By David Aitken
I was almost trampled under hoof by a milkman’s horse this morning as I walked along a road in my hometown. At such moments of high danger — it was a high horse — your whole life is said to flash before your eyes, and it certainly took me back to earlier times of doorstep milk deliveries by a horse and cart. I was the one making the deliveries — in those days I was healthy as a horse, and almost as smart.
There is a tendency among those who survive a life-threatening event to overstate the danger they were in, and the milkman in this morning’s harrowing near-death experience certainly glowered at me in a ferocious manner. A bit rich, I felt, coming from an almost hit-and-run, or hit-and-gallop-away, driver. He made some remarks about sticking to the pavement. Me, I think he meant.
My only reply was to glance meaningfully at the almost deserted landscape stretching in all directions at that early hour of the day. Served him right for putting the horse before the cart, my look clearly said.
The trouble is, people are unaccustomed to busy roads, because cars, like people, mainly stay at home now. And those who venture out have started to drive erratically, almost as if looking for other cars to joust with. The alluring frisson of potential peril is absent when there is little or no chance of a mudguard scrape, a wing-mirror collision, a fender-bender, a prang, a bump, a shunt or crump or sideswipe involving another vehicle.
Initially, there was a not-unpleasant novelty about empty streets and boarded-up shops, as if we were living in a frontier town in the Old West, where any moment some tumbleweed might appear out of nowhere and blow along the boardwalk, getting tangled up in the wheels of a buckboard en route to Boot Hill. Or the milk depot.
(I could be the Marshal of Neighbourhood Watch. Or would that be too much like a non-swimmer working as a lifeguard?)
But soon the gilt wore off the gingerbread. It wasn’t tumbleweed rolling through town, it was almost empty buses. And the occasional growler of a milkman.
It used to be claimed that if the total population of mainland China emerged from their homes at the same time, there wouldn’t be enough room for all of them in the streets. Not so much standing room only (SRO) as GBH — “Get back home!” (“And leave space for the milkmen!”) But at such moments during the last lockdown, crowded streets would have seemed almost like a blessing, even if a heavily disguised (and slightly illegal) one.
You were probably good citizens and stayed indoors, but I was out there, where it was fairly desolate, take my word for it. And that comes straight from the horse’s mouth.