Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Housekeeping Note: As mentioned the other day, I’m going to keep running this blog past my birthday; as usual on such occasions, the titles of the posts will switch from’…minus…’ to ‘…plus…’ And there’ll be 57 posts entitled that. Though I guess I’ll have to come up with a different tag line to: Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.

There’ll still be old fiction on Tuesdays, new fiction on a Thursday, and the usual nonsense you’ve come to expect.

OK, on with today’s entry.

As with previous entries on medical stuff and travel, this post won’t be on the macro stuff, on national policy or anything, but how covid has changed what I do, what consequences it’s had for me.

And, maybe, on what it’s going to affect for me during the next couple of months.

So, time.

Time has been weird the past 18 months or so. We haven’t had the shared anniversaries we’d usually have; we haven’t been able to celebrate birthdays and annual successes… or, equally importantly, maybe more importantly, comfort each other on deaths, and the anniversaries of deaths or losses.

Because some people had their final birthday during covid, and nothing I could say here would possibly even slightly ease the anguish their family and friends felt and continue to feel. It’s fundamentally wrong, just wrong, that the dying couldn’t be comforted by, surrounded by, their loved ones at the time. And those who grieved coukldn’t even do so communally.

Moreover, no matter how advanced the technology gets, no matter how good the video streams become, there’s a distinct and definite difference between ‘being there in person‘ and ‘not being there in person‘.

There are times when ‘not being there’ isn’t that important, to be brutally honest. A friend celebrates their birthday, and arranges a zoom session for folks who can’t make the party? That’s cool. Same applies for weddings, and confirmations and bar mitzvahs. Hell for celebrations in general.

Someone’s grandfather is buried, in the same city, and they have to watch it on a screen? That’s not the same. At all. It’s not cool in the least. It’s heartbreaking, at best. I struggle in fact to see it as anything other than callous and cruel, and I wouldn’t blame anyone in that situation who felt like they were being punished for others‘ actions.

(Or if the others are elected politicians in power? It must have felt like you were being punished for others” inactions.)

My own birthdays are about as trivial an example as it’s possible to use… and it’d be meaningless and silly to use that as an example of missing a celebration. So of course I’ll use that.

I’ve never really been one for birthday parties. In part because I wasn’t exactly a popular kid in school. So, whether I decided early on that I didn’t want birthday parties because no one would want to be there, or whether I decided that after having had parties where it was obvious that no one else wanted to be there, I dunno. Either way, big birthday parties ceased fairly early on in my life.

(Having a birthday in the middle of the school holidays aided that, to be fair. It’s about the only reason I had until my 50s where I’ve been pleased that my birthday’s in August.)

Because of course, for the past decade or so, my birthday has taken place at the same time as The Edinburgh Festival. (Well, yes, ok, if you want to be pedantic, it’s always taken place as the same time; it just never really mattered to me that it did.)

Now, not all of my birthdays have taken place at the Edinburgh Fringe the past decade, but it’s usually played some part in the celebrations, because either because I’m up there for it or a couple of days after my birthday, I’m heading up north of the border,

In 2014 – for my 50th – and in 2019, of course, I was lucky enough to celebrate my birthday at the Fringe, and enjoyed both days enormously.

The past two years have left me feeling a bit weird about my birthday, and about birthdays in general during the pandemic. There’s a certain element of ‘birthday blues’ attaching to this one, I’ll admit, as I formally enter my ‘late 50s’.

There’s no general agreement these days as to what constitutes ‘middle-age’, is there? Whenever it comes up on Twitter, the discussions quickly devolve into arguments between those who [reluctantly] insist they are now, or still are, middle-aged, and those who want to avoid the label, so claim it’s always ‘ten years older than I am right now’. Me? I figured I entered ‘middle-age’ the day my son became 18, when he became an adult. But then I didn’t get married until I was 30, and I was 31, fifteen months later, when he was born. So, y’know.

But there is, shurely, a consensus on what qualifies as early-, mid- and late- of whatever decade you’re talking about.

A ‘zero’ year – 30, 40, 50, etc – isn’t part of early. It’s its own category. No one claims that being 40 makes you ‘in your early 40s…’

No, you’re just… 40.


    31-33 – early thirties
    44-46 – middle forties
    57-59 – late fifties

And, in a couple of days’ time, I’ll be 57. In my late fifties.

And for the second year, I won’t be in Edinburgh for it. Which annoys me. I’d hoped to get up there this year for it, even if the Fringe wasn’t going ahead, or not in any recognisable way. I’d hoped to make it up so that I could finally discover whether it’s Edinburgh I love, as a city, or whether it’s the Fringe that I love.

Last year, although restrictions had eased a bit, things were far from ‘normal’, and everyone knew it. Someone suggested, only semi-jokingly, I suspect, that everyone should get to pause their birthdays for a year, and pretend 2020 never happened.

But yeah, I’ve had better birthdays, and I suspect this year’s won’t be great either. I’m… not looking forward to being 57. For all kinds of reasons. But I’m not. And no, it’s nothing to do with – as one person suggested, not unkindly – that ‘time is passing if you ever want to be in another relationship’.

I gave up on that possibility long, long ago. Without too much bitterness, I assure you… and…

(No, wait. I’m not going to do that now; that’s part of that very personal post I mentioned I’m writing but still never got around to posting. Maybe in the ’57 plus…’ We’ll see.)

Anyway, time and my birthday. I’ll be spending the day alone, for various reasons, which shouldn’t matter in the least; it’s just ‘another day’ as they say.

I should say that I’ve always been genuinely amused by those who decry others marking the turn of the year, claiming ‘it’s just another day, another 24 hour period’. The same people rarely take it in good humour when people ignore their birthday with ‘eh? It’s just another day, another 24 hour pension, isn’t it’.)

But yeah, while it doesn’t bother me that much now, today, I suspect it might well do so in 48 hours.

ANYWAYS, moving on…

Back to talking about time over the past 18 months that seem both to have lasted five years and yet also only 6months.

So many things that were ‘the norm’ back before the pandemic struck seem… odd now, seem weird, and frankly, seem flat out strange to me now.

I can’t remember the last time I went to the movies, in a proper cinema. Now, that in and of itself is ok; I can’t remember the last time I did lots of things. And only some of that is because I have a shit memory for lots of things.

But there are a couple of warring desires in my head: (1) the genuine urge to go to the movies just because I now can go to the movies, because they’re open for business, and because I’ll probably enjoy it… fighting against (2) the urge to avoid going into crowded places, no matter how ‘covid safe’ they protest they are.

And part of that last bit is because the very idea of being in a crowd seems to belong to a far away time, the old ‘the past is a different country; they do things differently’ thing. But it was only 18 months ago.

Only 18 months ago.

Time. We’re almost two-thirds of the way through 2021. We’re 227 days through it. And yet, it still seems like 2021 both has barely started, while also I’m kind of asking “we’re ONLY 227 days through it? How the hell are we not almost at Christmas?”

I mean, ok, I know March 2020 seemed to have 227 days on its own, but surely we’re more used to how time passes than that?

Because it’s not just the birthdays and anniversaries that matter, It’s – depending on your religion, Easter and Passover and Eid and Diwali – and it’s dozens of family occasions, hundreds of sporting events, including those that are taking place in 2021 yet all the coverage and merchandise says 2020. And yet more things; there are dozens of cultural events, hundreds of those little calendar markers through the year, anniversaries that pop up on your individual, personal diaries. “Huh, I started at this job two years ago”, “Oh, Timehop reminds me I was on holiday on a Caribbean island three years ago”.

“Oh, I broke up with him on the day of lockdown.”

The days of the week tend to run into each other. I’ve seen more “I thought it was tomorrow all day” and “I keep thinking tomorrow is the weekend, it’s not” online than ever before.

And while it pales compared to those who’ve lost people during the pandemic, it does… irk… that we have no idea when it will be… over. Even if we’re told when, and we believe them, it’s now hard to accurately judge the future, judge what period of time a week or a month is.

I don’t mean the formal lifting of restrictions. Hell, if the past few months have shown us all anything its that “the formal lifting of restrictions” and “things getting back to normal” are not only two very different things indeed; they’re talking about two entirely different things.

My friend Mitch Benn, the comedian, had a bit in his 2014 Don’t Believe A Word’ show about the difference between atheism and agnosticism. People confuse them, think they address the same thing. They don’t. Theism/Atheism are about belief, or the lack of it. Gnosticism/Agnosticism address knowledge.

In the same way, the formal lifting of restrictions addresses what you can now do, legally; a simple (ok, complicated but it should be simple) list of facts: you can do this, you can’t do that. Whereas things being back to normal is about how it all feels.

And time feels odd to me; it has for months. Not for the full 18 months since the first lockdown, but yeah, the past year or so.

If someone says “this will happen in a month”, I’m no longer exactly sure I know what a month feels like.

And that’s not right. That’s not… good.

And it’s going to take something to fix it.

Oddly enough, it’s going to take time.


See you tomorrow, with… something else. And since it’s the final entry of this ’57 minus…’ run, you might well think you know what’s coming. You probably don’t.



Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.

I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

As with last week’s about medical stuff this post won’t be on the macro stuff, on national policy or anytghing, but how covid has changed what I do, what consequences it’s had for me.

And, maybe, on what it’s going to affect for me during the next couple of months.

So, travel.

Once upon a time, I had a car. I had several cars, but I’m no longer in a position to have one. For a start, I really couldn’t afford to run one. Not only the petrol costs but the ongoing costs that come along with owning and operating a motor vehicle: annual MOTs, maintenance and repairs. So, no.

I gave up the car long before I moved into my current place and have only rarely driven since. It bugs me, nbut not as much as it used to. Because I really liked driving. I enjoyed every bit of it. Even the less pleasant bits of it, like being stuck in a traffic jam weren’t that much of a problem, and even then any irritation I felt wa sbceuase of the circumstances, not the driving itself.

But, as I say, that’s in the past.

But before the pandemic hit, I’d only occasionally walk to the shops, or anywhere really. I’d gotten used to the usually excellent bus services in London. Yes, I live north of the Thames so I can’t really talk about bus services south of the river, but the reason why I know I can rely on the busses is mainly thanks to the Citymapper app. It’s the most accurate (leaves Google’s similar functionality in a hole, in my experience) and far, far better than TfL’s own app. Busses tend to arrive when the app says they will and the journey time is usually pretty much as predicted.

BUT then the pandemic hit and, for a long time, I simply wasn’t allowed to use busses other than for The Very Important Stuff, and even after that restriction eased, I wasn’t that eager to travel by bus while a chunk of the people who went on them insisted on not wearing masks.

But for most of the past year, if I wanted to go anywhere, I had the usual four choices:

  • Walking
  • Bus
  • Tube
  • Bicycle using Santander bikes

(There is an other alternative, the one I use when I visit my social bubble (and my closest friends) in Richmond: the overground train. But that’s maybe once a week and is only very rarely crowded, so any concern I have is… muted.)

The most obvious, the one that should be the default, and the one that probably would be default… if it wasn’t for the fucked-up foot.

But that fucked-up foot does tend to remind me that it’s fucked-up every so often, sometimes with huge amounts of acute pain.

But when it doesn’t, then I walk. During the ‘you’re not allowed out except for shopping/medical/exercise’ period, I developed the habit of going for a ‘Daily Constitutional’, just an hour of not-very-fast walking, accompanied by a podcast or an audiobook. As I’ve said elsewhere, my only rule was that it could not be a news-based or current affairs podcast; I wanted, needed, a complete break from the news while out.

Of all the decisions I made during pandemic, that was probably the wisest I took. Apart from listening to some great audio – I reacquainted myself with Simon Russell-Beal’s George Smiley and Simon Moffat’s Hercule Poirot, among others – having that break from ‘important stuff’ was essential. I don’t think I realised how essential at the time, but I very much appreciate it now.

I’m lucky to live where, in about eight different directions, there are comfortable, delightful walks, without too much of a steep incline on any of them. Whether I want to head for Kilburn, or Baker Street, or Hampstead, or Swiss Cottage… lovely scenery, wide open spaces, and unless it’s bucketing down, some decent protection from the worst of the rain.

And then there’s Lisson Grove, along side the canals, and various areas of greenery.

The one place I’ve not walked to, sadly, though it’s within easy walking distance, is Regent’s Park. I keep meaning to but it’s just far enough away to walk to and just off the main roads enough…

…that I’m genuinely concerned about my foot twisting and I’ll be far enough away from somewhere to sit and recover, or to grab a bus back… and I’ll have a very, very unpleasant walk back.

So, yes, I’ve been doing a lot, lot more walking since the pandemic hit. Much as when I gave up smoking, I have no doubt I’m actually fitter as a result, even if I don’t actually feel it.

Yeah, the famous red bus. Once I started re-using them, I noticed I was doing a mental check at every stop; were the number of people now on the bus, or the number not wearing masks, enough to make me uncomfortable. The moment that number tripped over an entirely personal, entirely arbitrary target… I got off the bus and waited for the next one.

It’s been interesting, seeing the % of those wearing masks increase (in the early days) from a novelty to a pleasant sight to the default. But those days when I could with a flair degree of accuracy predict how many people would be wearing masks when I got onto a bus…? They’re gone. They’re long gone.

I have no idea, these days, none at all, when I board a bus, how many people will be wearing masks. Could be almost 100%, could be fewer than half.

And that worries me. Not enough always to not uses busses, especially if it’s back from a big shop, but it’s a constant low level concern when I get onto a bus these days.

There’s another worry that’s constant as well. It’s not something I worried about at all until a couple of weeks ago, but now it’s always there. One of the inevitable consequences of the restrictions has been that on each double seat… you either get a couple. Or one person, sitting alone. That iron rule has started to crumble.

It’s only happened to me twice, where someone has gotten on the bus, and then sat next to me. On both occasions, I immediately stood and moved away, standing the rest of the journey if necessary. The first time, I did it automatically, astonished that anyone would sit next to me. But the next time it was a deliberate act. As it will be, the next time. Until this thing is 100%, totally, and completely over… no, I don’t want to sit next to anyone on the bus. At all.

The Tube
There was a time where I’d use the London Underground on a regular basis. Then covid hit and I think I went a full year without stepping on a tube train. There’s no doubt that it’s faster than the bus. The higher fair doesn’t bother me, not much. What does hugely concern me however are the other people, even less likely (without reminders) to wear masks and far less likely to observe any distancing.

I don’t feel… comfortable on the tube, and more and more will take it only when I have to, when travelling by bus is not a sensible alternative. I’m sorry that’s the case, because I used to quite like the efficiency, speed and availability of the London Underground. I wonder if I’ll ever get that back. I hope so, but I don’t think it’ll be in the near future.

For the first time, during lockdown, I actually envied people who had bicycles. For a short period of time, I kept an eye on freecycle and on second hand sites for anyone getting rid of theirs. That feeling went away but never wholly, I’d quite like a bicylkem but can’t really afford nor the replacement if it’s nicked. Every summer I use the ‘Boris bikes’, the Santander bikes for a few weeks and though they’re not the easiest nor most comfortable of rides, they’re relatively cheep and I do get a bit of decent exercise with fresh air.

I’ll probably start using them again soon for a few weeks again. Maybe.

(As I was typing this, an email arrived selling electric bikes. Out of curiosity, I hit the link. Oh, they’re only two thousand pounds or more each. Erm, no.)
OK, that’s today’s entry. I’m off back to the flat, walking… accompanied by, today, The History of Rome. We’re up to the Second Macedonian War. So that’ll be nice.

See you tomorrow, with… something else.



Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.

I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.