Hugh MacDonald: The new normal is the same as the old normal – with an occasional mask – and we can’t resist it

THE old normal is back. It announced its return to this old abnormality by the beeping of an alarm clock, the roar of a jet engine and the immersion into rush-hour London.

The new normal is gone, if only for the moment. The new normal was Zoom calls, largely empty stadiums and restricted travel.

Last week I was back on the tools. The early flight to London, so red eye it virtually constitutes impetigo. A schlep to a stadium and a match in front of a healthy crowd. Or what we all hope was a healthy crowd. Interviews with various people who did not really want to be interviewed. A night in a broom cupboard in King’s Cross. And the reverse journey up the road.

It was strange. It was a typical trip in so many ways, one completed hundreds of times, yet it contained an element of the unusual.

The scene at Glasgow Airport was as traditional as a rammy at a Fife Christening. Hundreds of people, all of them ahead of you in the queue. The plane, adhering to rules set down by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, was fitted with the mandatory screaming baby, with said child, as per tradition, placed in the seat behind me.

The trip to the city from what is laughingly called a London airport took as long as the flight from Glasgow. It was made fascinating by what I perceived to be a tension on train and Tube between those wearing a mask and this sporting the au naturellel look. It may have been tiredness and the effects of old age but I fancied I was witnessing a series of duels to the music of Enrico Morricone.

But most of the trip adhered to the old normal, right down to the scene at security in Stansted where one thinks the chaos is such that one is heading for the roof and a helicopter out of town. With no assigned seating.

Instead, the turmoil was merely a result of flying on National Security Personnel Day Off and being in a queue comprised entirely of people who believe aerosols, shampoos, and perfume not only can be stored in walk-on luggage but must be stored in walk-on luggage.

The bottom of the conveyor belt was thus surrounded by the handful of security staff on duty who seemed to be conducting a sale of second-hand hygiene products.

Now, all of this might sound as if I am moaning. But I am not. I am merely observing. In my pre-Covid life, I travelled so much I had more air miles than Neil Armstrong. I learned quickly that the perils of complaining at an airport include the possibility of a full body cavity search and the certain knowledge that no one gave a damn.

Thus I came to adopt a whimsical smile as if I was the lead actor in a particularly impenetrable but oddly entertaining Wes Anderson movie. All the world’s a stage, I mused, and I wish I was on one instead of heading for a steel tube.

I clutch my novel, hang on to it any vestiges of self-respect and stumble on, trying to re-affix a belt, place a laptop in what has suddenly become a space as wide as a bus ticket and hoping that the gate is in the same postcode I am inhabiting.

Last week, I was as composed as a pensioner can be when removed from his natural habitat.

My reflections were not of the trials of modern travel. Been there, done that, left the T-shirt in a grey tray. No, they addressed the matter of my motivation.

Why travel more than 1000 miles to get to your work? Why wake so early that dawn is in another time zone? Why take two days out of a quickly diminishing lifespan to do what could have been accomplished by Zoom or even left unaccomplished without compromising the global sum of happiness?

There was one professional reason. Experience strongly suggests meeting in person is better than meeting on screen. There was also the matter of attending a football match, which holds the same attraction for me as a hive holds for a homesick bee.

But there is something more. Covid, we were told, would usher in a new way of working, another way of going about our business. We didn’t have to go to offices. We need not travel to see people. It was a new world, not brave but properly cautious.

But the evidence of last week in London suggests that the capacity of human beings to return to their normality is undiminished. It could be seen in a stadium of 30,000 souls, a Tube carriage packed with marginally fewer people and in a restaurant where there was minimal observance of Covid protocols.

London was stretching its limbs, ready to embrace a full complement of workers and tourists. The advance guard was marching with little or no trepidation.

I was one of them. This disturbed me more than the normal tribulations of travel. I have taken Covid as seriously as a Halloween visit from someone one called Freddie.

I have sanitised, moisturised, isolated, exercised, maintained social distancing, avoided travel, stopped shaking hands, started washing surfaces daily, been willing to become a dartboard for various jabs and generally been the sort of compliant punter that chief medical officers want to create in some diabolical anti-Covid lab.

Yet with the merest loosening of the bonds, I was off like a greyhound in search of a rabbit supper. The old normal has a seductive power that can resist a pandemic.

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The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992