Social distancing. Test and trace. Face-masks (what was wrong with just ‘masks’? Nobody could ever tell me). Clapping. Substantial meals. Scotch eggs. I think I speak for the majority when I say that those terms evoke both profound relief that it’s all behind us and a sense of unreality.
Did the pandemic really happen? From one point of view, we see the effects all around us in the form of NHS waiting lists, ‘ghost’ children absent from school and the parlous state of the economy. On a personal level, however, it feels like we’ve awoken from a long, bad dream to a world that is basically unchanged, only grimmer than it was before.
Which brings me to cycling. The one thing I miss about those days of untrammelled state authoritarianism is the opportunity it afforded to spend serious time in the saddle. Like millions of others, freed from much of my workload – I was a foreign reporter at the time, and foreign travel came there none – I hit the road with a vengeance, reaching heights of fitness I never thought possible.
I’m not being smug. I have since descended from those heights faster than Tom Pidcock at Stage 12 of the Tour De France in 2022. If you must know, my VO2Max has slipped by about seven points, each one of which had been gained by way of great suffering, and each one of which I grieve. I’m still cycling but I’m a shadow of my former self.
And I’m not alone. In March, it emerged that sales of bicycles had hit a 20-year low after the panic buying of the pandemic years.