The stoicism of the British people is always evident, even during Covid-19.
Today, I decided to take my dog for a walk. No more isolating myself, social distancing didn’t mean isolation. If I could take my dog for a walk without being sent home and fined, then damn it, take the dog for a walk I would.
I decided to head out at about 10:15 on a drizzly Wednesday morning. I couldn’t guarantee that I wouldn’t get the virus, but my estimates were about 1 in one hundred thousand chance that I would bump into one of Bristol’s confirmed cases, and the equally one in eight hundred thousand possible cases throughout the UK also wasn’t worth my worrying about. It’s a risk, sure, but a very, very small one, and I could lessen my chances of a more serious infection by strengthening my immune system. Fresh air and vitamin D strengthens your immune system, and stress (which loneliness can cause) will weaken it, that much is true. I could still go for a walk, I just couldn’t get too close to anyone.
Well, it seems, most people also had the same idea.
I expected the car park to be desolate, but there were only about eight spaces, of an estimated 120, that didn’t have cars in them. Families played and strangers talked. Much to my surprise, life was going on. I even anticipated the café to be closed and I expected to see a sign in the window with some mention of the Covid-19 outbreak. “Closed until further notice” it would say. Bristol would become another ghost town.
But when I looked up, the orange lights were on and people sat around tables, sipping tea. There was no fear, no panic, and most of the patrons were old.
“I’m a blogger” I said in discussion with one of them, “I’ve been talking on my blog about the panic over Covid-19 and how people can cope. I’ve also talked about what it was like to work for the NHS during the swine flu pandemic, and how we treated people who had even mild symptoms with antivirals instead of isolating everyone.”
We did, if you coughed, sneezed or had even the slightest symptoms, you were prescribed Tamiflu and told to stay home for 14 days. I don’t give Gordon Brown much credit (least of all for his foreign policies), but the way we handled Swine Flu was oh so much better, and he didn’t shut the whole country down.
“When you greet people now, you gotta go like this,” the gentleman said, showing me how to do the elbow shake. I nodded, my husband had taught me this before. “But me and my mate, we goes like this!” he said, swinging his hips as though to bump his arse with an imaginary friend. I laughed. It was so English, so West Country, hardened and rugged.
“‘ ‘ere, not even ‘is Dad is listening to him!”
“I know, I read about that” I said, not quite sure what the gentleman’s political stance was. Probably Labour, I concluded, most of Bristol was.
“e went to the pub! E’s an embarrassment to his Dad, that man! Social isolashun.. Not in our coun’ry! Even ‘is Dad don’ listen!”
As I walked further, I walked past the museum that I got married in. A pang of sadness washed over me; she was probably closed for business until further notice, too. In the six small arched windows, window stickers spelt out the word MUSEUM. She was home, she was mine, the place I’d married my love.
For better or worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, I whispered under my breath. I smiled, it seems so long ago now. My husband was still stuck in a telecommunications office while a vast majority of the company had abandoned him, either under company policy, in self-isolation or locked down in quarantine after holidays overseas. I was frustrated, he spent half of the day training two people yesterday (who have now also been sent home to work) and trying to fill in for four people. As a result, he came home exhausted. Under the circumstances, I’d of thought training would be of least concern, but then I could be wrong.
Further into the woods, I decided to venture down to the lake. The vast openness of the water somehow helps to quell anxiety, and the still water calms the storm going on inside my brain. As I stared at the water’s surface, I felt the tears prickle again, I’d overdosed on news again, and the hysteria and panic was all so much worse inside my mind. I needed to take a break, I just… couldn’t.
I threw a twig across the lake for my dog and heard tiny footsteps approach behind me. More focused on the dog, I largely ignored them.
“Mummy! That doggy’s got a stick!” a tiny high-pitched voice broke my concentration.
I looked up and smiled, the young mother smiled back at me, neither of us wearing a face mask. I didn’t bother to move as she moved closer to me. Instead, I only moved so that she could get her pushchair onto more even ground.
“Careful, or you’ll go swimming too” I said to the young lad as he stepped around me and stopped barely a foot away from the water’s edge, “can you swim?”
His mum laughed.
“No” came the quiet voice as he marched back up the embankment in his bright red wellington boots, I grinned.
Around me, groups of people chatted. Not one person adhered to social distancing, and not one person wore a face mask. In spite of business closures and empty shelves in supermarkets, for the majority of us, life went on. As I walked back towards the car park, people smiled, people walked close to each other and nobody really worried. We were outdoors, we were out in nature and we were getting fresh air. Fresh air, most elderly people seem to believe, is the cure for almost any ailment. Most people I met were older, and certainly old enough to fall into the ‘at risk’ group. People would rather be around people and risk catching the virus much more than they wanted to be shut away and forced to live in isolation. Even on the way home, people sat together on the bus stop, no masks, and barely fifty centimetres between them. For them, their conversation was far more important.
After a cold and grey winter, more isolation and loneliness is a much bigger threat to the British people than the novel Coronavirus. British people wanted to be out, they wanted to interact, they weren’t worried about catching a virus.
“If it’s going to come for us, it’ll come for us” seems to be the attitude of most older people. “We get coughs and colds every year, what makes this one so different?”. It’s true, this is very much the typical British attitude. British people just aren’t buying into the hysteria, at least, certainly not the older ones.
The media has shown photographs of empty streets, but I was quite surprised how busy they were around North Bristol. Most of the roads carried on, and it was hard to identify a city in lockdown from a normal rainy day in March. People were out, workers worked, people didn’t want to be shut inside their homes.
Call it new and scary all you want, but outside the millennial generation, a lot of older people aren’t listening. A lot of people with symptoms are self-isolating to protect the vulnerable and the elderly, but there may be every indication that these measures aren’t working. Protecting the most vulnerable may seem like a great idea, but at least for now it seems, the elderly are still out there, quite enjoying themselves.
NB. While the gentleman that I spoke to was most definitely “typically Bristolian”, not all of us drop letters in conversation. My own biological mother would have me over a barrel if I did!