Having spent yesterday coughing and sneezing, I had come to the conclusion I was suffering from a coronavirus. And not any old coronavirus. This one, I self-diagnosed, was the one we most dread: man flu AKA the common cold. Immediately, I made the decision not to self-isolate. Instead, I got the bus into town.
I met my youngest son for a swift half on Bristol’s legendary and wonderfully cobbled King Street. Happily, it’s been pedestrianised which has allowed all the wonderful pubs to provide outdoor seating. The place was buzzing and it almost felt normal. But the word ‘almost’ is doing all the heavy lifting in that sentence. It was anything but normal.
My first observation arriving on the city centre was that it was busy. Bristol’s waterfront is a huge success story. I did not go particularly near it but if you had arrived in a TARDIS, you would not have guessed it was a) Thursday night because it’s so densely packed and b) there’s a murderous epidemic still doing the rounds. That’s not a judgement on my part; just an observation.
My second observation was that I was one of the oldest people in town. We had a pint outside the excellent Beer Emporium, formerly Yesterdays (one for the teenagers there) and I would say the overwhelming majority of people were in their twenties. There were exceptions, though. The Bristol Old Vic, whilst not putting on plays at the moment, was busy with older drinkers and diners. The Old Duke had a more mixed demographic, too. In all instances, there were a lot of people. When one party in an adjacent pub got noisy, the security guard instructed them to shut up. Good luck at the weekend, mate.
Quaffing my lager (almost £6 a pint), I felt relatively safe. It appears COVID-19 doesn’t travel outside very well and the social distancing was good. Cigarette smoke is still an issue, I’m afraid, and that’s one of the less appealing aspects of drinking outdoors. But, given that we were mainly outdoors on an unusually warm autumn evening, this was a better new normal than the previous ones I have endured.
After my son and I bade farewell, I made my way to the bus stop on Queen Square. I was slightly confused when the bus arrived – I think something I drank that disagreed with me – and forgot to put my mask on. The driver said nothing as I made my way upstairs but then why should he? It’s not his job to enforce the guidance/law, whatever it is. As I found my seat and finally remembered to attach my mask, it occurred to me that I was the only person wearing one. The bus was far from empty, too. Then, I realised that the complacency which has crept into the attitudes of so many people was embedded in my psyche. It was that point when I realised that we were on the verge of, if not already in, a second spike of the virus. Soon – by next weekend, by the looks of it – it will be too cold to sit outside of pubs. Then, what happens?
I’ll still my family and friends, in a boozer if we want to, but it won’t be a crowded boozer. I’m not sure I’ll want to take a bus, either, if infections really take off, like they have in Spain (over 10k a day now and over 400 deaths in two days this week) and I doubt I’ll bother with my local where I can’t even get a table to meet up with an old friend I haven’t seen for too long.
I’m still coughing and sneezing today and I’m still as confident as I can be that it’s a minor coronavirus and not that absolute bastard one that’s messing up the world.
We’re all pining for the old normal but I think that’s a long time, perhaps years, away. I can see me going back into my Man Cave again soon. Maybe until it’s all over this time.