Pavement etiquette and other post-coronavirus life skills

THERE has apparently been a surge of interest in books and films about plagues and sieges, as people seek to make comparisons – no matter how tenuous or even ludicrous – between lockdown and what others may have experienced in earlier times.

As this is the 55th day since lockdown started, I suppose some may have already chanced upon the 1963 movie 55 Days At Peking starring David Niven, Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner, which (sort of) tells the story of the siege of the foreign compound in the Chinese capital during the 1900 Boxer rebellion.

My own favourite book from those genres is JG Farrell’s The Siege Of Krishnapur, yet I do admit to having re-read Daniel Defoe’s Journal Of The Plague Year recently, but only because Defoe is a perennial favourite who more than repays occasional visits.

Of course the comparisons are flawed. Nowhere did the besieged have recourse to Amazon or the Post Office, let alone carry-outs, and modern medicine knows considerably more about containing a pandemic than our ancestors who, during the black death, were recommending rubbing onions over the body to take away infection. If that didn’t work, the last resort was to do the same to your feet with dead pigeons.

But there is one similarity which is worth thinking about, and that is how such sudden shocks to any society produce rapid and profound change.

It is too early to say what that may be in political terms, though I detect in my own constituency that localism, environmental consciousness and a rejection of imposed austerity are likely to be big factors going forward.

There is a firm view that nothing should be done to or for people without those people’s involvement and consent, whether that be the process of returning to work or permitting more travel. That is why there has been such strong support for the First Minister’s decision – unanimously backed by her entire Cabinet – to follow the right pace for Scotland and to seek Scotland’s views on what should influence any change.

But there are smaller differences already apparent.

For example, the etiquette of walking on a pavement is something I would have said I have known ever since I became a pedestrian, to misquote Tom Stoppard.

Not having any pavements in Glendaruel, I therefore got a bit of a shock on Wednesday morning in Edinburgh on my way to Parliament when I discovered that the old technique had been utterly overthrown since I had been away.

Now you have to switch on your collision radar to ensure that there is not the slightest possibility of coming within two metres of anyone else.

That means walking out into the road (mercifully very quiet in most places at present) where necessary or – as happened at one spot – disappearing into the bushes or behind the trees.

The amazing thing is that everyone knows how to do it, and I suspect will go on doing it for the foreseeable future.

Indeed generations who come after us may look with as much horror and ridicule at pictures of streets in which there was no social distancing in the same way we now look at dead pigeons as cures for plague.

Much else which we would have regarded as everyday and commonplace is already being affected in similar ways. I wore a mask in a shop later the same day and I am learning how not to fog my glasses and why it is essential to fit it properly so that you aren’t always fiddling with your face.

A final example can be found in a surprisingly moving little video that was circulated by Loganair on Friday.

That airline provides a lifeline service for Highland Scotland and, whilst air travel will, I suspect be much restricted for leisure use for the immediate future, it will still be vital for many of my island constituents.

For them the “new normal”, according to the video, will involve compulsory mask wearing, social distancing at the terminal and in flight, zonal boarding and electronic check-in and access.

Those are big deals at Glasgow, and will be even bigger on Islay and Tiree. But they are going to have to happen , and not just for a few days or weeks.

Pavement walking, shopping, travelling and a host of other things have all changed very quickly as a result of the pandemic.

Maybe there is another movie to be made about these 55 difficult days, and however more we will still need to observe in order to confidently start easing the lockdown.

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