The whole of Surrey and south-west London seem to have gone abroad on holiday so I’ve got my sanity back. All the people who were working from home because they couldn’t risk Covid-19 but who had to go out walking and cycling in the countryside all day long have simply vanished.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that many of the Covid-phobics have got on planes and enthusiastically breathed as much re–circulated air as it takes to get them to a villa by the sea. The cyclists and the runners and the ramblers with backpacks with cooking pots sticking out of the top have all evidently decided they didn’t need to bother me any more by trespassing through my horses’ field, and have gone somewhere they really wanted to be.
That was half the problem. I got the impression that most of the townies smashing and grabbing their way through the countryside, running roughshod over every bylaw, didn’t want to be there at all. As they trespassed past the muck heap in their brand-new professional trekking gear, having parked across my gate in order to ramble through my field to the pub that was only a minute’s drive by road from where they left their cars, they had that look on their faces. The look that says: ‘Ew. Is that manure, heaped up in a pile?’ Or as one cyclist said as he rode his bike right up to my mare Darcy and poked his finger in her face: ‘Is that thing safe?’
When the retail parks re-opened most of them stopped strapping their mountain bikes onto their Nissan Qashqais and coming to the nearest bit of countryside to insult me. But the last few days have seen a major exodus. The A3 has been like a ghost road.
Most of my girlfriends in London have been talking about their holidays for weeks now. Whether or not they’ve been feeling or feigning terror of the virus, I reckon they have been secretly planning to get on that plane and breathe as many germs as it takes. My next-door neighbours went off to Spain, but came home early to make it back before the deadline by which they would have had to quarantine for two weeks.
Fear is a moveable feast. As for risk, people calculate it in a peculiar way. I was once told that most of us are willing to take a high risk of something moderately bad happening in order to go about our business. But we will not take a minuscule risk of something catastrophic, not for anything.
Most people I know have calculated their risk of Covid for months now based on the latter formula. Their approach has been to say they are not willing, for any reason, to take even the smallest risk of catching it, to the point where they have been happy to sit at home and watch the British economy nose-dive. ‘Who cares about sandwich bars, restaurants and clothes shops?’ has been their haughty refrain. ‘And as for that company I work for, I wouldn’t risk getting on a train and doing a two-hour commute for them ever again. I’m working from my kitchen where I can smoke and have a nice glass of Pinot Grigio while I’m on Zoom and just see if they can stop me.’
However, once the whole ‘I need a holiday!’ hysteria reached critical mass among the professional classes, they performed a screeching hand-brake turn. ‘This is ridiculous. We’re going to book our usual villa holiday to Greece and we couldn’t give a stuff if we do get Covid! Enough is enough!’
I have an idea for the poor companies trying to stay afloat while their workers display this rotten attitude. Do you remember when insurance firms had enough of spurious injury claims and started employing detectives to follow people around? These detectives soon found the wrongful whiplash claimants water-skiing and scuba–diving in sun-drenched resorts. I think the firms that have begged their workers to come back to the office for at least a few days a month should now put detectives on the trail of those who are refusing to do so on the basis that their place of work is ‘too dangerous’. I’m sure they will find plenty of the risk-averse paragliding in Greece.
Or peddling their mountain bikes around the lanes of Surrey, stopping at cafés for refreshment and fearlessly putting their sweaty Lycra-clad bottoms down on park benches where thousands of other sweaty bottoms have sat. Or they might find them rambling in large groups through fields of horses, having climbed over metal gates that hundreds of others have climbed, as a girl with her hair standing on end begs them to give her a break.
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