Not Austria Day Eight – Going Out

View along the Gaisbergtal valley, Obergurgl

Dear Readers, at this time of year, I would normally be gearing up for some of the harder walks in Obergurgl (having run out of all the easier ones). The walk in the photo, for example, is a long, punishing walk, uphill all the way. Some years it’s difficult to find the path because of all the snow, and we’ve crossed icy snowfields while listening to the rush of the hidden river underneath. In the middle of the photo you can see a little hut – this was where the customs post was, so that people entering Austria from Italy could ( in theory) pay their customs taxes. It is well documented that sometimes entire herds of sheep would pass this point without being ‘noticed’, and I do wonder how many bottles of schnaps passed hands in order to enable this to happen. 

Splendid Italian Tyrolean sheep

These sheep can hear the rustle of a lunch pack from a kilometre away, and think nothing of sticking their heads under your arm to grab an apple or a cheese sandwich. They sometimes give birth up here too – you sometimes see the most delicate of lambs leaping from rock to rock.

But this year, I am finding that I have become extremely nervous about going anywhere new, even as the country is being urged to come out of lockdown, and I am wondering if anyone else is feeling the same. I have gone from intrepid traveller who went off to Borneo only a few months ago to someone who is feeling ill at ease at the prospect of a trip to Kentish Town this afternoon, just a few tube stops from East Finchley.

In some ways, this fear is perfectly reasonable – I have no confidence that Covid-19 is under anything like control. It will mean going on public transport, something that I’ve been avoiding. I haven’t technically been shielding but I do recognise that, at 60 years old and with a genetic propensity to developing deep vein thrombosis, I am at more risk than some other people. Since I travelled to Weymouth for Dad’s cremation, I haven’t been further than the High Street and our local woods. But in the absence of anything like sensible guidance, we in the UK  will all be having to make our own risk assessments over the next weeks and months. For me, there are dangers associated with staying in while my world gets smaller and smaller, just as there are risks in going out. I do not want my world to shrink to the point where I only really feel safe at home. I want to travel again and to explore my city once the dangers posed by Covid-19 have reduced to a manageable level (whenever that is). But I need to be able to make short journeys without having palpitations, and so, mask on and social-distancing radar in place, I shall do this little trip, and then later next week I’ll be doing some others.

My Mum became, to all intents and purposes, housebound for the last few years of her life. A trip to the doctor’s surgery became an event. Dad was no longer really capable of driving safely. And so, her world shrank and shrank. She became terrified of going outside. Once, we went to a local DIY store to buy tiles for the wet room that they were having installed (neither Mum nor Dad could stand up in the shower anymore, and it was too small for a seat). Mum had a full-blown panic attack, felt dizzy and breathless and had to sit in the little office with a cup of tea to calm down.

‘All the walls seemed to be coming in’, she said, when trying to explain how she felt.

Dad, meantime, announced that he liked sitting in his reclining chair and watching endless re-runs of ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ because it made him feel ‘safe’. If he had a doctor’s visit on the calendar he would worry about it for days, checking the date and making sure that transport was in place. I remember him sitting in his chair, tapping his fingers endlessly as if playing some Mozart piece. When he came home after an appointment he would tumble into the house like a rabbit disappearing into its warren – in fact he had more falls tripping over the step on the way in than in any other place in the house, such was his panic and his relief at returning.

And so, one of the first things that occurred to me when ‘shielding’ was announced that there was going to be an epidemic of something like agoraphobia when people were finally allowed to go out.

I am lucky – I am feeling trepidation, but I have no doubt that I will push through it, however uncomfortable I feel. This is not the same as the real panic and distress that my Mum and Dad felt. People who have been shielding for months and who are truly vulnerable to the virus may well need support if they feel that they want to start venturing out. We must not underestimate the effect that the pandemic has had, and will continue to have,  on people’s mental health. I feel as if our society is fragile, with divisions between those who have seen or experienced Covid-19 first hand, and those who still think that it’s ‘not worse than the flu’. Some people will bust out and go to the pub at the first opportunity that they get, and others will continue to shield, terrified of the implications if they get the virus, and sensing that the world is full of dangers. Plus, with 65,000 excess deaths in the UK alone, with jobs lost and businesses ruined, with hopes dashed and plans in tatters,  we are a nation of mourners, and we are raw and exposed and full of grief.

If ever there was a time for being gentle with one another, for being kind, this is it.

8 thoughts on “Not Austria Day Eight – Going Out

  1. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    I think your fears are quite natural and we all have them to a greater or lesser degree. My wife and I will not go anywhere near a plane for the foreseeable future and even the prospect of getting on a train or tram is becoming daunting. But one has to ‘live’ and get on with some form of semi-normal life. Tomorrow we head to Basel for 2 nights and then across to Schaffhausen for 2 more – by car. Though, unless we get cold feet, getting around Basel will require us to take the tram. It will be an interesting experience for sure. But once done, I dare say we will move on to the next stage, whatever that is. Oh yes, I do know – a running race between Klosters and Davos at the end of the month (part of the Swiss Alpine races, which are still going ahead). Am I crazy to even think of participating or is it just another step back to normality?

    1. Bug Woman

      That’s a tough call, Mike – I guess it depends whether you think there’s the faintest chance that any of the other runners could have covid brewing, because if they do and you happen to be running behind them, I can think of no better way to get doused in virus-infused aerosol droplets! If you’ll be at the front the whole way you’ll probably be fine, provided nobody breathes on you. Personally? I think I’d be postponing running in anything until next year, but then I have just watched someone die of respiratory failure so I guess I’m extra vigilant. In my view, in the UK at least, getting back to ‘normality’ is an illusion while we’re still having deaths in three figures every day, but this is a time when everyone will have their own analysis on what makes life worth living for them, and what level of risk they’re prepared to take on. Good luck, whatever you decide!

      1. Alittlebitoutoffocus

        They are starting everyone in waves so the field will be quite well spread out. I’ll definitely not be at the front! But the number of cases here is quite small and deaths very few. So let’s just hope I’m not one of them!

  2. Bug Woman

    You certainly seem to have had a better ‘war’ than we have here. When is the race? Do I need to send Kendal mint cake for the tricky bits?

    1. Alittlebitoutoffocus

      I just checked the stats and the number of cases here has crept up to the 130’s per day from 60 to 70 and that was after it being less than 20 per day. But anyone can go and get checked out now, so they are likely to find more cases. There have been 11 deaths reported in total since June 16th, so not many in the scheme of things. The race is on 25th July, but worry not, I have my wife’s scrummy flapjack if all else fails! Many thanks for the offer though! 😊

      1. Bug Woman

        I’m looking forward to hearing how you do in the race, Mike, though I suspect just getting through all those hills will be an accomplishment in itself. How many metres do you climb?

    2. Alittlebitoutoffocus

      There’s a short climb at the beginning and then what looks like 5km/3 mile climb midway but then generally downhill after that. I hate running up hill so I’m not sure why I entered really – except for the buzz of being involved in an event! Basel is proving interesting. Masks are compulsory on the trams from today and highly recommended at the Hopper exhibition. Plenty of people shoulder to shoulder. 😯

  3. Anne

    Your fears are justified and you are clearly addressing them. I need an eye operation but have postponed it to next year as I will have to spend two weeks at sea level (where the operation will take place) for I cannot face having to get permission to travel and then to find self-catering accommodation when tourism as such has not fully opened. It is the lack of freedom of movement (and not being allowed to see family and friends) that gets to me. My ophthalmologist acquiesced to my decision whilst gently telling me that we cannot allow the pandemic to circumscribe our lives. We need to wear masks, keep our social distance, and wash our hands regularly, yet ‘live’ we must, he reminded me. Keep living as normally as you can … he is right, yet I still purchase my weekly groceries half an hour before the sun rises in order to avoid queues!


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