‘Why don’t they open up drive-ins?’ says my mother, during one of our Skype chats. ‘Drive-ins would be safe.’
As a kid, I was taken with my brothers to the local drive-in, a converted paddock on the outskirts of town near the airport. I saw the first Star Wars from the back of my mother’s Datsun 120Y, the fake space scenes set against the real stars, taking up the whole night sky. The sound from the cast iron speakers was often grating and indistinct, and sometimes you’d have to drive around until you found a decent one. People took camp chairs and set up next to their cars. There was no shortage of social distance and plenty of fresh air. This was before AIDS; the brief, innocent era when all known deadly germs and viruses were under control.
In Scotland, you’d need to use the windscreen wipers to see the movie through the rain, sleet or snow. My mother thinks this is funny. I’m being serious.
Bear and I used to go to the cinema almost every week, together or alone. Now, thought of sitting in close proximity to lots of other people, breathing in their air, touching sticky arm rests, the yuck factor, is overwhelming. Other people have become a source of anxiety and contagion.
There are many ways to be alone but not alone in the city, and the cinema is just one. Shops are another. I’ll say it, shamelessly: I love shopping. I can spend an afternoon on my own amid the crowds in John Lewis or Zara or H&M, the gangs of teenage girls, the women friends, the mothers and daughters, the couples, all the configurations of people who go shopping. As I tell my mother, who hates shopping, it’s 80% looking, and in that I include people.
I even miss eavesdropping on conversations on public transport. Now you have to sit too far apart, and masks muffle voices.
One communal activity that is still allowed is walking in public parks and gardens. Even on an ordinary grey winter day, when the rain has slackened off for a bit, Kelvingrove Park is hoaching with folk taking their permitted daily exercise. On a clear day, it’s like a beach in August. You could almost forget about COVID. People are all over the place: parents chasing small kids on scooters, teenagers sprawled out on benches in a nest of fast-food wrappers, old couples in sensible hiking jackets holding hands. Joggers manoeuvre around them like wait staff in a busy restaurant (remember those?), politely irritated.
Every second person is carrying a takeaway cup of coffee. We can’t go to pubs or cafes, so people who still have jobs queue to pay someone else £2.50 to make them a cup of coffee, the only allowable form of shared public consumption. The socially distanced queues for takeaway coffee can stretch half a block.
For each Glaswegian out and about, there is at least one dog. I see every variety along the Kelvin river path, many wearing padded jackets and even booties. Some dogs aren’t interested in people, only in other dogs or the enticing smell of muddy undergrowth or soggy clots of old rubbish. Others will run up for a sniff.
Outside, in the freezing air, most people don’t wear masks and it’s still possible to smile at strangers in passing as their wet dog skims beneath your outstretched glove.