JANET STREET-PORTER: One of my few remaining joys is the threat of an army of self-appointed guards who invoke public "security".
I'm 74 years old, but (assuming I don't smile and frown) I don't think I see it – all thanks to walking. No botox. Not fancy cream at £ 100 a pot. My recipe for good health is thick boots, a fluffy hat, and a warm coat. An easy daily walk. No conversation. No cellphone.
What could be more pleasant when the news is so grim and we live in fear of contagion? Now one of my few remaining joys is threatened by an army of self-appointed guards invoking public "security".
As the past president of Britain's largest walking club, The Ramblers, I love the benefits of having one foot in front of the other in all weathers. Walking is free, empowering, and the best way to deal with stress. Go and you are temporarily out of all the troubles of everyday life. I walk in silence and empty my mind before Covid puts its negative stranglehold on most of my thoughts for the rest of the day.
What I don't want to encounter on my leisurely stroll is a pompous member of the police force who wastes his time (and mine) by imposing a solid fine on me and claiming that if I've only taken a short drive, I'm breaking the law to an empty piece of green space.
Walking lifts the mood, does no harm and offers peace and time to reflect. Or it should be enough, unless you are unfortunate enough to live in an area that is being watched over by the overzealous Derbyshire police force.
Two friends, Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore, agreed to go for a walk in Foremark Reservoir, just five miles from their homes. When they arrived in separate cars (allowed), they found that the parking lot was full – not with hikers but with uniformed officers who immediately fined both women £ 200 each for allegedly violating the lockdown rules by leaving home to exercise. They were reprimanded for holding hot drinks that (apparently) constitute a "picnic". Andrew Bridgen, their local MP, was appalled.
In fact, the lockout policy states that we can go out to train "locally," but don't state what that means.
How long we can train – Michael Gove made a fool of himself last year when he told a reporter that "half an hour should be enough". None of the current Front Bench appear to be physically equipped to provide this kind of intrusive (and ill-informed) advice.
There is no legal reason why we cannot drive a short distance to an empty place to exercise, especially if it means we are less likely to come into contact with others. As with every aspect of the government's Covid strategy, Boris and his ministers were annoyingly vague in details. They want us to exercise because it will help us not be in the hospital and help the NHS if we are unfortunate enough to get infected.
The prime minister praised the benefits of getting fit (to make sure we see photos of him running with his trainer) and losing weight since he nearly died of coronavirus because he was obese.
Boris realizes that he can't say exactly where to train because too many rules can lead to every little green space in cities being overcrowded with locals. Better to be vague and assume that reasonable people will drive a short distance to a less busy place.
And what about cyclists, by the way? How far can you ride your bike to move? Why choose hikers?
Two friends, Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore, agreed to go for a walk in Foremark Reservoir, just five miles from their homes. When they arrived in separate cars (allowed), they found that the parking lot was full – not with hikers but with uniformed officers who immediately fined both women £ 200 each for allegedly violating the lockdown rules by leaving home to exercise
In the face of large numbers of people roaming the streets and in our parks desperately trying to get some fresh air and escape work from home and home, the police have appointed exercise monitors, taped park benches, and interviewed people who dare to walk around a park less than purposeful and even stop people at train stations asking why they are on a train.
Burglary crime rates fell during the lockdown. Since most people work from home, the city centers are empty, so there is less petty theft and bag robbery. Speed cameras profitably ensure that all drivers cross the borders because there is no traffic.
As a result, the police have invented new tasks for themselves – desecrating parks and coastlines with polluting plastic tape and laminated signs telling us to stay away. All a complete waste of time – time that should be better used to break up large gangs of youth who gather at night, prevent stab wounds and closely monitor who lurks for hours in the food stalls.
Meanwhile, Boris, heavily criticized for the lackluster start of vaccine rollout, hastily made another of his disastrous promises – declaring that everyone in the UK would have access to a vaccination site within ten miles of their home within weeks.
Anyone living in a remote rural area – the North Yorkshire Moors, the Lake District, parts of Cornwall, Norfolk, the Scottish Borders, and Snowdonia – must have laughed out loud.
In many parts of the countryside outside of the national parks, you have to drive five miles to a decent supermarket. I expect police vans will soon be monitoring arrivals at my local Morrisons or Tesco parking lots to ensure that every trip includes a "substantial" store, not just the newspaper, a packet of chips and a scratch card.
Police say they have a four-e strategy to ensure the public abides by the rules. Deal with rule violations, explain the restrictions, encourage us to change our behavior, and if we refuse, enforcement measures (penalties) follow. But every force in Britain has interpreted government guidelines in its own way, with some taking a very persistent approach.
Derbyshire Police Department received frequent criticism during the initial lockdown for posting drone footage of hikers in the Peak District National Park, a clear violation of civil liberties. Lord Sumption, a former Supreme Court Justice, said it was "a shame" and "shamed our police traditions".
To date, over 32,000 fines have been imposed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for violating restrictions. Thousands of cases have been ruled out by magistrates who claim the police are misinterpreting the law.
While infections from the latest variant of Covid are increasing sharply, the largest number continues to focus on the 20 to 30 year olds. Yes, the generation that celebrated the New Year, the people we saw hanging out in the streets outside of pubs and bars before Christmas. These aren't most of the people I see running every day who tend to be reasonable anorak wearers. People with dogs, mothers (and fathers) with strollers, and young children.
Much bilge is written about "community" – but the only community I'm proud to be a member of is the people who run. But woe to us if we gasp and fall, because now the police have kindly made it impossible to sit on a bench and catch your breath.
Criminalize walking. Do these zealots have nothing better to do?
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