As coronavirus curbs continue, greater clarity will be needed

With the current situation quite likely to last for months, there will be an increasing need for absolute clarity on what is permissible, beyond mere ‘guidelines’.

Coronavirus crisis

by Colin Campbell                                                                                                          Thursday, April 9

ANY good news story is welcome at the moment, so when police, health chiefs and politicians praised the public in this area for adhering to “the guidelines” on what people should do and shouldn’t do, that should be taken at face value.

They even said they were “proud” of how people had responded. Let’s hope that lasts.

We’re only three weeks into this crisis just now and of course virtually everyone is willing to play their part in the “We’re all in this together” campaign on public safety.

But as what MP Drew Hendry described as “cabin fever” intensifies, as it’s bound to do, attitudes may well change.

As far as I’m aware from talking to people there is still a lack of clarity as to what is allowed and what isn’t. There have been reports of police here stopping people during daylight hours to question why they’re out, and while no enforcement action seems to have been taken or fines issued, is this going to increase in regularity?

It may well do. If so, it would help maintain the harmony and unity everyone wants if it was spelled out by the Scots Government specifically what is permitted and what isn’t.

Why are they seemingly reluctant to do this? The “Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives” slogan we’re all familiar with may be short and punchy but as far as actual guidance goes it is hopelessly inadequate.

For example some people appear to believe that exercise time per day is limited to one hour. Is that true? I’ve combed every available website and can find nothing that says any time restriction is in place.

As for as my own activity, cyclists are out and about in significant numbers, and invariably for longer than an hour. Will they start being stopped and told they’re breaching “guidelines”? And if so, would it be true?

The consensus from official cycling organisations who emphatically want to do the right thing is that there is no official time restriction on how long people can ride bikes and there are no limitations on how far they can go. But they cannot go out in groups, with a mximum of two together. The Government has exempted bike shops from closure and seems to want to encourage cycling just now. Yet there’s no doubt this contradicts that “Stay Home” message.

Personally, when I go out I’m alone, I go on quiet country roads, don’t stop, don’t speak to anyone and hardly ever see anyone, apart from the occasional farmer in a field. The average cyclist’s chances in these circumstances of catching, far less spreading the coronavirus are precisely zero. And for people in their 60s or even younger, this isn’t just an agreeable way to get out of the house. We are told – as I have been by a Raigmore consultant – that regular, vigorous exercise is the best possible way to reduce the risk of a stroke or a heart attack. So we’re concerned about the coronavirus, but we have other things to think about as well.

But that’s just one activity where complete clarity should be a given. It may be gratifying that pride and praise for the public response has been the order of the day so far. But if this lasts – and it could go on for months – those vague “guidelines” on what people should and should not do, particularly relating to exercise, will have to be firmed up and clearly defined. Unless ordered to, even the most socially responsible people aren’t going to follow that blurry “Stay Home” exhortation for months on end.

Bring us sunshine to help dispel the gloom

THE appliance of science is needed with extreme urgency for a much more urgent issue at the moment, but it’s also a scientific fact that the weather has a big impact on our mood and morale. A bright, sunny day gives people a boost from the moment you get up. A wet, grey, overcast one has the opposite effect.

 Up to now, we’ve been fortunate that the coronavirus crisis has generally at least been illuminated by a daily dose of at least some uplifting rays of sunshine. People could take their exercise walking along the riverside or the canal banks, enjoying being out in the fresh, clear air. But Wednesday was a day of constant drizzle and from my vantage point in Scorguie the glaur enshrouding the city was so thick that you couldn’t even see most of the rest of Inverness.

 I didn’t go near the numbingly empty and habitually desolate city centre. But I’ll bet it didn’t just resemble a wet weekend in Wigan, but a lifeless place at the end of the earth.

If ever we needed sunshine…

 As for going out for a walk, that had as much appeal as taking a shower in your Sunday best. I did out of necessity go down to the shop, and got drenched for my trouble. And apart from a few folk at the store, never saw a living soul.

 For many people, I’ve no doubt, the foul and depressing weather saw Wednesday come as close to complete lockdown inside four walls as we’ve had or hope to have. To call it a dismal and depressing day barely does it justice.

 As my late mother used to say, it was the kind of day to draw the curtains and hope  darkness falls early. We’re all prone to low points in the current situation and the foul conditions on Wednesday hit home with me.

 The coronavirus situation is bad enough. If the Gods turn against us on the weather front also people’s mental health really will begin to suffer. By the time you read this bright sunshine may well be back to at least partly life the mood – it is April after all – but as I write the drizzle and grey mist hangs over everything, and in these strange and unsettling times, by heaven darkness can’t come soon enough.

Bad hair days multiply in life without barbers

IT is of course, the things you take for granted that you miss most these days.

A friend of mine always keeps his hair very tightly cropped – more a scalp full of bristles in fact than a headful of hair. It’s not a fashion thing – being of the same vintage as me he gave up on that long ago – it’s just the tidy way he likes it.

Well, these bristles are growing longer by the day. And in the absence of his regular barber, and all barbers, he finds this disconcerting to say the least.

I’ve read about women who are stricken by the lack of hairdressers. Well, men are affected too.

Growing pains for cropheads.

My friend looked up online advice and came across a video demonstrating how you can cut your hair yourself, but he tells me it requires tools he doesn’t have, and doesn’t know where to get.

It’s far from being the worst thing in the world at the moment, that’s for sure. But he and other dedicated cropheads have my sympathy.

Because if the current closures last for weeks, or quite possibly months, they’ll either have to beg someone to just “have a go” with the scissors and hope for the best. Or, far from retaining the neat and tidy appearance they consider essential to their persona, before long they’ll look like George, Paul, John and Ringo.

The regular agenda is wiped clean off the page

THE day after the Alex Salmond trial verdict was announced, the report on it in the daily paper I read was dumped inside on page 24. That’s where they usually put stories about dogs trained to kick a football or economic problems in Venezuela.

That was two weeks ago and nothing has changed. We’re currently in a situation where nothing else on the planet matters compared with the coronavirus. At local level, all the local controversies have vanished from the face of the earth. Council cutbacks, planning disputes, new housing plans, potholes – and last but certainly not least the wretched Gathering Place – in the current climate they might never have existed.

The Gathering Place and everything else falls off the agenda.

And yet, conversely, I sense that while consumed by it in their personal lives, very many people are sick of reading and hearing about the virus. Television bulletins are being switched off en masse. Newspapers – with circulations down by a reported 30 per cent – are going unbought and unread.

For those of us who spent a lifetime in newspapers it’s the strangest time ever. I hope papers emerge intact from this crisis when it’s over, and that applies especially to our local ones, who are doing a fine job in extremely difficult circumstances. But it must be a challenge and a daunting daily struggle for all of our valued and irreplaceable providers of solid, factual news, with an uncertain road ahead.  

One of best public servants Inverness ever had

ALASDAIR Milne, who has died aged 92, was one of the best public servants Inverness has ever had.

I’d rate Alasdair with Dan Corbett, Tom Mackenzie, Sheila Mackay and Alastair Sellar as the most dedicated and effective councillors in the Highland capital in the past 50 years.

A greatly likeable man, he always had his finger on the pulse of what was going on. He was shrewd, sincere and could present a compelling argument to back up his case when he wanted something done.

An old photo of Alasdair Milne, third left, in his council heyday.

Thirty years or so ago a serious proposal emerged to build the new Caley Thistle Stadium on the Bught Park. Outlandish though that might seem now, at the time the football fraternity had a fair wind at their back and it might have actually happened. Alasdair, who before council reconstruction represented a ward which included the Bught, put his normally mild-mannered head down and charged like a bull against it.

In addition to other moves, I recall he wrote a lengthy and devastatingly powerful letter which appeared in the Inverness Courier outlining the case against it. I remember reading it and concluding at the end that he had in 500 or so words killed the stadium plan stone dead. And so it proved.

I hadn’t seen him for a while but even at 90-plus he was still sharp as a tack and kept well abreast of current council business, still giving me valuable advice and often shaking his head with dismay at some of the shenanigans going on at Glenurquhart Road. And he was still riding around on his bike then.

A fine man and, as I say, a great servant down the decades to the people of Inverness, he helped shape the best of the town as we know it, and he should and will be remembered with affection and gratitude.

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