Kenny Wheeler lives in South Lanarkshire and is a retired local authority worker. Here he shares a non-fiction piece which touches on life experience and reflections on the pandemic.
Despite there being no gyms open, I followed the edict to take some exercise during the period of restricted freedom imposed by both current pandemic and parliament, by completing a country park walk one afternoon in early October. The day was warm and bright and the cloudless sky was planeless.
Although I had lived in the locality for more years than I cared to remember, it was the first time I had visited this part of Lanarkshire. The walk was refreshing and relaxing, despite my trying to avoid people literally ‘like the plague’, although acknowledging considerate social distancing oncoming park users with a nod here and a thanks there.
I found myself admiring the verdant southern uplands of the Clyde Valley and in particular a tidy farmstead with flagpost and fluttering saltire, set in the centre of the nearest field. From the farm estate emerged a long and pleasantly winding driveway whose full length was accompanied on one side by a neatly constructed stone wall. At the farm entrance was a cattle grid and sign stating ‘Private Road, No Access’.
I headed away from the farm entrance down the hillside keeping to the tarmacked public road in the direction of town. After about ten minute’s walk I had arrived at the town’s outskirts and was about to pass the first suburban garden: its high hedges failing to hide the substantially tall white flag post, peeping and stretching high above and behind it, boasting a drooping Union Jack.
The end of the garden hedge abutted an ivy covered, two storied stone house, which noticeably jutted out onto the road manoeuvring a pincer movement with the opposite wall to narrow the thoroughfare. This narrowing was aided and abetted by a closed eight foot high, blue, ironwork gate: blocking the onward path downhill that led into town via leafy, upscale, residential ribbon development. The gate’s structure included a thinner internal pedestrian gate on its right-hand side, accessed by an electronic button-entry system.
At first confused when confronted with this barrier, I then became aware of a middle aged man and woman, presumably the homeowners. They had been slightly hidden, standing behind the gate’s left side, on a higher piece of garden ground: conspiring to make them appear at least a foot taller than the gate.
I immediately asked the couple, “why is there a gate here?”
“It’s my gate, you can access it if you want”: said the no nonsense man, as if he was the kindest person in the world.
“A private gate on a public road, really?”,
“Yes, the gate’s been here for 150 years and this is my road”, he said self-righteously, as if tradition maintained the right for this gate to remain standing steadfastly.
“It’s there to protect you from traffic…”, he proffered. A half lame excuse, if ever there was one, I thought. “…but the gate allows for your right of way.”
I calmly remonstrated: “I’ve been all over Scotland (trying to sound as convincing as possible) and never encountered a private gate across a public road before”.
“Look, sling your hook”, the owner snarled, clearly fed up with the way the conversation was going.
I replied: “there’s no need to be rude, I haven’t been rude to you”.
And, with my conscience clearly refusing to bite my lip to let him get the better of me, I vainly threatened: “I’ll let the council know about this!”
Maintaining my dignity, I slowly and deliberately turned about and headed back the way I had come, not actually having intended to progress any further this way downhill in my journey. Anyway, I wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of watching me ignominiously prise myself through the smaller, integrated pedestrian gate.
As I began to make my way back uphill, two well-built, black Dobermans, suddenly announced their presence, growling menacingly, camouflaged behind the high hedges of the homeowner’s garden. My heart raced: free range ‘watch dogs’ have that affect on me. Strange that their presence had not materialised earlier.
As I wound myself back homeward I contemplated the petty territorialism, the selfishness, the non-Covid, literal social distancing of some people: infected with an irrational fear of others; insecurity; and an unwillingness to consider or debate reasonably, the freedoms of others.