and transport museums are not for the vast majority. Unfortunately, as I got older I also discovered ‘beer’ and ‘Aperol Spritz’, and while these make sitting and watching more pleasurable for a while, it does make the memories of the watching much less clear or useful, and therefore I’ve largely abandoned ‘people watching’ as a past-time. And so instead whenever I have a moment to observe (waste) I now routinely focus on a 6x4inch screen, parked 18 inches from my nose. And that really is a shame!
My phone is full of many apps, pictures, music, even information (though no games I am pleased to say!)… and yet it enriches my life very little. It’s a distraction. It’s a habit. It’s a misused tool that is listening to every word I say. I was brought up believing that a telephone is for communicating in order for someone else to listen to what you say, and for you to listen to them in return, exchanging ideas, advice or even commands. Where modern ‘phones’ aren’t an exchange, they’re a download – sometimes intrusively so. I have heard that some exchanges can take place on a modern telephone, even with some ‘conversation’. Can you imagine? And some of that without an emoticon too!
Where my phone is useful, is when I travel. And yes, then I hate to say it – but I need it! On all of my recent travels, I have navigated purely by phone when actually on many occasions a MAP would have been better. I feel naked without a map, just like I do normally without my phone. But when I travel I’d rather be naked without my phone, but with a map, as it will cover up much more of me than a phone does. Knowing where I am in relation to the world, beyond a 4×6 inch screen is really important to me.
Our physical relationship with the world is defined by ourselves, and if we only think virtual and 4×6 inches… that’s all it will be. (The Gabbling MAMIL, December 2021).
I digress, I sat drinking my coffee on Sunday morning without my telephone, eating my ‘breakfast’ and gazing into the road, watching the few people and vehicles that were in Trafalgar Square that morning, when a bus stopped at the traffic lights outside. Nothing unusual there. But something caught my eye. I noticed on the top deck, a pair of eyes peeping over the bottom of the window, and I felt like they were looking right at me. As Micky Flanagan would say, there appeared to be a ‘peeper’, and I appeared to be the ‘peepee’. As Micky would also say, it’s awkward when the ‘peeper’ and the ‘peepee’ make eye contact. Nevertheless, I started to think; ‘I wonder where they are going?’, and then ‘Are they looking at me?’, and ‘why are they looking at me?’. To my own surprise, I subconsciously realised that there is only one way to find out, and I gave a little wave! Aside from the fact that I am a grown man, this is a small child, and we’re separated by a good twenty meters, the glass walls of a coffee shop and the shell of a bus, such action felt a high risk strategy.
However, the response was, if not remarkable, certainly instant, as a little hand was raised skyward into view through the window and gave a little wave back. I’ve no idea if the child was smiling, terrified or just totally amazed that I’d waved… but it definitely made ME smile, in fact it made my day. I like to think it made them at least smile (if not made their day) too. It’s amazing what a difference such a simple act / event / observation can have… I’m not promoting that we all start waving incessantly at everyone on buses, and I would fear for your safety if you do… perhaps choose your audience carefully! But not staring at my phone, being downloaded to, gave me the opportunity to connect with someone. We’ll never know each other, but we have a connection in that one brief moment in time, and I felt better for it. Thank you little chap, whoever you are!
Certainly, if we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we always got. And while when I started this post, the title ‘all good thing coming to an end’ was pointing squarely at my sadness and frustration with the demise of my training record and one million consecutive hours of riding my bike (or whatever the record was)… instead, I’ve genuinely learned something;
Something coming to an end (even if it was the best thing since sliced bread, your anchor, nirvana) even if it’s not what you’d choose, may be precisely what you actually need.