Not so long ago the world was my oyster. My diary filled with daily duties but also a whirl of dinner dates, drinks parties, concerts, films, get-togethers with friends. Taking time out to do some writing was a challenge. Suddenly I became the pearl in that oyster. Securely cosseted in my safe place, layered and precious and aware that if my shell was prised open I may well be seized.
A week or so ago the oyster shucker came and my shell was no longer my sanctuary. I shrivelled to its furthest depths, lurked in the cloying darkness. But to no avail. Persuaded by friends and family I rolled out of my safe place and into a bright, harsh, noisy world. It seemed different from the environment I remembered. Then everyone had got used to rubbing along together, traffic jamming, dodging and weaving the pavement cyclists and joggers.
This world smacked of defiance and rebelliousness. Queue skipping, rule-breaking, selfish and ignorant behaviour. Litter piled outside my gate, dog mess lay to trap the unwary pedestrian, discarded masks clogged the stank and half-eaten takeaways were strewn across the pavement. Before lockdown, the unexpected and fast resurgence of our natural world had filled me with hope and optimism. The pure air, sweet birdsong delighted my ears once the roar of lorries was stopped. The deer were grazing in city centre streets. Ever the optimist, I really believed that once my fellow citizens clocked this remarkable and pleasant resurgence of nature they would want to hold onto it.
Alas, that was not to be. In fact, the months spent evading a deadly virus seemed to inflame desire to wreck the environment once released. The young folk, understandably frustrated at being shut away from their mates, converged immediately, completely shunning social distancing rules, taking over the tranquillity of our local park and turning it into a dirty, drunken, disgusting all day and night rave. Local residents were traumatised, families couldn’t take their kids to chill in the lungs of a city firing up to top pollution tables again. Some young guys were stabbed when drunken fights broke out. The police were there in force but had a hard time restoring order, and by the time they did so the park was trashed.
Sod’s Law had brought the most beautiful spring weather for years so even before restrictions were eased many decided to ignore them and head for our country’s most beautiful locations. Loch Lomond, the Trossachs, Glencoe, the Highlands were thronged with trippers, many deciding to wild camp. They set up tents in these gorgeous places with their kerry-oots, tins and takeaways. All plastic, bottles, polystyrene containers, fag ends and other litter was simply flung on the ground and with no toilet facilities, they defecated and urinated at the lochs ides and in the countryside. Rangers and cleansing workers had to lift soiled toilet paper and excrement, even the contents of camper van toilets which had been emptied on grass verges and beaches. Where did these savages come from? What were they thinking? Similar atrocities happened in our parks and at the seaside where people simply toileted where they sunbathed. No attempts to bury their waste. And this in the wake of a deadly pandemic which was killing thousands around them. How on earth do we tackle behaviour like that?
All the efforts to responsibly dispose of plastic seem to have gone. It’s back in fashion big time and being discarded just as carelessly as it was before Attenborough sparked a bit of conscience. Now we see hedgehogs, falcons, calves, deer and other animals and birds killed by getting trapped in discarded face masks. Another hazard to join the Chinese lanterns and plastic beer can holders, the microbeads and plastic bags choking the countrysides and the oceans.
I rejoined the outside world tentatively. A little walk along the river at the Kelvin Estate. A walk round Victoria Park to see the fossil grove. Then last weekend a bolder trip to Largs for some sea air. We had high tea at a seaside restaurant which was observing all the regulations. It was a great move forward and encouraged me to join friends the following evening in a southside beer garden, assured that they too were very responsible.
Not so. The sanitiser at the entrance was empty, the seating was not socially distanced and the waiters wore no masks. At the end of the short get-together, the waiter insisted we go inside to pay, and people were crowding at the bar. I scuttled home traumatised and since then I have felt breathless, tired, anxious and had difficulty sleeping. Probably psychosomatic but enough of an ordeal to keep me agoraphobic for a wee while yet. So much for people ’s assurances. I don’t know how long it is going to be before I trust the world again. I pray that the world I observed in my limited forays outside will settle down and be safer for all of us. For this scourge that landed upon us six months ago still lurks in dark corners, reaching out tentacles to smite the unwary who defy its venom. The trouble with too many in our part of the world is arrogance and ignorance combined with complete disregard for expert advice, rule of law, consideration for the vulnerable and civilised behaviour. How long will it be before it dawns on them they can’t see off this virus with a Glasgow kiss?
Mairi Jack is a former journalist and teacher in Glasgow.