Thinking about both sides of the letterbox

I was born in the same year as Donald Trump and Dolly Parton. No problems deciding which is one of my favourite Americans! Actually I was born on exactly the same day as the late Freddie Mercury (infinitely more Dolly than Donald). Do the sums and you will realise that I was surprised to find myself an endangered species – sorry, vulnerable category, when the virus came knocking on too many doors.

My colleagues were quite firm as to what I should and should not do. I consider myself pretty fit for my years, which is mainly due to delivering a few thousand Focus leaflets, or some other pieces of paper, every time we go to press. My legs do not take kindly to an absence of walking the streets but by temperament I am not into exercise for its own sake.

So after a few weeks of little more than telephoning constituents to see how they were faring, online casework and zoom meetings, I was very happy to join in our Ward Audit programme. I went out most days, without speaking to a soul, but peering down gullies, taking pictures of fly-tipping and noting faded road markings.

Eventually, following ALDC advice, we slowly moved back to putting stuff through letterboxes – which made me think hard. Now Chris and I are very careful but not completely self-isolating. I allow myself a trip to the Co-op at its opening time to collect the newspapers and bits of food needed from day to day. I can be back home reading the Guardian with a cup of coffee brewed during my absence by 7.15. About once a week I do a bit of supermarket shopping, choosing carefully which one, the time of day and how good they are at shepherding customers. Standards amongst them can vary from week to week.

So far, so good. However the invitation to get back to Focus distribution provoked a number of reflections. What does safety mean on the doorsteps – indeed on both sides of the letterbox. I eventually came to the conclusion that putting out a Focus was actually safer than going to the Co-op. But it also involved thinking about how some people might feel seeing someone coming down the path who was not bringing the post, some mail order package or online groceries.

Apparently we live in an age of communicating through three short words. So here are mine: gloves, mask, ID. I always wear a clean pair of gloves when delivering anyway (thank you Poundland) as an essential defence against vicious dogs or vicious gates. I have taken to wearing a mask out of doors routinely and hope that this gives some reassurance to anyone peering round the curtains. As for the ID, however much I might like to think that everyone knows who I am, the lanyard and badge gives a hint of official status, accountability and, hopefully, responsibility.

All this may seem redolent of grandmothers and the sucking of eggs, but the underlying message is about not taking anything for granted during this pandemic, adapting where necessary and seeing what we can learn, as we slowly move to a fuller life in a new world that has to be different in many ways from the one we left in the early weeks of 2020. As for our patch, we have not come up against any resistance to what we are doing (not even from the usual suspects who give us grief from time to time). And the cheery waves through the window from some of those who really are restricted more than most is a bonus.

* Geoff Reid is a Bradford City Councillor and a retired Methodist Minister.