So here we are again. The pandemic rages anew and more restrictions are in force. Not a time to be a national leader. Nicola Sturgeon is being called a prohibitionist and killjoy, single-handedly destroying the hospitality industry, instead of trying, as best she can, to stop the spread of this deviously contagious disease. Damned if she does and damned if she doesn't, it's an unenviable role.
I spoke the other day to my brother, a government lawyer in Hong Kong for over 30 years. Hong Kong has a population of over 7.5 million, some two million more than Scotland, and yet has had only 105 COVID-19 deaths over three phases of the virus, as opposed to our 2,500+ after all Nicola's efforts. How have they managed so well in one of the most densely populated places on earth? 'If you were to come and see us now,' my brother said, 'you would have to be tested before you left the UK, then again on arrival in HK, and then self-isolate in a hotel for two weeks before you would be allowed to meet us'.
Their guidelines seem to be applied more strictly and consistently, and bars, as opposed to other licensed premises, have come in for particular scrutiny. Not the alcohol so much as their enclosed and crowded atmosphere. Perish the thought we may yet have to revert to more draconian measures. The worries continue. General weariness is palpable.
Could folding bikes be the answer?
Following my recent concerns about Edinburgh City Council's cycling policy, a few neighbours and myself were finally able to speak to our local councillor about the unwelcome arrival of our bike pods. He had taken his time, emphasising that social distancing guidelines be observed. I indicated this would not be a problem since the pods extended over an area of 5x2 metres. I had the impression that he wanted to keep his distance from, let's say, since he didn't know what to expect, a cluster of harpies. A pleasant man, but not one to man barriers or lead out shock troops, was my impression.
We had an amicable discussion, but the pods are a done deal. The council has acted legally, however inadequately, in our case. Laminated notices on lamp posts, firmly fixed too high up to be readable, are, apparently, a legally justified form of communication with council tax payers. Alternative locations for the pods are not now up for discussion.
Issues have, however, arisen elsewhere. A couple in their 70s, one of whom has Parkinson's, on the other side of the city, found their disabled car parking space moved into the centre of their street to allow the new cycle lane to continue unhindered past it. This had not gone through the proper legal procedures. Other concerns have related to cycle lanes at bus stops. Who has right of way if you are elderly or disabled crossing a cycle lane to get on a bus? The concrete cycle lane markers on the Mound have also been remarked on as possible hazards for wheelchair and pushchair users crossing over.
Examples of thoughtless behaviour by cyclists abound. A neighbour's elderly brother-in-law was knocked down by one in a tunnel on one of the lower level walkways that marks the city's old suburban railway. The cyclist neither stopped nor looked back. Another neighbour took her two small grandchildren out with their scooters on a similar walk and ended up having to carry the scooters herself as she felt the cyclists' behaviour was too dangerous to let the children ride them. When she complained to one cyclist that he should ring his bell, he shouted back that, as it was a cycle path now, it was up to her to take care.
It's a tough one this when it's an approved policy. It leads to tunnel vision. A macro idea ignores micro issues. What benefits one group of people does not suit another. One solution to a problem – supplying bike pods for residents in city flats with little space or security to store their bikes – results in residents with no interest in bikes but a definite need for car parking spaces near their residences being annoyed and inconvenienced. There was an echo in Eileen Reid's
article last week when she instanced the drive-thru flu injection hubs, which ignore the needs of elderly people, who may not have cars or family to help them, being required to turn up somehow, and with short sleeves, in the kind of temperatures we are currently experiencing. No chance of taking a taxi either. The queues this weekend have been horrendous.
On Monday evening, I watched a BBC4 programme about a number of post-war British designers. Among them was Andrew Ritchie who in 1975 designed the first Brompton folding bike. Created to be portable for commuter and leisure use, this was a distinct innovation. When I retired, I bought a folding bike. It wasn't a Brompton, but a useful, practical bike. I thought I might tootle about on quiet, flat, local streets for exercise, but, as I hadn't ridden a bike since I was a teenager, I found I couldn't overcome my fear of falling on hard tarmac and there was nowhere private to go to relearn. I felt safer and happier in my car. So I passed the bike on to a teenage niece in Morocco, who was very glad to have it.
Few people I've spoken to seem to know anything about folding bikes, and while they wouldn't appeal to a competitive racing bike enthusiast, they might offer an alternative solution to adding to Edinburgh's street furniture, now a blank canvas for graffiti artists and vandals. Besides which, there are other forms of exercise. Fencing, anyone? That, of course, will be of no interest to Sustrans, who have invested £600,000 in designing those maudit bike pods.
Gillean Somerville-Arjat is a writer and critic based in Edinburgh