Through the winter my cycling has been confined to the undercliff passage along the sea front but a few days ago I took my first ride of the year up on the Downs from the Jack and Jill windmills over to Blackcap just outside Lewes. The countryside is the summer schedule when the ground is dry and the wheels unclogged by mud. A bit later than usual following the floods of spring and the uncertainty over the Lockdown rules as it does involve putting the bike in the car for a short drive. The driest May for 176 years has sorted the first issue and Dominic Cummings the second. In the unlikely event of a challenge from the Fuzz – “Sorry Officer but my vision was a little blurry this morning and I’m testing it out”. The only potential flaw in my DIY optometry argument is that I’m not risking a 4 year old on the back seat. What odds I wonder would I have got from Betfred last October that by the time I returned to the summer routine the World would be engulfed in a pandemic? 5000 to 1 mate, worf a quid surely! No thanks, no chance, I’ll stick with the tangible – another bag of chocolate buttons.
The car park is full but the Downs expansive enough and social distancing is not an issue. First skylark of the summer for me and sounding very blithe, clearly oblivious of the troubles of the World below. It was June 1820 that Shelley wrote his wonderful tribute to the “Bird thou never wert” and that was only fifty five years after the Great Plague killed about 100,000 including an estimated 15% of the population of London. About eight miles each way up hill, down dale with the highest point about halfway at Ditchling Beacon. A couple of landmarks are the i360 in the distance and the Amex glistening in the sunlight a mere mile or so away. I can make out the seagull pattern on the seats but without my binocs the cobwebs of the furloughed stadium are indistinct. Should I clarify with DC whether this means I’ve failed the eye test? It’s 87 days and counting since the last home game. Another 87 will be the 21st August and the new season should be kicking off – what odds will they give me for that? Do we update the jibe about the ref going to Specsavers – “you need a drive to Barnard Castle”. Up on the Downs nearly everyone exchanges a pleasantry, usually just a “good day” and everyone seems cheerful but who knows if any of them has suffered personal pain and even loss in the last three months? Nearly everyone has some problem of varying degree in their lives so are they dissembling? We have been repeatedly told that we have turned to Nature to lift our spirits in the dark times and perhaps we’re all benefactors of this pastoral opium of “England’s green and pleasant land” to borrow the description of another of the great romantics. The return trip had an unscripted adjournment as a short stone’s throw away is a kestrel hovering and I watch him pounce twice but to no avail but the third time I half make out something in his beak – I just hope it wasn’t a baby skylark. Do birds pine I wonder? A little further away is a buzzard surveying the landscape in search of a slightly belated lunch. Harsh reminders that the wonders of Nature are counterbalanced by being red in tooth and claw…and beak….and with a touch of poetic licence at least for the time being Covid. The grim reaper can pounce in varied formats.
Thursday it was back on the sea front and what a contrast. The beaches and esplanades were packed and cafes well patronised. People strolled along in groups and many seemed to make no attempt to adhere to the two meter ruling. The traffic is undoubtedly escalating week by week. It gave the impression that as relaxations are introduced there is already a perception to many that the virus is beaten and normality is restored. Perhaps the really good weather is paradoxically showing it’s downside and although we are encouraged to be outside that only applies if the rest of the guidelines are in lockstep. Perhaps if it were chillier or wetter many more would find it easier to stay at home. Stopping off at a shop on the return trip serves a sharp reminder of the ongoing risk – a ten minute queue to enter and a one way system round the store. These reality checks may have additional benefits to the raison d’etre of acquiring goods.
The reminder is rubber-stamped when I get home to watch the news – an additional 412 deaths recorded over the last 24 hours. You think it’s all over ? Certainly not.