OPINION

Isolated Incidents #1

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Coming out of isolation, to isolate

I’ve spent my entire employed life working from home and most of my bike rides are done alone so there’s no real change here. 

I’ve spent my entire employed life working from home and most of my bike rides are done alone and everything is very very different. 

Yesterday was the first day that the world really changed. It took twice as long and three times as many shops to complete the days normal errands and there was a quietly pre-apocalyptic tension loitering about, standing too close, sniffing. Supermarket shelves had been looted of absolutely everything, not just the seemingly everyday essentials of loo-roll and pasta, and buying what I needed to merely get by was impossible, nothing fancy. I scavenged as best I could and got creative with my supper choice, those years working freelance on a variable payment structure and relying on yellow sticker produce have suddenly become essential life skills. The smell of despair, panic and fear was on the air, with a faint aftertaste of disbelief. 

Despite spending most of my life tied to a desk holed up in the spare room at the back of the house I can often sense when there’s a shift in the world order and it was obvious the first day that people were encouraged to stay home because it went all quiet outside. Where I live there is the constant ambient hissy thrum of traffic, day and night, and I have to turn the radio up each morning to compensate for the fifteen minute commute exodus out of my street, but with more working from home the traffic noise decreased to be replaced by the normally drowned sound of birdsong. In times of crisis you have to take pleasure in the little things. It was glorious. 

As a vast swathe of people move to isolate themselves and have to learn and adapt to the peculiarities of working from home a small army of freelancers shrug their shoulders and take another swig of their tea, with a biscuit. There’s no real change. And as cyclists have to make the wrench from social group rides to considering solo sorties whilst they still can another significant peloton that have always preferred the silence and voluntary solitude of riding alone shrug and carry on regardless. That pain cave is going to get a little cramped.

The list of cancelled events gets ever ridiculously longer day on day, the only notable event on my radar is a big ride I’m booked in for a distant August who sent a “We don’t know, we’ll let you know” e-mail and as the days progress and the longer-term character of this virus unfurls across continental Europe I feel that this too will be put on hold. If it does go on then managing meaningful training for it might become problematic if the exercise lockdowns that other countries are implementing come into effect here. Everyone I know has had events cancelled on them, cycling and otherwise, and they are being mostly pragmatic, sucking up the lost costs with a painful swallow and looking around at other options, of which there are few. 

Last week’s pootle of half a dozen riders seems a lifetime ago already as I’ve backed away from a group ride this weekend that even with depleted numbers is still somewhat incredulously going ahead. I’d happily go out by myself anyway as I don’t suffer FOMO but currently I feel a little peaky; symptoms consistent with my body having a bit of a snuffle, although I do have an extra layer of slightly aching leg muscles and creaky joints. Ordinarily this would just have me sitting it out and making an educated guess as to when I could venture out again, now I’m feeling a little more nervous and facing up to there maybe being a lengthy time in limbo, or worse.

Staying at home is never really a hardship though, there’s tea and biscuits, but being forced to stay there is, just having the possibility of any release removed turns it into a comfortable prison with endless Homes Under The Hammer. A lot of this self house arrest is nothing new to me, as a freelancer that lives alone and with very little of a social gadabout personality I can cover days without seeing another person if I want, my only spoken words a hello to the postman. I have spent most of my life in what’s now called quarantine, although there have been times of severe door scratching cabin fever around hefty deadlines. I’m one of those people for whom social distancing has always been a preferred method of operation so for this behaviour to stop being viewed as a bit weird and become the new normal is amusing. It’s liking that band before they became famous.

My years of voluntary exclusion mean that I sometimes get hyper-aware of coughs and diseases when I eventually emerge from my cocoon with an immune system not being toughened up by everyday exposure and attacks. Visiting friends with children, those cute little incredibly effective mobile germ carriers, is always approached with awkwardness, anxiety and much hand-scrubbing during and afterwards. There’s a cringe that follows the shop-assistant who coughs just before they hand back your change. If I have a cold or whatever I will do my best to barricade myself further and not pass it forward, what a social conscience eh? None of the things we’re repeatedly being told to do are very new to me, and even though I spend 99% of my time alone I’m washing my hands a lot lot more. 

The impact of all of this will have less of an effect on me than many as the concepts of weekends, holidays, taking the kids to school, going to the pub for a post work pint, shopping as an activity, going for a drive somewhere nice on a Sunday, and deliberately meeting other people haven’t ever been a regular part of my lifestyle and that’s by choice rather than any hand-wringing heart-wrenching reasons. But the impact is still there and it is significant. We are currently in what feels like the panicked calm before the storm, it is likely to get very real very quickly. I’ve spent most of my days hiding at home without the outside world having too much of an influence on my life and I’ve worked hard to reciprocate and have as minimal an external footprint, but even with this already in play I know I’m going to have to make more effort to isolate. The normal is going to be even more weird.

Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.

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