• AndyAsh

Covid Cycling

It’s been a curious few months; a few months that will inevitably be remembered and marked out by all of us according to our own individual experiences. All of our experiences will have been intensely personal and dominated by circumstance, and this has been borne out many times by conversations with neighbours and friends as they described lives changed abruptly. We will all have had the experience of being unlucky, or lucky, or both. Although I have never stopped writing, I took a break from blogging. I have though, recently found myself taking a first few tentative steps forward in reclaiming some semblance of normality - however abnormal that normality might be.

I admit that although I have been extremely lucky so far in this pandemic, I have sailed close enough to the wind to be able to appreciate my luck. Part of that appreciation is the knowledge that so many have suffered, and so many continue to suffer and I have so far got away lightly.

If you were following our last trip, you will know that we got sick around about New Year and were denied treatment at hospital. After “holing up” for a while, I returned to Africa to work. As the Covid situation unfolded, I jumped on one of the last flights out and made my way home through crowded airports filled with everyone else “baling out” of Africa. When I got back to Scotland, we had a few short days to find somewhere to live and prepare for what was to come next. Inevitably, we got sick again, but this time, we were a lot less ill than the first time. Once again nobody was there to help. After a fortnight of bed rest and plenty of soup and paracetamol, we emerged into lockdown.

Taking a break on a weekend day off back in Malawi

Being used to African politics and African politicians, the performance of Johnson and Trump in their responses to the pandemic gave us no surprises. They are truly Britain and America’s first African presidents, at least the Idi Amin style of African president. With complete disregard for any kind of accountability they were not only strangers to responsibility, but also strangers to any kind of self-awareness, as they non-too convincingly regaled us with how truly “world-beating” they are. Of course, they are world beating in many senses, not least in the field of casual incompetence, and they are almost certainly streets ahead in the competition for worst-ever British Prime Minister, and worst-ever American President. Truly world-beating indeed!

To paraphrase Boris’s hero, Winston Churchill; “Never in the field of British politics, have so few fucks been given about so many, by so few.” As the furore about Dominic Cummings’ blatant and unashamed disregard for the law roared away in the background, and contracts for PPE and reviews were awarded to totally unsuitable cronies without any sort of due-diligence or tender, we looked on as interested observers. We have lived in developing countries long enough to have seen it all before.

Just a few weeks later we took our first tentative pedal strokes on the bikes. We weren’t in good shape, but the rural nature of where we were situated was enough to boost our morale as we enjoyed our “allocated exercise” around the quiet lanes of the Borders. We lapped up the deserted roads and the new-found friendliness and courtesy we experienced on those roads in early lockdown. We found that we were treated with an unaccustomed amount of tolerance and respect, and there was a new found "fellowship of the road" as we enjoyed almost "Spanish conditions" on the byways and lanes of the Borders. It was a pleasant relief from the stark reality of the news and the fear that the pandemic had created.

"Roughstuffin" distancing on a bike

Our general situation was good, we were lucky compared to many of our friends, and we lived and worked in our “bubble” until it was time to take our first baby steps back into society. It may seem trivial and indeed frivolous to be talking about bikes and cycling at the present time, but bikes is our normal, and as a new sort of normal emerged, so we emerged blinking into the light of early summer. We are fortunate enough to have our health back, fortunate to be able to work from home, and fortunate enough to be able to get into the outdoors when the opportunity arises.

We have been lucky enough to discover some of the beautiful roads and “roughstuff” of the Borders and feel excited to experience the transition, as new discoveries become old favourites. We don’t know what the future holds or how long we will be able to stay here, but right now we are happy to count our blessings and enjoy our new home. Notwithstanding that, we are still who we are, and we still spend a good deal of our time poring over maps, planning and plotting new adventures. We do realise however, that we need to scale down our ambitions to account for the changes taking place all around us.

It is with this tempered ambition that we planned our next trip, a short week’s tour to give the bikes a loaded run.

More about that soon...

A view from NCN 1

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