The last few weeks have seen a lot of ‘firsts’ for me (and, I suspect, for many of you), as I’ve been ticking off a number of ‘first X since the pandemic’. Today was my first parkrun since 14th March 2020, when we all stood around talking about herd immunity and speculating about what the future held. It was at once weird and utterly normal to be back. I was delighted that the elderly woman who used to be liberated from her care home every week to sit bundled up in a chair and act as a marshal was back at her post and still going strong, and slightly discombobulated by the new route, which has been modified to ensure better social distancing at the expense of making me much more likely to get lapped by the speedy folk. Other than that, the main sign of the profound changes we’ve all been through over the past 18 months was the willingness of more drivers than usual (including a posse of motorbikes) to ignore the park road closures because what force do a ‘road closed’ sign, line of traffic cones and, indeed, a large crowd of people standing in the way, have against the divine right of motorised traffic to go wherever the hell it likes?
Indeed, in general, despite case numbers in Scotland being higher than ever, it seems we have collectively decided to carry on as more-or-less normal, just with more face coverings, weird elbow bumps instead of handshakes and stroppier drivers. I’m not sure I am comfortable with this, but equally, I am fully vaccinated and I don’t want to miss out on some of the things which are happening as we resume ‘normal’ life. My response has been to take a cost benefit approach to balancing the risk of getting and spreading COVID with the benefit of going out and doing things again. Outdoor stuff? No problem (it was such a joy to replace grim Zoom meetings for a gathering in the park for the Bigtown Cycle Campaign on Tuesday). Eating indoors in a restaurant crammed full of strangers? Not so much. Head to England to celebrate someone’s life – or a missed wedding? Yes, albeit with trepidation, and leaving a long gap afterwards before going to see my parents. Agree to take part in a panel on women and cycling infrastructure, possibly without checking beforehand that it was an actual in-person event? Why, yes! To be honest, this last was organised so far in advance that I hadn’t really believed that it was going to actually happen, but it is and it’s suddenly next week, and I think it is one of those things which is worth the risk, whatever the risk currently is. As well as the opportunity to radicalise a few more cycling women, it is also a chance to meet up with some fellow campaigners who I haven’t seen since this whole thing started, and spend some time setting the world properly to rights, possibly with the addition of some alcohol. This, more than anything, I have sorely missed during these strange and socially distanced times and if the opportunity is snatched away at the last minute, I shall be bitterly disappointed..
As my legs have been reminding me every time I go up and down the stairs today, it has been a long old time since my last parkrun and those conversations about what the future might hold. I don’t think any of us had a clue then how long it would be before we gathered together again at what a friend of mine calls ‘jogging church’. And nor do I have any clue whether this new normal will be any more permanent than the old one. But maybe it is time to seize the opportunities we have – cautiously – while we can. Assuming – in the traditional caveat that gets less and less theoretical as time goes on – we are spared.
What are you doing in your new normal?