I've just returned after a stressful week in London. The initial Friday was fine and I much enjoyed the London Oriana Choir's Beethoven 250 concert in which my son took part. A highlight in the St Giles Cripplegate Church was the world premiere of a lovely new work called Picture Frame
by a young composer, Anna Disley-Simpson. After that, everything started to go wrong.
London, I kept hearing, was three or four weeks ahead of the rest of the country in terms of the impact of coronavirus. Pictures from Italy – another three or four weeks down the line – were increasingly horrifying. Soon, my son was reporting from the pub that all the talk was of imminent lockdown, the army on the streets, martial law, and the closing down of public transport.
On Monday morning, within seconds of being inside the large Tesco near Clapham South underground station (now shut down), I registered that every second customer seemed to be clutching, if nothing else, a large packet of toilet rolls. Panic-buying was clearly already the order of the day. In the following days this was underlined in the local Sainsbury's and Co-op stores – by mid-morning their shelves were virtually bare. By then, all my plans of meeting a friend in town, attending the Hockney exhibition, etc, had been abandoned. I hardly left the house. (Fortunately I had a book review to write.)
Now my main worry was getting back to Glasgow. Would my train leave Euston on Friday as planned? Well, I got there in good time via an Uber through half-empty streets, to find a half-empty Euston. The Avanti lounge upstairs was closed so I sat in the Signal Box next door observing the waste land of empty tables and the staff who outnumbered the customers. Still, my train was up there on the departure board, so at last I almost relaxed – totally only when the half-empty train began to move.
Back in Glasgow, I quickly registered a sense of being better-off and safer here. Nicola Sturgeon sounded much more on top of things than the bumbling 'we'll send coronavirus packing' you know who. The shelves in Waitrose, if not as full as normal, were far from bare. The system of allowing only a smallish number of shoppers in the store at a time seemed to be working well. Order still prevailed.
And then – so far at least – deaths from the virus in Glasgow bear no comparison compared with the well over 100 in London.
Okay, having to stay at home and all the rest is no doubt causing huge problems for a large number of people, but I have no doubt that just now, being in Glasgow is a lot better than being in London.