Life in the UK: Quarantine and Cycling

It's been a month now since I came back to the UK after my holiday in Egypt. As soon as I got home I received a phone call from my boss emphatically telling me, in case I hadn't checked my work email yet, not to come to work. I've been working from home for a month now, and it has been utterly fantastic. I'm definitely lucky and privileged here. Others will prefer more face-to-face human interaction, or have jobs or even lives that are at risk because of this. On a societal level this crisis is a terrible thing. But if I'm being perfectly honest: my quality of life has only improved since we went into quarantine.

The main thing I have gained is time. No more 1.5-hour commutes. That's 3 hours of my time back every day. Being able to spend that freely on things that I enjoy doing has made me feel so much better about myself. No more becoming frustrated at train delays or overcrowded and overheated train carriages. I just get to relax and enjoy the things I would do anyway even if there wasn't any lockdown. I'm actually getting a decent amount of sleep lately, and I feel like a different person because of it.

The lockdown in the UK means that everyone is supposed to only go out a maximum of one time a day, and only for buying essentials or for daily exercise. Based on what I've seen, that lockdown is only mildly enforced at the moment. Public places like parks are being locked down for cars, but there's still people who can walk or cycle there. I've seen footage of beaches being quiet as well, though I've not been there myself because lockdown. There's definitely more police patrols on the streets than usual, but I haven't seen any blatant disregard for the social distancing rules in my area (yet).

The most change in behavior I've seen is in supermarkets. There are now long queueing areas in front of the entrance, with a security guard waving people through one by one so as not to ever get too many people inside at the same time. And because of the social distancing the space between people in queues is massive, so the queues go on forever. People have been very civilized in respecting those rules, so far. I guess if the alternative is that you have to elbow your way in and risk getting too close to someone who might have 'the disease' (omg), that kind of helps in getting people to have. It's been a most civilized crisis so far.

About two weeks ago I went to the local (smaller) supermarket to pick up some things and happened to see a pack of toilet paper, which I took. My wife and I joked about the whole 'toilet paper shortage' meme after we got it, but I've not seen any toilet paper since. Though apparently it's available for ordering for online delivery. It's incredibly hard to get a delivery slot though. I managed to get one for a date two weeks from now, but online delivery opportunties are definitely scarce.

So there is that: a mild anxiety about availability of daily life products. Not having toilet paper I can live with, but I do feel that it's good to have some small supply of food. You never know if an event will occur that will cause society's infrastructure to have a hickup. Depending on the length of that hickup it might be nice to be able to bridge that gap by having a few weeks worth of food at home. It's very far from being an existential risk though, since there's still plenty of food in the shops. There is absolutely no reason to panic-buy.

Since the quarantine began I've been cycling almost every other day. It's starting to feel good again. I've been very out of shape. I just have trouble motivating myself to do any form of exercise after I finally make it home after a long working day. I'm not the type to go a gym either, so I've been very happy with the great weather we've been having lately, which has allowed me to cycle outside a lot. I'm starting to remember that feeling of not constantly feeling like you're dying at every hill. I think in time I'll be able to enjoy it again.

Cycling in the UK, or rather, in Hertfordshire has honestly not been good, comparing it to the other two countries I have cycled a lot in: Japan and the Netherlands. The Netherlands is a hard standard to beat given how much it caters to cyclists, but Japan also felt a lot nicer and safer. That probably has something to do with the area I lived in as well: in Japan I lived in a very flat area near the seaside and next to mountains, whereas Hertfordshire in the UK is just hilly everywhere. I've seen plenty of areas in Japan where they just blasted a hill to make a relatively flat road, and there were lots of tunnels, but that's not really a thing that Hertfordshire does. It's just up and down and up and down. Fine if you're fit, not fine if you're me.

People here are not used to cyclists. Pedestrians will happily cross a road without looking if they don't hear a car coming. And on paths that are supposedly cycling paths, like this path called Ebury Way near where I live, it's just uncomfortable. It's a dirt road with lots of bumps and ups and downs, with pedestrians everywhere, often walking side-by-side, oblivious to cyclists until you're right on top of them. There's a lot of people who walk their dog without a leash. The dogs don't quite get that it might not be the smartest thing to stand still in the middle of the path when they hear a bicycle approaching. I've had a bunch of near-misses with dogs on that path throughout the years, so all of that kind of means that I prefer the regular roads for cycling (at least when I'm back to my before-level of fitness). The only disadvantage about the regular roads is that they can get narrow and tend to be even more of a constant uphill/downhill. I definitely miss cycling in Japan and the Netherlands. It's just not the same in the UK.

Anyway, rant over, and it's a minor one. It's still great to be able to go out on my bicycle (while avoiding other people and not stopping at parks of course - respect the social isolation!) and be able to go wherever I want. Nature is beautiful this time of year, and there's hardly any cars on the road because of the quarantine, which makes this a perfect time to cycle. Time to get fit again!

There are certain aspects of life that are obviously better during this quarantine. I hope we can keep some of those aspects once this is all over.

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