I saw a set of false teeth on my run the other day. They were lying there, on the ground, next to a dustbin that was overflowing with empty beer bottles and pizza boxes. You see a lot of things on the local common in the early morning, before the bins have been emptied of the evidence of the night before: discarded shoes; condom wrappers; burnt-out disposable barbecues. But the false teeth were a first, and as I jogged past them I wondered about the backstory that had led to them being there, on the grass in south London, instead of inside their owner’s mouth.
Every morning during this lockdown heatwave, it has been the same: our lovely local park appears to have hosted some sort of festival while we were sleeping, a festival at which everyone got so wasted, they forgot to clean up after themselves.
Oh, goodness, will you just listen to me? I sound so thoroughly boring, so very unlike the woman of a decade ago who would have been wholeheartedly joining in with the festivities, and even perhaps running naked around them. But I am contentedly sober now, and so I wake each day with a sort of dread in the pit of my stomach – not about what I’ve done the night before, which I must admit makes a pleasant change, but about what everyone else has.
People are partying hard here in London, the awfulness of the last 14 weeks being numbed the only way we Brits know how: via good old trusty alcohol. July 4 – or “Super Saturday” as some have taken to calling it – looms like a curious UK version of independence day, when we will once again be afforded the “freedom” of being able to visit pubs and restaurants, as long as we are happy for said pubs and restaurants to keep our personal details on file for 21 days.
Police chiefs are said to be furious that the Government has chosen to reopen bars on a Saturday, and have warned of “apocalyptic” scenes if the weather continues to be good. Fortunately for the country’s police, the UK’s climate is far more predictable than its politicians, and early July is forecast to be a complete washout. Hooray!
Still, I am not-so-quietly dreading next weekend, if recent boozy behaviour round our way is anything to go by. The pub at the end of our road started selling takeaway pints at the beginning of the month, and ever since people have been wandering up and down the high street with plastic cups of lager in their hands, as they go about their daily business. Pint of Brewdog as you make your way to pick up your prescription from the pharmacy at 2pm on a Monday? No problem!
Maybe I notice it more because I am a recovering alcoholic and I know that, in a past life, this is exactly what I would be doing. But evidence from around the country suggests that our corner of south London is not alone in going off the rails. “Block parties” and illegal raves are being shut down on a daily basis. In Bournemouth on Thursday, almost half a million people piled onto the beach, leaving behind almost 40 tons of litter, human waste included. Matt Hancock warned that unless people respected guidelines, the Government would be forced to close down beaches. And the guidelines are very, very clear, as we are all agreed.
No singing, no music, no communal dancing… the coronavirus has set the bar low, and we are all just grateful to be allowed to sit in a dark pub surrounded by plexiglass, being served by staff in full PPE. If we are lucky and the weather is nice next weekend, we can visit pub gardens and sit at tables on the street, fulfilling this post-Covid vision of al fresco Britain, where everyone will enjoy continental-style aperitifs and cafe culture, and we will all pretend we live near delightful village squares surrounded by cobbled streets.
But we are, as a population, almost constitutionally incapable of doing al fresco without causing a massive al fussco. Like toddlers let loose, we tend to get over-excited and make a terrible mess – any intention to Keep Britain Tidy goes with the first lukewarm tin of beer. This is how we behave when the sun comes out at the best of times – this strange situation has only served to amplify it. And as we count down to the next stage of ending lockdown, I realise I am experiencing the same crushing dread I felt as we approached the beginning of it.
What will happen next, and how will everyone cope? Is everyone going to be ok, or are we all going to lose our minds (not to mention our teeth)? We must hope that, like the coronavirus itself, this drunk and disorderly behaviour has peaked, and that we will soon return to some sort of normal, where we are allowed to go back to the safety of a summer moaning about the terrible British weather.