Running Round In Squares

The famously rude people of London have re-discovered politeness – via slightly manic social distancing

A meandering Strava feed

WE GOT TOLD OFF by Housemaster Johnson on Monday, so now we’re on our best behaviour.

Initially, Londoners treated the whole Coronavirus thing as a jittery sort of half-holiday and went thronging the city’s parks and open spaces, despite official advice to keep well apart.

Next thing we knew, most of us were being told to stay in our dorms and threatened with Sir cancelling PE – the same as in Spain and Italy – if we couldn’t be trusted.

Not many of us want to be cooped up 24/7, and so London’s green spaces have been chocka with people stretching their legs again this week.

Except this time, we’re thronging responsibly.  

In truth, we’ve been left pretty much to police ourselves round these ends.

You don’t see many Po-Po round here at the best of times, and a constabulary decimated by austerity and then Coronavirus probably couldn’t keep more than 10 million people in any kind of lockdown, if they chose to misbehave.

The parks are teeming with people being good.”

But while the parks are still teeming with people – including hundreds and hundreds of runners, many of them who don’t look like they’ve run much lately – they are teeming with people being good.

As per guidelines, everyone keeps moving – mostly singly, some in couples and the odd three (usually a parent and a couple of kids).

Even if they’re big bellied, glacially paced or huge arsed, they’re sticking to the social contract and going out to exercise, so the most morally reprehensible thing I saw all week was four teenagers walking quietly around together.

Most park-goers are also being pretty religious about maintaining an officially-sanctioned two full metres of space from the next human – even though the huge numbers of people around make this difficult to accomplish.

These days, Londoners don’t so much pass in the street as navigate a wary, two-metre square around one another”

These days, many Londoners don’t so much pass in the street, as navigate a wary two-metre square around one another – a sort of angular, urban Do-si-do.

This is despite official advice saying you’d have to be close to someone for 15 minutes to risk contracting Coronavirus.

Likewise, when I run, I’m well aware that there’s only a tiny chance of my contaminating someone as I overtake – by touching, coughing or sneezing directly on them – but that hasn’t stopped me starting to go round people in squares, like everyone else.

I went out for five miles the other day and ran so many socially-distanced box shapes around so many people that my Strava feed looked like something made on Minecraft.

There’s been a shift in Coronavirus etiquette since Mr Johnson lectured us on Monday – Londoners seem to expect extreme social distancing now”

The thing is, there’s been a distinct shift in Coronavirus etiquette since Mr Johnson lectured us on Monday, and Londoners seem to expect this extreme social distancing now.

Even last week, I thought nothing of jogging alongside an old work colleague for eight or nine minutes when our routes coincided – only later wondering if she’d felt uncomfortable about my not maintaining a full two metres.

But like the Coronavirus itself, the new thinking is contagious.

It’s making me virtue signal frantically as I run – hopping onto the road whenever space on the pavement is tight, as well as doing all those big fucking squares.

Then, when another runner brushed past me yesterday, I thought ‘Wanker!’, even though I knew he’d done nothing dangerous.

After that I actually beamed as three adults (who’d been walking outrageously arm-in-arm-in-arm as they approached me) separated into an impeccable crocodile in order to pass.

There’s no doubt about it: this mutual respect/wariness that Londoners are suddenly showing for one another can be quite refreshing. But it’s also a bit weird if you’re used to them shouldering you aside or cutting you up on the streets.

There’s something sheep-like and panicked about the way we’re tiptoeing around each other”

There’s also something disturbingly sheep-like and panicked about the way we’re tiptoeing around each other.

I know it’s behaviour based – loosely – on science, but it’s also just another of the sudden shifts in mass psychology we’ve been experiencing since Coronavirus came to our shores.

Running around in unnecessary squares comes from the same urge that drives us to hoard bog roll, fist-fight over bottles of hand sanitiser, and bring Ocado to its knees by ordering an extra £1 billion of groceries we don’t really need.

Even though these things aren’t logical, we still do them. Whether it’s driven by ignorance, or peer pressure, fear, or just wanting to be in control, we are all doing some strange things at the moment.

But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop running in squares.

Just for the moment – and even though I know it’s a nonsense – I’m going to be the nicest, most obviously responsible runner I can be.

Because I really don’t want Mr Johnson to cancel games …

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