For self-employed people, national holidays often don’t mean much. In the twelve years that I have worked for myself, I have tended to treat many of them as normal working days. When you don’t get paid if you don’t work, time off loses some of its appeal.
In lockdown, this sense of bank holidays becoming less distinctive seems to have spread to a larger swathe of the population. With many of the routines and structures that define people’s schedules mothballed, days and weeks have merged.
Nevertheless, with good weather predicted, Folkestone, along with many other seaside towns around Britain’s coastline, is braced for an influx of visitors today. (This despite a number of media campaigns asking day trippers to stay away for fear of overcrowding – appeals that have already been ignored by many.)
With this in mind, and as the latest scandal rages over Boris Johnson’s close adviser breaking lockdown rules, I changed my schedule today and headed out for a run first thing rather than at lunchtime as I would normally do on a Monday.
It proved to be a good move. As you can see from the photo above, the seafront between Folkestone and Hythe was largely deserted when I set out, although, by the last couple of miles, the number of people on the concrete walkway along the beach was increasing, no doubt foreshadowing the crowds that will appear later.
Yet, though other people were largely absent, evidence of their presence was not. Several of the benches of the Leas Cliff Park were surrounded by litter left by weekend visitors and many of the bins were overflowing.
Sadly, such sights are not uncommon here in the summer – so much so that local volunteers regularly go out during the hottest months to clear the worst of the rubbish from the beaches and beauty spots, alongside the Folkestone Town Sprucers who keep the place looking shipshape throughout the year.
During peak season, many of those who live locally (yours truly included) avoid the beaches on weekends and public holidays, leaving them clear for the visitors on whom many of the town’s seasonal businesses depend.
Today, the sight of the rubbish made me realise another reason for asking people to stay away from the coast during lockdown. In addition to the physical problem of crowds making social distancing difficult, there is something about the psychology of going on a day trip that conflicts with the attitude that navigating the pandemic responsibly demands.
When we go somewhere for fun, we get out of ourselves, lay our cares aside and, to a certain extent, abdicate our responsibilities. And while we don’t all leave rubbish lying around for others to deal with, we perhaps all relax and exhibit a more devil-may-care attitude on such occasions than we would usually do.
In normal times, this can be a very important way of refreshing and reinvigorating ourselves. But such ‘holiday humour’, as Shakespeare’s Rosalind puts it, is not compatible with the vigilance and care that observing social-distancing rules requires. Lulled into complacency and bonhomie with – judging by the litter in the coastal park this morning – more than a few alcoholic drinks inside us, we probably aren’t best placed to protect ourselves and others from the spread of a deadly virus.
Still, these reflections are unlikely to change habits that seem in large part to be written into the national DNA. Already, as the sun rises higher over the white cliffs, I can hear the traffic building in the streets leading down to the seafront.
All the more reason to stay at my desk today, making the most of my one fully child-free day of the week by getting on with my work.