Dilemma: Just how would I pass stranger in street?

File photo dated 17/06/20 of people walking over two metre social distancing markings at Ridley Road

A special 2021 pandemic edition of Debrett's might be advisable. - Credit: PA

I was cutting it fine to get to work on time one recent morning.

Seeing me lingering over breakfast when I should have been leaving, my husband offered a lift, but one look out of the window filled me with a sunny determination to tackle the hills on foot - as long as I walked quickly, I wouldn't be tardy.

As I left the house, the air was fresh with morning promise, the sun was climbing cheerfully and there was a pronounced bounce in my step, despite the deteriorating state of my boot heels.

It being the Easter holidays, there was little traffic around to impede my progress as I strode up the first hill.

Up ahead, I spied a person headed in the same direction.

His pace was relaxed, a saunter to my march; I immediately began to worry that he might be someone whom I might encounter en-route if our individual speeds resulted in me gaining on him.

I monitored his journey with an anxious eye, fingers mentally crossed: would he turn off at the next juncture?

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My hopes were dashed as he maintained his meandering route, and the inevitable truth flashed before me in a series of facts: 

Fact 1 - we were travelling in the same direction

Fact 2 - we were navigating hills

Fact 3 - he was strolling

Fact 4 - I was on borrowed time.  

Dilemma: I would either have to pass him, or arrive late for work.  

I cannot imagine I am alone - although, who knows? I haven't felt moved to voice this particular fear - in my concern about the social expectations of situations such as these.

I don't expect Debrett's guide would have extensive coverage of the correct way to pass a stranger in the street, with the additional clauses of uphill travel and pandemic regulations; a woeful oversight, in the current climate.

A special 2021 Pandemic Edition might be advisable.

I could predict the scenario all too easily: two parties climb a hill, one lolloping languidly in soft-soled shoes, blissfully oblivious to the other party behind him, trotting briskly in audibly-heeled boots.

The gap between them starts to close. The party in pole position may or may not become aware of the person trailing, and may or may not speed up in response.

The follower, who has hastily made rapid calculations about velocity and distance, knows it's crunch time - a decision needs to be made, and made quickly.

She has several options: Slightly increasing her speed will facilitate an eventual overtaking, but particular heed needs to be paid to the occurrence of potential passing places and the necessity of maintaining safe distance.

In addition, she will be required to negotiate the social observations of drawing level - at an only slightly-elevated pace, her approach will be noticeable for a sustained period, and her eventual appearance alongside will present a prolonged opportunity in which to pass the time of day or not - a dilemma in itself.

On the other hand, greatly improving her pace to overtake swiftly would limit any tricky potential interaction but not eliminate it entirely, and the effort required to pass quickly would accentuate her breathlessness and hamper her ability to speak with any semblance of dignity, thereby prohibiting eye contact and triggering a sustained and strained silence possibly punctuated by silent sniggers at her back as she attempts to sweep on up the hill, dragging the last vestiges of her composure in her mortified wake.

A third option has already escaped her: she has missed the ideal moment to deviate from her path and take a more circuitous track to her destination - the burst of speed required to absorb the extended distance and ensure timely arrival at work is beyond her now, especially given that route would involve a steeper hill.

The situation appears bleak.  

All this musing took me the majority of the way to work, and so transfixed was I upon the conundrum, eyes fixed sightlessly in the middle distance, that I didn't notice the walker had pulled away and was now unattainably remote.

What was more, he seemed singularly unaware of the situations playing out in my mind, and wended his merry way as though a stranger's entire energy weren't focussed fully on his footsteps. The audacity!

I arrived at work most disgruntled. And I was four minutes late. The injustice!

Next time, I'm definitely getting a lift.