My afternoon of browsing record shops and enjoying a few pints outside of Bristol’s pubs was partially successful. On a cool, bright then rainy Bristol, it felt especially lovely to set foot in Rough Trade (new records by Teenage Fanclub and Field Music) and HMV (Jordan Rakei and a boxed set of Monkees albums) which really gave me the taste for a few pints. However, I’d had a nagging feeling actually grabbing a seat outside a pub might not be so easy. It wasn’t.
The crowds shopping in Bristol’s Cabot Circus and Broadmead were not at Christmas levels, but they were not far short. There were queues, some very long queues (I’m talking about you, Primark), at many shops, though curiously not at the ones I wanted to visit. And in Cabot Circus, there were frequent tannoy announcements suggesting people extend their shopping trips because of the crowded car parks and gridlocked roads. It was all as if the pandemic was over. Well, for many people it was.
In the Circus, there is a clear system of arrows to encourage people to pass by on the other side of the walkway. They might as well have not bothered. No one was enforcing social distancing, many people were simply ignoring the arrows. A group of maskless young women pushing babies in prams were ploughing through the crowds the ‘wrong way’ when one of them made a comment that maybe they should cross to the other side. “I don’t give a shit,” yelled one of them. How they all laughed. To be fair, most people in the Circus were wearing masks – say around 60% – but you can probably work out for yourself the approximate percentage who either weren’t or didn’t realise their mouths and noses were connected.
There was a feeling that COVID was all over, once and for all. The only places you couldn’t go inside were pubs but, I thought, we should be able to secure a seat outside of one. But pub after pub was full, even the ones along King Street where seating was uncovered. People were still queuing to sit outside on wet seats in the rain. The Bristol Old Vic had the ingenuity of erecting some huts but there were queues for these too and the idea of being isolated in one of those, away from other drinkers, didn’t appeal to me as much as sitting in a pub garden. On King Street, there were significant numbers who were not in the least bit bothered by drinking in the rain. Some pubs take advanced bookings, others are first come, first served. Given the long term weather forecast, my advice is that unless you don’t mind sitting in driving rain and strong wind, book somewhere that is properly covered. Mere pub umbrellas alone won’t work!
Most places in Britain were like this yesterday and there is definitely a widespread belief, encouraged by Boris Johnson, that there will be no going back to any form of lockdown. And even if there is, I suspect having tasted freedom, many people will be most reluctant to give it up again.
All this assumes that COVID is now permanently under control and that variants won’t turn up and bugger everything up or – perish the thought – another awful virus will turn up, just like COVID-19, and start killing us again. Given that the world’s poorest people are now at the mercy of an out-of-control virus, it is hard to believe that we will avoid the consequences, whether by more deadly variants or those who have not yet been vaccinated getting infected.
I suppose we just need to enjoy today. The sun is shining, we’re out and about again, we can see our loved ones and life feels, well, more normal again. As a creature of habit and routine, I welcome normality for as long as it lasts.