Walks have become a precious activity in lockdown, the one government-authorised respite from total isolation. Fresh air has that ability to detach you from a wired brain and distract you from a newfound ever-twitching eyelid – an indication, no doubt, of excessive screen time. Being glued to your phone is a risky act in the streets, one that could lead to collisions with other nomophobia sufferers.
My daily walk has unintentionally become a form of cardio exercise, as social distancing strolls require a certain knowledge of choreography, with a dash of improv thrown in, to dodge the trio of pedestrians, cyclists and joggers – a daunting scenario for those of us lacking theatrical traits.
The film Dodgeball springs to mind as I weave in and out of parked cars, buggies and fast-approaching cyclists, abiding by Patches O’ Houlihan’s advice to dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge. The dilemma comes when your counterpart has resorted to identical pop culture references and you swerve in the same direction, resulting in an awkward dance off that neither of you trained for.
Pavement corners lose their sharp angles as pedestrians overshoot them, curving right around so as to avoid any head-on collisions. Another common tactic is to peek your head around first, just as you would when crossing the road, to detect any oncoming traffic before fully committing to the turn. Some continue to walk on the wild side, living life on the (pavement) edge, gambling that the perpendicular road is vacant or that their fellow pedestrian is more sensible, shaping their path around such characters.
Narrow lanes require us to revisit our elementary roots, walking in single file as we once did during roll-call at school registration. Yet couples ignore such life lessons, deciding instead that they are a single entity, inseparable at the hip – who knew that singledom would be trendy in lockdown?
Meanwhile, the rules of the road seem to have all but disappeared as motorists deem vacant lanes as an excuse to speed, embracing their inner Formula 1 aspirations at the expense of ambling pedestrians. Other formerly gridlocked roads are now dominated by a new high-speed vehicle: the jogger. Some resemble silent electric variations, stealthily creeping up on you thanks to their powerful stamina. Others, likely newcomers, are the more rusty kind, easier to avoid as you get wind of their noisy exhaust fumes. And then there’s the hardest group to circumvent: let’s call them the coaches – a family of runners of different abilities, whose pace and direction of travel is impossible to predict.
City-dwellers might be more prepared for such an obstacle course, accustomed to the perpetual side-stepping through crowds of pigeons, treading carefully to avoid one taking flight and provoking the rest to scarper simultaneously into your personal space. But the lesson I’ve learnt from all of this is that freestyle is the only remedy. After all, you can’t guess the spontaneous steps of strangers. Perhaps this form of walking will inspire a new dance genre post-pandemic, one that I’ll finally know the moves to.
Stay tuned for more “No Travel” Tales in the coming weeks!