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Going round in circles

Today is the first day of some significant moves to lift aspects of lockdown. I have certainly seen a wee bit more in the way of visitors coming to our area. But as we were never overrun with visitors in the immediate area within which I walk, I can't separate the summer increase from other factors.

South of the border there seems a curious reluctance to lead with some changes. When the President of the United States has appeared in public wearing a face mask, it is hardly radical to require us to protect others by covering our mouth and nose. Making it the law to wear a mask in shops removes ambiguity and creates simplicity.

I carry my mask at all times and yesterday found an unexpected benefit to doing so. On my walks, if someone engages me in conversation and there is no physical barrier that will naturally keep us well apart, on goes the mask. For example, I had a bonny conversation a couple of days ago over a low wall with someone who has had to shield.

We had some common ground in that we both studied mathematics for our degrees. And it turned out that she and her late husband had farmed very close to where we now stay. Is that not the basis of a good gossip? Reminiscence based on shared experience.

As social contact increases, I reckon there will be a lift in most people's spirits. We love a good gossip. And the best gossip is very different from a business meeting. There are no follow-on actions. "See you soon" as a parting felicitation is probably as close as it gets.

On this occasion, no face covering. Four metres and wall sufficed.

Later on my walk, however, it was on with the face mask. And nobody even within sight. Why? Well, I was not alone and wanted something between me and the swarm of flies which were finding the aroma of "Stevenson" irresistible. Covering face and mouth helped and drawing it further up to also be over my eyes removed another source of secretion t denied to these pesky insects. I could (just) see through the covering well enough to keep walking. They went away.

It is not a new idea. I passed a horse on a recent walk which had her own specially designed full-face cover. The special autonomic twitch which you see on an equine flank, the purpose of which is to dislodge flies, does not extend to their eyes.

My brisk walk notches up about 3.6 miles each hour. And upon my return to base, I use my phone to measure my heartbeat and blood oxygen saturation. These figures, and the distance covered, are then written into my record of physical activity. I expect to have walked over 500 miles by the end of the week.

There is no point in blood whizzing around your body if it ain't carrying oxygen. The normal range is that 95 to one hundred per cent of blood cells are working away at this. Should it drop to 90%, one is on the verge of a crisis. Wearing a mask makes no measurable difference. This must be true. My phone confirms it. Enough oxygen reaches my blood through my face covering, via inhalation, diffusion and perfusion, to allow me to thrive.

One of the changes reported during lockdown has been an increase in active travel - walking and cycling. I have been walking but not doing much travelling. But as I was organising my diary for the period between now and Christmas, I turned my mind to that period when the Parliamentary week returns to something similar to our previous pattern.

The whips had sent me a list of the dates when they would like me to be present in the Parliamentary chamber. That is a rolling one day each week and starts with Tuesday, 12th August. That doesn't mean that I will be absent on the other two days each week that we gather for Parliament questions and debates. But it does mean that some of that time is available for meeting assorted visitors and for undertaking the considerable amount of reading which underpins so much Parliamentary activity.

Their list assumes a pre-pandemic pattern. And I have adjusted my diary to reflect that.

No sooner done, than the Presiding Officer provides an update indicating that, yes, we will meet three days a week but on a hybrid (some dialling in, some physically present) or "total attendance by video" basis.

In any event, we shall be working "in" Parliament more weeks than usual. We have, of course, spent six more weeks a year on this than the general average of thirty weeks that our Westminster colleagues achieve. But to be fair, that's a crude comparison as the hours in total may not be dissimilar. But this year it looks like we will be working much harder than the MPs.

In previous times I would have travelled down to the South by train on a Monday, made short train journies into Edinburgh three days a week and returned home on Thursday evening or Friday morning. With social distancing meaning that train capacity will be restricted at peak commuting times, should I be looking at other ways to travel?

Putting the time aside to walk each day may become more difficult. But remain just as important as it has become to my fitness. So could I cycle to Holyrood? Been a while since a bike has been an important part of my life. Walking yes, wheeling no. There is an old derelict two-wheeler in the garage. It's beyond redemption.

And as I contemplate returning to the saddle, a world shortage of cycles is being reported. My spouse asked me a day or two ago if there has a related increase in bike theft. Don't know.

While I have probably been spending more time walking than I would spend peddling, it would be a different set of muscles.

Something to think about.

As I do, I twig that this could be another useful innovation in my life. Just as many of the changes in recent months have improved my physical health, change also has boosted my psychological fitness.

Maybe cycling is the next step.

Know of a good cheap, lightweight bike for sale?

Time to get looking.

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