I almost joined a queue for gelato the other day. The queue, socially distanced after a fashion, almost merged with the next queue, outside a coffee & cake takeaway that has recently opened, two doors down, on Great Western Road. Everywhere on this mild, early spring Sunday afternoon were queues of people outside cafes selling takeaway food and drink. They were not taking exercise, and they were most certainly not doing essential shopping. They were simply out and about for the pleasure of it, stretching the limits of what is allowed.
Ostensibly I was on my way back from the supermarket, where I had bought essential supplies (orange juice; can’t have breakfast without it), but my actual motive for leaving home was a gelato. I’ve been thinking about it for several days, hoarding the prospect of this little pleasure.
Last week I had a banh mi for lunch and walked around the Botanics several times—taking exercise, of course—with a friend from work. His previous experience of banh mi had been lacklustre; for him, this modest outing was a culinary revelation.
The pandemic has revealed two classes of people: those who have already booked up Cornwall for the summer holidays, and those who are so fearful that they won’t go to hospital for something that might kill them as soon as covid-19. The people who will drive to Barnard Castle to test their eyesight or attend a rave, and those who stay at home alone for a whole year, going quietly mad for the greater good.
Who plays by the rules, and who knows if you don’t? My friend-from-work recently received an email from HR: if senior staff knew of anyone who had not obeyed the stay-at-home order and were, in fact, somewhere other than damp grey lockdown Scotland, possibly even enjoying themselves, god forbid, they were to let HR know. ‘As if!’ My usually placid friend was outraged at the very thought of snitching on his colleagues. We agreed that totalitarian systems are sustained by such petty acts of treachery.
I’m not one for queuing. When my mother visited me in Tokyo and we had to queue to get in a restaurant, entirely standard at peak times, she reminded me that I’d once declared I wouldn’t queue for a ride in the Tardis. I have absolutely no memory of saying this, but it’s absolutely the sort of thing I’d say.
How life and experience wear down our principles. I almost queued for that gelato, but 30 people between me and the ice cream counter was too long a delay to my gratification.
I’ll go on a weekday, an add-on to my daily permitted outing. That’s a different sort of delay, one of my own choosing. Like the crowds milling around Glasgow’s West End on Sunday afternoon, I’ve not had much choice in the last year, and I exercise it when I can.