I have just been abroad on a holiday. It was spent in Grantown on Spey and Edinburgh but by any standards I was in a foreign land nothing like England. Things have changed in Scotland while life in Boris land where I live, unless Plan B has been implemented by the time this appears, is totally different. For a United Kingdom, this is not really as it ought to be. Wearing masks in Scotland was compulsory and hand sanitising was endemic – I hardly ever touch the stuff down south and neither does anybody else. It is all very well telling people it is their responsibility to do the decent thing and wear masks, observe social distance and sanitise, but actually they do whatever is most comfortable and easiest as any night out demonstrates.
I do wear my mask on public transport, I do wash my hands when I bring home the messages but otherwise I tend to do what the people I am with do. If it is a London theatre and everyone else is not bothering to mask, I will probably do the same. Audiences for the big West End musicals are particular sinners in this respect as indeed are those who produce them as they promise all sorts of safety measures and produce none. But there are other differences.
I visited a friend in a care home in Perth and had to be tested before they let me in. Admission everywhere was barred by door locks with secret codes. There was no way I could just walk in unlike the one in London where I had a friend – one learned the front door code and into the lobby one went. The code for the lift was posted on the wall and it was a case of up and away, maybe meeting a nurse at the desk on the floor my friend was living on – or maybe not. Masks were nowhere to be seen and there was no pre-admission testing.
Life under Nicola last week seemed much more reassuring although I was slightly disconcerted when the NHS check in on my phone refused to work – I think NHS Scotland must use a different system which, even allowing for devolution in a United Kingdom with a common pandemic, seems an oversight. Presumably there would have been no point in producing my Covid pass if asked, although going clubbing was the last thing I had in mind.
As for the rules, well I have never seen anything like the traffic light system the amazingly well-stocked Grantown Co-op had to control admission. Down here, we get a bouncer on the door if we are lucky and very often not. The days of queuing have gone. The way Scotrail enforced mask wearing on the trains there was no choice – one got told to put it on or face a fine. On the train south, we were told masks were obligatory until the border after which it would be the right thing to wear them for the general good. Nobody heeded that. We were back in the land of whatever plan it happens to be at the moment, where travellers on transport are asked but not made to wear them.
In other words, I really have been abroad, been in a foreign country and that is something I have never felt before. When I told this to my Welsh friend, he said it was exactly the same feeling he got when he went back there.
I went back into my office last week. Not for the first time since Covid but this time with more of a sense of really returning as we move toward blended or hybrid working, incorporating home and office.
I set off early, well earlier than usual, my usual commute being out of bed, computer on and on to business. This morning it was to be very different. The novelty started the evening before as I disassembled my work station and packed the laptop and peripherals into my very occasionally used backpack. As I left the house, I felt a bit like my mum had dressed and packed me off for my first day out in the big world of commerce. I determined to walk the 2.78 miles (according to my step counter) and had to stop twice to remove my coat and then jumper as I laboured under the strain of my over-packed bag. It was to be a journey of interest and intrigue.
My route was initially downhill, then up incline and down again towards Bruntsfield, Morningside's wannabe neighbour. As I approached the pedestrian crossing at Holy Corner, I noticed a number of what I took to be students standing waiting for the green man to indicate it was safe to cross. However, on reaching them, it quickly dawned on me that they were a death cult. How did I know this? As I arrived, they were all strategically placed so that no-one approaching would have any space to socially distance within the crowd, other than by walking around them and onto the road. With my knowledge of the terrain, I was able to nip through a wee alley adjacent to the church to dodge them.
Anyway, on I went, power-walking down through Bruntsfield and on along the links to The Meadows. It was on emerging The Meadows (on Forrest Road for all you geographers) that I saw the real intrigue of the day. A genuine, true to life Iron Curtain-era, spy! He was as would have been drawn by Georges Remi AKA Herge or some such illustrator of the day. He was of ample build with a long dark trench coat and trilby tilted forward and resting at an angle on his forehead – all of which was consistent with the image and suggestion that he could be nothing other than an agent up to his neck in espionage. The clincher was the massive bulging envelope he carried under his arm and that he was in the vicinity of the Meadows, with its many park benches which he would be able to use to indulge in the age old skulduggery of switching documents.
I did have a moment of hesitation where I doubted my initial thought that my man was a spy. If he was a spy, why would he dress like one? However, just as quickly, the answer dawned on me. Of course, it was a double bluff and that is what they would like you to think, isn't it? Simple really.
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