How Our Government-Approved Exercise Went Totally According To Plan

When the world got bad, I decided to stop writing.

And then the world got even worse, so I started again.

I mean, I’m sure you all really need yet another angst-filled blog post about how tough life can be when you’re under virtual house arrest in your reasonable suburban end-of-terrace, enjoying an extended period of “working from home.”

I mean, it could be worse. Clearly it could be a lot worse, and it is significantly worse for a lot of other people. Most other people in the world, probably. I mean, even our over-privileged prime minister actually has the Dreaded Lurgy, whereas I only have a pathetic cold that has been rumbling on for about two months and which I am now extremely paranoid to manifest any visible signs of in case people think it’s the actual Dreaded Lurgy.

“It’s not a dry cough!” I imagine myself shouting at randoms in the street, as I carefully cough into my sleeve. “Nor is it a new cough. It’s a very old WET cough.”

I appreciate that “wet cough” sounds disgusting, as though I am literally describing my own snot and phlegm in great detail to anyone who will listen, but I would rather be thought of as someone with a wet cough (whatever that is) than someone with a dry cough (WHICH I DON’T HAVE BY THE WAY) and a fever (WHICH I HAVE NEVER HAD. NEVER EVER) and who should be holed up right now in a plague house with a big skull and crossbones spray painted on the door. Right over the nailed-on wooden cross that stops anyone from entering or-more importantly-leaving the building.

As you can see, fear of pestilence has very quickly morphed into fear of Being Caught Breaking The Rules. I have observed recently (especially, it has to be said, in the more middle class areas-not that I am stereotyping or anything. Oh, and just in case anyone wonders what I was doing in “more middle class areas” in which I clearly do not reside, I was DRIVING HOME FROM WORK. My work, as a KEY WORKER, albeit a key worker who had just been told to go home because they were creating a demand for more schools to be open for key workers) that there is suddenly a lot more “jogging” taking place than there was before the plague descended. And reader, yes that jogging includes me.

I jog down the street (doing OK I thought, all that “PE With Joe” must be having an impact), planning my response for when stopped by the police or hollered at by judgemental people on social media who, I imagine, must be contradicting their own NHS-themed hashtag-stay-home Facebook profile pictures at this very moment to shout at me for being out of the house masquerading as a “jogger.”

“I’M JOGGING!” I imagine myself shouting at the one car that passes each twenty minutes (OK, this is an exaggeration. I wasn’t jogging for twenty minutes, God preserve us). “It’s allowed! Once a day! For an indeterminate period of time! And yes I did walk here. I mean, JOGGED. I JOGGED HERE!”

They don’t need to know that until today, I hadn’t jogged since 2011.

I did OK for someone on a nine year jogging hiatus. In fact, I did considerably better than Piglet.

He, of course, is the one who has insisted on leaving the house, despite my firm insistence that if we don’t follow The Rules then Mummy will be arrested, and he will have to live in the house on his own, and (firm reminder) he can’t reach the shelf where the Nutella lives, so would have to subsist on the dreaded “healthy things” on offer in the fridge for the duration of my incarceration at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.

“Let’s go to town,” Piglet suggests, as he barges enthusiastically into the toilet while I am using it.

“We can’t go to town. Going to town is banned.”

“But we would be EXERCISING in town.”

The child is learning fast. This is the new normal. Even Piglet has some grasp of the rules. This is how Communism tightens its iron grip, I think darkly.

“We are not allowed to exercise in town. We can only exercise if it’s within walking distance.”

Reluctantly, we agree on a compromise. I am going to jog around the block, and he is going to go on his scooter. I already have visions of him failing to maintain social distancing, careering straight into some old and vulnerable as he or she struggles up the very steep hill from the Co-Op with a tin of evaporated milk and an Easter egg (it was all that remained on the shelves). Luckily, however, there are no old and vulnerables in sight. Perhaps they have all already died.

*Banishes thought from head, and reminds self to verify email again so I can complete the sign up process to become much-loved NHS volunteer, saving old and vulnerables all over the world like a superhero with a bit of a runny nose (IT’S JUST A COLD, I PROMISE!)*

All goes well as the first part of the daily government-approved exercise involves jogging/scooting downhill. I wonder if scooting counts as exercise under “cycling,” noting that scooters were not specifically mentioned by Michael Gove. Surely Gove would approve of scooters. I think about his GCSE reforms, and decide that he definitely wouldn’t, then feel mildly rebellious *looks around furtively to make sure there are no drones following us.*

“I hate scooting uphill!” shouts Piglet happily as he scoots down the very steep hill we live on top of (I was thinking of climate change, and how it would be best to live atop a giant hill. Safer when the sea levels rise, amirite?)

I realise that this is not going to end well.

“There is no way we can get home without scooting back up that hill,” I warn Piglet, but five and a half year olds rarely think more than two seconds into the immediate future, and all he can think about is the blissful freedom of being on his scooter, hair blowing in the wind (the bits that weren’t cut off after an unfortunate recent episode with some sellotape), after being cooped up in the house most of the week while Mummy reminds him at periodic intervals that if he’s going to do nothing but watch Netflix, at least make it something “educational,” and tries to switch it to The Good Place when he’s not looking.

As we get further and further down the hill, I think about the uphill conundrum. What goes down, must come up, at least when it comes to our house, and I veer off to the right away from the main road to head back home before I get too embarrassingly tired out and it becomes obvious that I have not jogged since 2011 and have now taken it up again out of sheer desperation.

Piglet realises that not only are we now headed home (already!) but that we are also going uphill. There is no way around it, I explain. What goes down, must come back up, we live at the top of the hill, what does he think we are going to do, flag down a passing helicopter for a lift, etc, etc.

All hell breaks loose. Piglet throws his scooter to the floor in a fit of pique, and starts running back down the hill in the opposite direction. And worse, he won’t let me jog because I am (cherish this moment) too fast for him! I am going to be caught by a drone and fined for loitering unecessarily in the street with an angry child.

And there are people about. Other people. Sensible family groups with toddlers strapped to their backs in walking rucksacks. Families with children who are not making the global pandemic even more unbearable by having a massive tantrum in the street. A million hashtag-protect-our-NHS profile pictures from Twitter are mounting an army of vigilantes to come and chase us with virtual pitchforks via Zoom.

I am determined to look like a Serious Jogger, whatever the cost. The three cars that have just gone past are not going to think I am breaking the rules. I AM EXERCISING GODDAMIT and I can’t stop in case people think I am out needlessly spreading disease around the place like an indiscriminate bio-weapon.

“I am not a bad person!” I want to shout as I run away from the other families, abandoning my crying child as he disappears around the corner. “I am just exercising! And it is problematic in the extreme! I will not be doing this again. All jogging activities are henceforth curtailed. I shall be staying in and protecting our NHS!”

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