What a celebration! What a street carnival! What neighbourly goodwill! That was Friday 1 May 2020 in my suburb. Not because it was May Day, not because the sun was shining and autumn was in the air. No, it was mass exercise time!

And worth every moment of dragging myself unwilling from my bed on such a chilly morning and such an unseemly hour. When I put on my dog’s leash, his face said it all: “Have you flipped your lid? Haven’t you been telling me for the last five weeks that we’re not allowed to go for walks?”

As we passed through the gates of our complex, he grew even more perplexed. But when I said, “Yes, we can, let’s go,” my usually dour elderly Scotsman took off like a rocket, straining at the leash, dragging me, blinking in the sunlight, with him. But the initial hop, skip and jump was soon modified as the fresh scents came wafting from every bush and lamp post we passed. “Oh what bliss, oh how I’ve missed reading these fresh, delicious pee-mails. It feels as if every dog I’ve ever known has left a message just for me.”

We took the long route round the suburb and indeed it did seem as if every dog we had ever seen or heard was pounding the streets with its owner. Not only dog walkers had taken possession of the roads, but a young jogger passed by pushing her baby in its pram, power walkers, speed cyclists, dawdling riders, an old lady in her walking frame, children hopping up and down around their parents, or riding their bikes, everybody smiling (even if their mouths were covered), everybody saying hello, waving, keeping their distance.

And oh, the autumn flowers in beautiful gardens, the smell of freshly-cut grass, the mountains looking new-born and radiant… Would there ever be such a morning again!?

And then, our house in sight, the dragging footsteps, the regretful backward glance – but at least the prospect of being able to do it all over again tomorrow, and breakfast waiting. If it had been the intention of the powers that be to restrict the number of outdoor exercisers to a minimum at such an early hour on chilly, pre-winter mornings, they failed miserably. ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’ seemed to be ringing in the air.

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