You do not need me to tell you that 2020 has been pandemonium…and it is not over yet. I have a feeling that this American election is going to mean that 2020 ends on a bang – not in a good way. What I mean by that is whatever the result is, there is going to be a lot of whinging.
I did not start this post to talk about politics. Oh no. I felt I wanted to write a post for Paula Light’s MONDAY PEEVE (please don’t tell me it is not Monday, I am not in the mood). Yes, that’s right, it is one of those weeks. After being with my family and Jack I have come back to London in a flump. I am a bit of a grump because of feeling discombobulated by this year. But I am not the only one, and I do not want to have a general peeve about a situation we are all in.
This is a more specific peeve. I totally understand that we are still very much in that phase we need to STAY ALERT. I would only encourage everyone to take precautions, especially in line with local guidelines. I do believe that most people have tried to do their bit to observe guidelines that they can see our designed to protect. However, there have been lots of people with their own interpretation of what social distancing means. At times when people with different attitudes cross paths, conflicts can occur. I have seen it at work, patients yelling at each other, because one patient thinks some else was too close to them.
Here in London, it’s all a bit weird. Everyone seems to be either interpreting the “guidelines” differently (and I acknowledge with all the chopping and changing, not many are sure what the those guidelines are from day to day). but as far as it effects me, this is my day to day life now. As well as wearing PPE at work for many months, now I wear a facemask when I go shopping. That’s a legal requirement (as far as I understand) although some people have exemptions. I am still not using public transport on a regular basis, but recently I caught the tube to Euston Train Station, so of course I wore a facemask for the whole journey.
As far as I was aware, keeping a distance was still supposed to be very important. In the local shopping precinct there are arrows and signs asking people to observe a “one-way traffic” system. Do you think anyone follows the one-way system? Not when I am walking through the concourse.
I went into a shop recently where they have just installed self-service tills. Self-service tills have been around for years, and I often use them. However, even though I was the only person arriving at the tills, a member of staff still wanted to bound up to me, seize the two items I was purchasing from my hands and operate the self-service till for me. She was just inches away from me the whole time. Perhaps I look like someone who is incapable of operating a self-service till myself…I don’t know?
To be honest, there are times when it is nearby impossible to keep a distance from other people here in London. I have not used public transport in a long time. I have been walking everywhere for months, but the pavements and supermarkets have been getting steadily busier. Everyday, I pass very close to people. I am sure we breath in the same air. I am not overly anxious. I have never been anxious for myself from the start of the …you know. My main concern was always eliminating ways I could become a vehicle for the virus because I was working with vulnerable patients.
As you know last week, I travelled up to the North of England. There was some even weirder weirdness than anything I have seen in London. Parts of the North have been under stricter social distancing these past few weeks because of a surge of cases. But I was travelling to Cheshire and so far, they have not had the stricter lockdown measures reinstalled. However, like the rest of the country, I expected to see facemasks and some social distancing in operation.
I was nervous about travelling across the country. But I had nothing to fear. Normally, I am thrilled to find an empty seat on a train from London to the North. But for an £11 ticket, on this occasion we had an entire carriage to ourselves. That’s right, there was nobody sitting in the same carriage as I was (except Jack of course). We still kept our facemasks on the whole time.
On the day we arrived the rain was absolutely teeming down. On arriving at the station up north, I wanted to use the Ladies. There was one of those yellow plastic display boards outside that said “CLEANER AT WORK” on one side and “CAUTION – WET FLOOR” on the other side. I presumed they had put it there because of the rain water all over the station platform. When I pushed the door open and walked in, there was only one free cubicle (I think there were six cubicles in total.) I was only surprised because since arriving on the platform I had only see three other passengers. On leaving the cubicle I washed my hands at the sink at the same time as two other women. We automatically spaced out across the bank of sink basins. A member of the station staff came in and started to clean the sinks at the same time as we were using them. She was standing right next to me while I was drying my hands. (This may not seem interesting, but wait for what happened on my return journey through the same station).
Jack and I made our way up to the barriers to exit the station and bundle into the car of one of my relatives (who does not like mobile phones) waiting to collect us. I have been to that station many times and that is always the way out of the station. But the barriers would not open for us. I looked for a member of staff. There were three of them huddled together, not wearing facemasks. When I tried to tell them the barriers were not opening, the guy I spoke to looked at me as if I was in idiot. He told me that we had to walk to the opposite side of the station to leave.
So we traipsed through the empty railway station and left on the opposite side of the station. We then walked around the station in the pouring rain. The rain had been very heavy so the pavements were flooded with several inches of water, we had to walk into the road (which was a national speed limit A-road, but fortunately pretty quiet at the time we were rumbling along with our suitcases). I did have an umbrella, which Jack held over us to keep the rain out of our faces, but by the time we made it to the front of the station where the car was waiting for us, we were soaked and our suitcases were soaked.
I was upset when we reached the home of the family members we were staying with. The anniversary card and gift I had bought were soaked through. My shoes and clothes were wet too. That’s what happens when instead of being allowed to walk through a barrier inside the station, you are made to walk around the station in heavy rain. It made me disgruntled. In London a simple cordon ensures a one-way flow of traffic in some rather cramped stations, or else there is no one-way system. Here we were up north at a large airy station with hardly any passengers to be seen and we were given a drenching by a monsoon shower to welcome us.
Anyway…I had a fantastic time with my relatives and tried to forget the bleak arrival. Eventually, we had had to tear ourselves away from the family and make our return journey to London. This time, we were able to pass through those barriers at the front of the station with ease. I was hoping things would be simpler on our return journey. But I had not reckoned with what would happen when I wanted to use the Ladies toilets again before we boarded the train.
I arrived at the Ladies toilets to find the same yellow caution sign outside the toilets. I pushed the door open and went in. This time there was nobody else inside. I chose a cubicle and went in. After around half a minute I could hear a woman’s voice speaking to somebody else. I was inside the cubicle, so I was not sure what was going on but I heard the woman saying, “You’ll have to wait, I need to go in first. Just wait here until I tell you you can come in“. I did not hear the reply from the other woman, but then the first voice said, “That’s what the sign is there for“.
Well, by this stage I was almost ready to leave the cubicle. I waved my hand across the sensor to trigger the flush mechanism. I could hear the same voice calling out, “Just stay there. I can’t have anyone near me. I’ll tell you when you when I’m finished”.
I opened the cubicle door and recognising the same little lady who had cleaned the sinks the day I arrived, I walked past her and went to use the sink at the opposite side. She then started to yell at me, “I told you to stay where you are. Are you deaf or something? I can’t have anyone near me when I am working. We are supposed to be keeping at least two metres away (I was around four metres away from her at this point, still wearing my facemask). You were supposed to stay in the cubicle until I have cleaned the rest of the toilets and sinks. I will tell you when you are allowed to leave“.
I am so glad the facemask was hiding my expression. Genuinely I did not realize she was addressing me. She could have perhaps knocked on the door of the cubicle to make me realize that she was telling me to stay inside the cubicle. I was bewildered by what she said to me, especially as several days earlier she had decided to stand next to me and clean the sinks at the same time as three of us were trying to wash our hands and make out way out onto the platform.
Already in the process of washing my hands, I paused, and then replied, “Why don’t I just finish off and get out of your way?” I held my hands under the heated air dryer. I could hear her mumbling but could not make out her words. Once the dryer had stopped, I indicated that I would pass to make my exit. She said to me, “Why can’t you just follow the rules? Haven’t you heard of coronavirus?” I was baffled. I was truly baffled. By this point I was ticked off. Falling back on what is normally a reminder to other people that I have been in the trenches during this pandemic, I said, “I work for the NHS“. She said “You should know better!“
I just made my way out, wondering when it became so stressful to use the Ladies toilets at a railway station. I am not surprised the travel industry is in a pickle. We have all had to adapt to what has been asked of us (which is important). For the most part people are doing what they have been asked. But then we venture out away from home and find a whole other set of rules.
Or perhaps not. Perhaps there is not another set of rules at all. Perhaps we are just coming across people at different ends of the spectrum. The spectrum that starts with people who don’t seem to care at all…has a middle zone of people taking sensible precautionary practical measures to protect themselves and other people…and at the other end has people who seem paranoid and pedantic.
I empathise with all sorts of business and retailers who are trying to get the balance right between “customer service” and keeping staff and customers safe. But even when you have to ask a customer to observe a rule, there is a polite way to do it. Frankly, I thought that the member of the station staff cleaning was rather rude. However, she obviously thought I was inconsiderate. Somedays I do not know what to make of it. I am going to draw a line and put it behind me because I don’t feel bad.
Just like the vast majority of people, I have made many sacrifices as was asked of me, including holidays, social gatherings and freedom to do as I please. I have worked overtime for months. The first time I have seen my family since December and it was a great week. I wear a facemask all day at work and whenever asked to do so. I keep a distance wherever possible. I have even gone the extra mile and stopped using the communal kettle and microwave at work, I always take a flask and a salad for lunch. I know that I have been taking sensible, reasonable, practical precautions and have completely changed my lifestyle because I care about interrupting the spread of a virus that threatens precious older and vulnerable people. So I am not going to let one station employee belittle me and label me inconsiderate.
I am just going to hope that she does not use that rather questionable term “…are you deaf?” towards any other passengers. If she does, I think she is going to get herself into trouble.