Social Distancing is Relative


It’s 2:30am and I’m in my office working.   Did I mention  I do peculiar hours?  That’s one of my ‘cures for the self-confined’.  More on that soon.

Anyway, it’s 2:30am and I’m working.  I have the window open so I hear the sound of agitated pacing clearly.   Around my neighbourhood, if you are out at that hour you are either drunk or a housebreaker, so I check this guy out.

Of course, there’s always a third possibility…

He walks twenty paces up the pavement, turns and sort of sashays his way back.   He is nervous, for one reason or another. Standard thieving duds, jeans, old trainers, hoodie pulled up.  But no.

My next-door-but-one neighbour is new, by which I mean he moved in a few months ago.  Our loiterer-with-intent seems focussed on his front gate, and on his next pass he pounces upon it and stumbles to my new neighbour’s door, rapping the knocker urgently.


No answer.

“Uncle Toby!”

No answer.

I have seen Uncle Toby – he is old, older than me.  And he is none too well.

I lean out of my window:  “Maybe he’s out,”   I suggest helpfully.  “Or maybe he’s asleep?”

The hood is withdrawn a little as the nocturnal nephew stares vacantly up at me.  “He’s my uncle,” he articulates, as one to whom words give pain, and he taps on a window to reinforce his point.  “Uncle Toby!”

No answer there came from Uncle Toby, and eventually, mumbling a few lines from one of his walking dreams, his abject relative stumbled off into the night.  I went back to work.

When I made enquiries of another, genuine relative of ‘Uncle Toby’, I was able to ascertain, as I suspected, that he has no ‘nephews’ nearby.   He does, however, conduct a very discreet night-time trade.

There was a time when the next step would have been to report the incident to the police.  No more.  But from a personal perspective, I find myself thinking that for certain people – like Uncle Toby’s addicted ‘nephew’ – self-confinement must be so alien a concept as to make a total nonsense of ‘social distancing’.

Like the rats of the Black Death, they run unseen beneath our feet.  We can never inhibit them, never control them.

Photo credit: Philip Lanssing on Unsplash

View from the Armchair

Television is a tranquilizer.

All winter it is our solace and our comfort, helping us to pass those long, cold nights in peace. Television is, to the twenty-first century, what gin was to the nineteenth.
Of course, we don’t like to admit this, because we don’t like to accept we are addicted to television.

Just as we’d prefer to think we weren’t addicted to gin.

So summer television comes as a rude awakening. Summer television brings the truth to Cyclist and non cyclistour door and lays it before us, like a cat with a dead mouse. Televised sport, for example. Sport says, loudly and clearly, you are addicted. Sport is a shivering turkey, because sport actually requires a viewer – that is, someone who stays awake.

Now I know sporting people don’t understand why we hate them, but to say that televised sport is ‘riveting’ is to imply that your eyeballs need to be nailed to the screen. Sport makes it impossible to sleep. It is too loud, too brash, too intrusive. And when summer comes the screens are filled with it. All sensible programming leaves via the window faster than a pop star’s cocktail cabinet; the schedules are crowded with anything the least bit ‘sporty’. The London Marathon trumpets reveille, and from then on, through ‘Queens’ and ‘Eastbourne’ to ‘Wimbledon’, to the Davis Cup, to the Scottish Open (golf), to the British Open (golf) we are forty-loved and deuced and eagled and bogeyed until our brains fry.

Two major issues dog this philosophy of program-making. The first is an assumption that everyone likes ‘sport’. Bad news, Wayne! There are thousands, nay millions of us out here who find it excruciatingly boring! The sight of drugged-up lugs legging it round in circles or muscular ladies with abs and breasts like Schwarzenegger screaming at each other over a net sets our teeth on edge just as much as those members of the ‘Fit’ family who bounce up and down on our doorsteps at seven-thirty on a wet morning insisting we’d feel much better if we went for a five-mile run.

Speaking of ‘wet’ – in winter, we are reconciled to rain. In summer, rain remains a fact of life for everyone except sports broadcasters, who treat it like a beached whale. We might forebear when all the programs we regularly watch for the rest of the year, and actually like, are elbowed aside to make room for sporting juggernauts. We might even find it mildly entertaining, watching a ‘severe’ gust of wind blowing three very professional golf-balls off the seventeenth green; but we positively fume when a three-hour program has to be filled by knowledgeable punditry because the intended sporting event is ‘rained off’. And then, when the event is re-set and another schedule of meaningful television gets deleted to make room for it, we have been known to get our daily exercise by hurling heavy objects.

On one notable afternoon this summer, the BBC showed the same tennis match simultaneously on both their main channels. Now, I know they are meant to be cutting costs, but really?

This cavalier disregard for audience needs has repercussions for health. Thousands of us, unable to be lulled into semi-consciousness by dreaming yak breeders or measured doses of quiz questions need hospital treatment for illnesses brought about by sleep deprivation. We are awake. We are nervous, always on edge. Where are the programs about home improvers? When can we nod off to the tune of a citizen driven to bankruptcy by architecture, or settle comfortably before a moral debate about sugar?

Only prayer can help us. Only August will bring relief.

And then the football starts…