The Corona Chronicles: Week 33: People-walking

Since the latest restrictions, I’ve got a new occupation. I’ve become a ‘people-walker’. This entails meeting an assigned non-household-member at a pre-arranged spot and participating in exercise and conversation.

To be honest, the exercise is minimal and mostly involves some feet-stomping and a fair amount of arm-waving and hand-rubbing. As long as it staves off the cold seeping through my bones then it’s bearable. At least it gives me a chance for a chat and catch-up with some fellow lockdownees.

The take-up for walks is quite impressive and I’ve already had to create a waiting list so that everyone gets a fair chance. But, of course, I have to prioritise my regulars. Darling Daughter is my favoured client and has a lunchtime slot where I hop in the car and drive across the city to deliver her a virtual hug and a lovingly prepared sandwich. As we shiver the length of Hillsborough park, we bemoan the men in our life and discuss the latest paso doble on Strictly.

I can’t go for long without seeing my besties either. So, we have a rota system, swapping walking partners daily to make sure we all stay in the loop with each other’s news. Not that there’s much to report about this Groundhog Day we’re currently stuck in. On this coronacoaster there are times when ‘people-walking’ seems like too much of an effort and that’s when I find myself ‘being walked’ instead. All it takes, when you’re feeling down, is a friendly face to pull you back up, reminding you to laugh at life’s absurdities.

Luckily, ‘people-walking’ is a flexible operation, especially for the furloughed, who can fit into any daytime slot. The still-working are trickier to accommodate. Pre-9am my brain hasn’t yet started functioning and I find myself just nodding and smiling sympathetically. But, on the plus side, I’ve now gained the reputation of being a good listener…

Post-5pm I’m all lit-up but unfortunately my sunny disposition goes unseen as we stumble along woodland paths in the dark, fumbling our way to safety with the torches on our mobiles. Better to march past the shops, making wish lists, in the hope that, come December, we’ll be able to send some Christmas cheer local traders’ way instead of via Amazon.

And unlike normal walking where beautiful countryside and spectacular views are of prime importance, ‘people-walking’ isn’t concerned with the surroundings. It’s not nature we’re missing but the freedom to meet with those we love.

In fact, ‘people-walking’ seems to be the latest trend. Go to any open space and you will find it littered with ‘walking-pairs.’ You can tell immediately they’re not home-sharers by the fact they seem pleased to see each other and are talking animatedly across the 2-metre gap. And although they’re ‘getting exercise’ they’re definitely not ‘exercising’ as their focus is on talking rather than walking.

Neither does it matter what the weather is like. When the rain is falling, the woods are full of co-walkers sheltering under the branches and, in the dense fog, high up on the hills, happy twosomes narrowly miss bumping into each other. Then, on the rare occasions when the sun breaks through the clouds, friendship-duos spring up everywhere as far as the eye can see.

Whatever the temperature, park cafes are doing a roaring trade in take-away goodies. Darling Daughter tactfully suggests buying lunch there – a change from my usual corned-beef fillings…

The strange thing, though, is that most of the pairings are female. The masculine lockdown psyche seems to be pining for competition rather than conversation. Men don’t appear to enjoy ‘being walked’. Instead they opt for a rather uncompanionable front-wheel-to-back-bumper cycle ride or a jog with the lead runner shouting over-the-shoulder encouragement to the lesser athlete trailing behind. Sometimes it’s lone males who can be spotted, punching the air, then punching in their scores on their Strava dashboard.

The Nearly-Beloved rolls his eyes at my invitation for a walk, preferring to fall through the door red-faced and panting. But he’s beaten his last week’s record, so at least he can die victorious now. Grunting Teen is a different matter though. He’s struggling without his stress-busting climbing so surprisingly agrees to accompany me for a jump over the rocks on the Sheffield-side of the Peaks.

It turns out that walking-talking is quite therapeutic too. He doesn’t have to make eye-contact with me, so it’s much easier to off-load his worries about GCSEs and his lack of preparedness to take them. Just as well he clambers out of earshot to the top of a boulder as I’m hinting that the PS4, not only the pandemic, may be partly to blame for his mock results. But I don’t want to bring his mood down, after all there’s enough going on in the world to do that already. Just then he loses his footing, executing a paso doble that would win a judges’ standing ovation, and ends up in a peaty pool.

All thoughts of exams immediately leave his head as he re-emerges black and dripping like a moorland bog monster. Thank goodness I have my camera and he still has his sense of humour. He’s lost his teenage cool but at least he’s given his mum a good laugh. Yes, ‘people-walking’ is definitely to be recommended.

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