Fringe Box



XX Notes: Oh How I Want to Break Free

Published on: 27 Mar, 2021
Updated on: 29 Mar, 2021

Maria Rayner

Maria Rayner‘s observational column from a woman’s perspective…

Freddie Mercury has been on my mind this week. If you’re familiar with the outrageous Eighties pop icon you’ll recall the song I Want to Break Free and may relate to the sentiment.

Why does it seem, with the teeny easing of lockdown restrictions tantalisingly close, that we’ve never been more confined? Probably because we haven’t.

Freddie on my mind

When I suggested meeting a friend for a cycle and legal picnic at Queen Elizabeth Country Park, she rep

lied, “Mmm, it’s not really local to me”. Me either. But with a child at school in Petersfield (close to the park) the lines are blurred in my mind.

At journalism school, we were drilled not to write “local”. What does “local” mean, was the lecturer’s rhetoric. And what does it mean? A Godalming friend was quizzed by police for being at Hankley Common. It’s a drive away, but the closest village is Elstead, with a Godalming address.

I thought I was local to Guildford, until Christmas when I couldn’t pick up a Christmas present because my address was just across the borough border in Waverley. It’s bizarre and fabricated: my kids played rugby in Guildford, then we had match teas in Waverley.

The definition of local mentions neighbourhood. Is that the area covered by your neighbourly Whatsapp group, where your kid goes to school or the place you can safely let your dog off the lead. And what if there are no shops in that area? Perhaps the definition is where your local takeaway will deliver without charge?

The Friday night takeaway has become a holy grail in this house and likely to stay one even when pubs reopen. Back in the day, if that funny blond bloke, occasional guest on Have I Got News For You, had said he was considering introducing a passport to go to the pub you’d have just laughed. But you’re not laughing now.

How would it work? Well, as more than one pub landlord and brewery CEO has said, it wouldn’t. Who would enforce it? Would only over-50s, the clinically vulnerable and key workers be able to go for a pint? What if they forgot their vaccine passports? Or wanted to bring their unvaccinated children or pregnant friend? And with most bar staff being under 25, who would be serving your drink, or would bar staff be exempt?

I realise I’ve written a whole paragraph of questions and sorry for leaving you with uncertainties. The attraction of a pub is the freedom to drop in, without a plan, on a random evening or to break a rambling, carefree walk.

On more than one impromptu occasion, last summer, I was turned away at the door of a large bar that always had space pre-Covid because I hadn’t booked.

I look forward to my Friday night Pizza. Image Wikipedia

We’ve learnt over the last year not to rule out the unthinkable so, for sanity, I’ll keep looking forward to my pizza and forget about the Local (the one I can walk to), at least for the time being.

Back to Freddie. Other thoughts about the singer haven’t been about breaking free or freedom, more about holding back. I could stick another song title in but that would be resorting to unfashionable gallows humour (leave one in the comments below, if you dare).

This Freddie Mercury is the seal mauled by a dog on the banks of the Thames and later put down by vets due to its injuries.

Have you noticed the number of out-of-control lockdown puppies? I have. I walk with one every day.

My Freddie the young Labrador

With many of these puppies approaching their first birthday (a tricky time in dog years, adolescence) and dog-training classes, decent dog-walking routes and socialisation restricted since November, it’s no wonder even responsible dog-owners are struggling to call their pets to heel, let alone first-time owners who are having to DIY.

I’ve written about puppy training on these pages before and I hear that group classes are taking bookings, money well spent if you are struggling.

That a farmer can shoot a dog worrying livestock is commonly known, but what about wild animals?

Surrey police have a separate webpage for wildlife crime but to simplify, as a dog-owner, you have committed an offence if you are using your dog to hunt down wild or endangered animals.

If your furry pal manages to catch and kill a squirrel, or a rabbit or the local celebrity seal then that’s not an offence, but it is distressing.

Dogs act instinctively and it takes a great deal of repetitive training to encourage them otherwise. But it must be done, not least because it’s illegal to let your dog be dangerously out of control [sic from police website], even in your own garden.

Today your pet is “just being friendly” with another Labrador, tomorrow he might be ripping off Freddie’s flipper.

Fido’s freedom, Freddie’s freedom, all of our freedom. None is straightforward in these crazy times.


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