The Court Of Corona

17th Apr 2020

Castleton Village

Nothing has been the same since the Brexit vote.  A divisive referendum that split the country and left rifts that have run deep ever since.  We’ve had 3 years of societal turmoil and still we face more.  Then along came COVID-19.  Next to nothing has been said about Brexit since the crisis started and personally I’ve relished the break.  I know it hasn’t gone away of course and we’ll be back to it in due course, but the arrival of a world catastrophe has quite rightly shoved it to the sidelines.  

The Coronavirus situation is terrifying.  So much suffering and loss of life, so many economic concerns for so many and the potential for the devastating effects on our futures and the economy - surely we must all be feeling the strain at this unprecedented time.  But I’m always optimistic and try to look for the positives in any situation.  The cleaner air, nature reclaiming habitats suppressed by human activity and the chance for many of us to slow down a little and take stock. I would never have wished this situation on the world, but there are things we can learn both about the way we live our lives and the way we interact with our planet.  

I was also hopeful that this crisis could mend some of our national divisions.  Regardless of gender, race, social standing or political allegiance, this is something we are all facing and so maybe we could all pull together in a wartime effort to beat this hidden foe.  Boris himself talked about the Blitz spirit and how he wants the Brits to rise to the challenge "as they have in the past so many times”.  Maybe this was just what we needed and our societal rifts caused by years of Brexit bitterness could actually be healed? 

We have indeed seen so much good in humanity.  When the government asked for volunteers three quarters of a million people flooded the phone lines and local organisations have sprung up in every community to keep food and supplies flowing to self isolators. Neighbours have been interacting more than ever (from a safe distance of course) and we’ve seen the very best of so many who are putting themselves at huge risk to help and protect us.  It is both humbling and heart warming.  Even 99 year war veterans are setting personal challenges to raise many millions (go Captain Tom Moore!). 

Alongside that we’ve all rapidly fallen into habits we couldn’t have imagined a few months ago - the regular hand washing, queueing patiently outside supermarkets, minimising travel and working from home (if you are lucky enough to have any work!).  Of course, the other big feature of government strategy has been social distancing.  We must stay apart and keep to our once a day exercise.  It is a simple instruction and the science behind the effectiveness of the technique is non negotiable.

Unfortunately, this is where my hopes for a collective societal hug is at risk of derailing. No one I know has done anything but fully adopt the new regime.  My family and friends are rigidly staying apart, Zooming like crazy and following the once a day guidance and its the same for friends I talk too or those I follow on social media.

But if you look on any social media channels or news outlets it could easily seem half the population are having parties, driving across the country for camping trips, gathering in parks and generally flouting the rules.  This picture is both heartbreaking and divisive - when medical professionals and essential workers everywhere are risking their lives, why can’t these #Covidiots just follow the rules?  Of course, some of the examples touted by the media will certainly be true and we’ve probably all seen some rule breakers in our day to day, but unfortunately that will always be the case. But is it really very many?  It is very easy for news outlets to focus on chosen examples and put their spin on it. Judge, jury and executioner about the rule breakers threatening us all.  

I can’t deny that the middle of the Peak District National Park is a great place to be locked down.  Just like everyone we have restrictions on what we can and can’t do, but we are in no doubt about how privileged we are.  Our daily exercise can be a walk or ride in an area most people would love to be able to travel too and yet we can also feel cocooned away from the craziness and danger of the situation.  And then, having got back from a ride on empty Peak District trails, we can watch the news and see people congregating in urban parks or walking along seemingly packed roads and shake our heads at the selfishness of our fellow humans.  We are doing our bit so why can’t they? It is tempting to see the worst and yet maybe we have to look to the bigger picture too. 

Now I’m not suggesting anyone should break the guidelines, but for some there must be real logistical difficulty in adhering to the social distancing rules.  The other day I watched, for one example, a report about a young family who lived in a small flat in an inner city high rise block.  They had no outdoor space in their upper floor flat and the only easily accessible place for their young children to play is a small playground at the bottom of the block.  This is now locked. Apart from that they have just the roads and a public park about a 20 minute walk away. There are no shops to visit beyond the local supermarket and all other usual forms of leisure activity for them are closed.

You can only manage so much Joe Wicks and Jamie Oliver each day and so, when the children get stir crazy, they go to let off steam in the park. The park is popular but it is big enough to find some space away from other people doing the same. They keep their distance and follow good hygiene practices.  When they visited the park recently there were photographers and tv cameras there to record the scene and they were then surprised to see photos in the local paper showing people squashed together in a way that really didn’t reflect the reality.  Maybe clever camera angles and an eye for a story can always allow you to present as you want.

I am writing this just after a gorgeous Easter weekend.  Last year the Easter weekend was also lovely.  Last year was mayhem.  The people perched on the summit of Mam Tor at any one time looked like a swarm of ants, the roads were packed with tourists and people had parked in any place they could. I’m not complaining in any way - we are a tourist village and, as well as a busy weekend meaning plenty of people were enjoying the national park, it was also a bumper weekend for local hospitality businesses.

But the contrast to this past weekend is stark.  Everyday we were out for our daily walk or ride and the village was empty (see the photo above taken on Easter Monday).  Not a single person on Mam Tor summit, deserted streets and silent parking areas. We noticed the odd touring motorbike and a few cars full of people that might not have been local, but by and large people had stayed away from Castleton on a gorgeous bank holiday weekend.

So, yes, some people are probably breaking the lockdown and I would imagine we can simply never hope for 100% compliance, but it does seem the social media Court of Corona is again driving a wedge into our beleaguered society at a time when we need unity.  A time when we need to find ways to help those struggling to find the space many of us can take for granted. Let’s find a way for that family to safely get out of their high rise and praise their public spiritedness rather than reporting on the families grouping in the park. Let’s focus on the Blitz spiriters and celebrate our society unity.      

A Sunday Times report suggested, as just one example, that we have 311,000 acres of golf course land in the UK and ‘in the unlikely event that every Briton took to the nation’s golf courses simultaneously (some golf courses have already allowed access) and were evenly spaced, each would still have nearly 210 square feet in which to self-isolate.’ We are creative and resourceful creatures and even the most news hungry photographer would struggle to get a photo showing people that far apart to not be following the rules!

Posted by Ben