A Year Ago Today – Deserted Streets

On my Twitter feed I often have a look through my huge Flickr archive of photos to see if I took any photos on this day in previous years, and tweet a few of them. Today I noticed the ones I took on 21st March 2020, a year ago today. I was coming home from visiting a friend on the other side of town; we both knew the Lockdown was coming very soon (it was announced just a couple of days later) and this might be our last chance for a visit for a good while (we had no idea then just quite how long, of course, none of us did, we were all still thinking a few weeks, a couple of months perhaps).

Empty Streets 02

It was around ten or eleven on a Saturday night as I crossed Lothian Road near the Filmhouse. This area is full of restaurants, bars, cinemas and theatres, and so you can imagine on a Saturday evening it is extremely loud and busy. And here it was all but deserted, a couple waiting for a bus and that was it. The Lockdown hadn’t quite started, but the bars, restaurants, cinemas and theatres had all already closed; continental Europe was being ravaged by Covid-19 and cases were climbing alarmingly here. People were scared, streets were empty, places closing; the storm was about to break over us.

Empty Streets 04

Empty Streets 03

It was disturbing to see my city so empty of people on a Saturday night; it was just a preview of what was coming over the next few months. Lockdown hit two days later, we left our bookshop wondering when we would be back, when we would see one another again, when we would be able to see our friends and family again now everything was closed and travel not allowed. We were thinking some weeks, perhaps a couple of months, nobody had any idea just how bad it would be and how long it would keep going for. Over the next few months on furlough I walked the streets of my beloved Edinburgh, and as always my camera went where I did, documenting this strangest time in the city.

Light Traffic 02

No Shopping Here Today 01

On a sunny Easter bank holiday weekend, when the city should have been bursting at the seams with tourists I could stand in the middle of the Royal Mile, devoid of people and traffic, to take pictures, I saw perhaps three or four people on the Esplanade in front of the Castle where normally it would be packed with tourists. It was beyond disturbing, unsettling to walk around this magnificent, old city and see hardly a soul, the very occasional bus going by almost empty. Sounds like the footsteps of the postie delivering mail became a source of reassurance, that some normality still existed. I could hear the music from 28 Days later in my head as I walked through utterly empty Old Town streets, my city, like others all round the entire world, was a ghost town. I’ve seen more people around the town at 4am walking home from the film festival than I did on those strange, spring days…

As I write this a year on we’re still in a second Lockdown after another wave of infections, although the vaccine roll out is giving some hope, and restrictions should slowly ease next month. But in Europe many are experiencing a third wave of infection and the worry is that we may too (as spring weather returned last week I saw large groups of students gathering in the Meadows, flagrantly breaking the Covid restrictions on numbers and distancing, which fills me with anxiety as this is the sort of thing that can lead to more spikes in cases).

We’re now in a very strange mix of fear and hope; it must be a cousin to the strange morass of conflicting feelings those who endured the last war felt. I want to do normal things again. I want to hang out with my friends. I want to sit in a cinema, a pub. I want to be able to go home and see my dad. And we’re all in the same boat.

Tourist Free Zone 03

No Passengers Today

Please keep washing your hands and wear a mask and distance. And don’t dare tell me that doing that infringes your “freedom”. It doesn’t, this isn’t about you and your selfish needs if you think that way, this is about trying to protect everyone around us, our friends, families and communities: you wear a mask to help protect everyone around you; do your bit. We will get through it.

Everything Is Going To Be Alright

My Photo Year, 2020

Looking back through my ever-expanding Flickr uploads (now approaching 22, 000 photos), as usual around this time of year I am picking out some of my favourite photos I snapped this year. Of course I didn’t realise that I would spend so many long, long months in Lockdown, walking alone through almost empty streets of my city. I’ve always enjoyed trying to document life and events through the lens, but in this year of Covid and enforced isolation the camera became part of my coping mechanism for the tedious days after days of Lockdown and Furlough, allowed out the house just once a day, everywhere closed, so few people to see and when you did you all tried to keep your distance (and the even longer months of not being able to see family and friends).

Of course I still documented it – from empty streets in Edinburgh’s Old Town (so disturbing – in a city suffering an overload of tourism, suddenly we were deserted, the Castle Esplanade, Grassmarket, Royal Mile on a sunny Easter holiday weekend, barely a soul to be seen), to exhausted cycle couriers (often the main part of the now limited road traffic during the Lockdown months) to masked and socially distancing people. It was all upsetting, disturbing, depressing, stressful, frightening, and the fact we were all so isolated made it harder to deal with, so again the photography helped me process it.

Paisley Streetart 02
Early on in the year, when things were still seemingly normal – we were reading about this dangerous new virus outbreak in China and Asia, but it all seemed so far away at the time – my colleagues and I were setting up a portable bookshop for the first ever Paisley Book Festival, shuttling back and forth to man the stalls, get books signed at author events etc, enjoying ourselves and supporting a new literary event into the bargain. Naturally I also snapped a few pics wandering around Paisley between events, including some photos of the very excellent street murals I noticed.
Paisley Streetart 01
Central Station 01
A bright, winter’s day in February in Glasgow’s Central Station, the famous station clock hanging from the roof above. In the days before mobile phones many would arrange to meet friends and loved ones below the clock when heading into town. Quick snap while heading on to Paisley for the new book festival
Paisley Book Festival - Jackie Kay 03
The wonderful Jackie Kay at the first Paisley Book Festival.
Paisley Book Festival - Chris McQueer and Alan Bissett 01
Chris McQueer (left), talking to Alan Bissett at the first Paisley Book Festival
Busy Buchanan Street 02
Late February, heading towards Central Station in Glasgow – look how busy Buchanan Street is even on a midweek day in winter. Just weeks later this would be deserted, like streets in almost every other city in Europe
Helen Fields & Mark Douglas-Home Crime Cocktail 01
Still in February and we had a great crime fiction evening with Helen Fields and Mark Douglas-Home at our bookshop. Again we didn’t know then this would be the last in-person event we’d do this whole year (thankfully we have had a programme of online author events though, working with two other Indy bookshops under the We Three Indies banner)
Capital SciFi Con 2020 021
At the Capital SciFi Con in February, chatting to Tanya Roberts. Busy con, much fun catching up with chums, chatting to some authors and artists I know, taking pics. Again with no clue that this would be the last con we could attend for the whole of 2020 at that point….
Capital SciFi Con 2020 017
Rain-washed Cinema
Rain-washed entrance to the Cameo Cinema on a winter’s night. A few weeks after snapping this, the cinemas and theatres were all closed.
Beach Life 012
Early March, and although the international news stories on the advance of Covid infections are worrying, it still seems distant. An early spring day full of sunlight at Portobello sees people enjoying the beach and the coast, but the pandemic is closer than we realised.
Beach Life 011
Seaside Selfie By The Sea Shore
Breezy by the Beach 03
Event Horizon March 2020 016
Mid-March – the international situation is increasingly grave, Covid is advancing across Europe, Italy in particular is in a terrible situation. We can all look at the map of the disease’s advance and know that it’s coming out way. We’re enjoying our Event Horizon evening of literary science fiction readings and music, organised by the Shoreline of Infinity journal. We’re all enjoying it, but there is an undercurrent of unease, we all know as we leave that this would probably be the last live event we would all enjoy together for a while. Again, we had no idea just how long, at this point we thought we may soon be locked down for a couple of months, we had no idea entire festivals and the year of shows and events would be swallowed in this pandemic year.
Event Horizon March 2020 019
Event Horizon March 2020 011
Empty Streets 04
March 21st, a Saturday night. Lothian Road, which I’d normally avoid on a Saturday evening as it is heaving with drunks coming out of the many pubs and restaurants. Not this evening. The Lockdown was just days from being announced, but already the pubs and restaurants had closed. I saw only two people as I headed home from a visit to a friend, which I knew was probably the last time I would get to visit them for a long time. I had no idea then just how long, of course… It was eerie to see such a bustling part of the city devoid of life on a weekend night. It was a taste of what was to come.
Empty Streets 02
Thank You NHS
Late March, 2020. We were now in Lockdown, most shops and businesses closed, workers furloughed. I walked daily, the only time I could be out the house. As I walked down an unbearably quiet Princes Street on a misty afternoon, I noticed every single digital billboard on the bus shelters had been changed to read “thank you, NHS” as a show of support and gratitude for frontline medical staff.
Wee Songbird Singing to the City
Nature was another lifeline during the Lockdown months of isolation – with almost no car traffic, few aircraft flying overhead, hardly any trains, little in the way of people in the city centre, the sounds of the wildlife was heard so much more clearly, most especially the singing of birds. It was joyous. And we needed it.
Hello, Birdy 02
Swan Family 017
Another annual wonder of the natural world, that this year during Lockdown became so much more special and needed – watching our resident breeding pair of mute swans with their new brood of cygnets, following them through weeks and months along the Union Canal from tiny fluffballs to adult-sized adolescents taking wing to start their own lives somewhere else (as I write there is still a single cygnet that has remained with Mama and Papa Swan for the moment)
Swan Family 029
Swan Family 042
Moorhen and Chick 03
Moorhen and its baby chick on the Union Canal
Duck Life 07
Heron on the Water of Leith 03
Berry Bird
Springtime in Scotland 05
Still deep in Lockdown with no end in sight, but the spring came, the natural world moved on as it always did, regardless of the woes in the human world, and the cherry blossoms this year were such a blessing, picking up our battered spirits.
A Tunnel of Cherry Blossoms 02
The “tree tunnel” of cherry blossoms blooming in the Meadows, an annual miracle that we needed this year more than ever. As I was lining these shots up a pair of young women had clearly noticed me engrossed in my camera and were posing in the frame! Made me smile
A Tunnel of Cherry Blossoms 01
Autumn on the Water of Leith 05
As with the blossoms of spring, the colours of autumn were even more appreciated this year – the natural world was a huge comfort and morale booster.
All Shows Are Cancelled
Cinemas, theatres and concert venues all closed. This row of illuminated billboard stands on Lothian Road normally proclaim the shows and acts coming up at the nearby Usher Hall, Royal Lyceum Theatre and Traverse Theatre. Not this spring. No shows, no venues, locked doors, empty streets. As summer arrived even the world-famous Edinburgh festivals were all restricted to a few online only events. No schmoozing in the Author’s Yurt at the Edinburgh International Book Festival for me in 2020, for the first time in many years, although thankfully I did still get to chair – albeit via Zom – at our second Cymera SF literary festival, and we kept out book group going by Zoom and chat, another lifeline.
Circus Lane at Dusk 04
Beautiful Circus Lane at dusk, one of the loveliest spots in the historic New Town
Lucky Liquor
Another shot from a night walk – couldn’t resist the glowing neon sign on this bar.
It Ain't Easy
The mask, the tired expression and trudge with the groceries, from the once-a-day permitted trip to the stores. A regular sight in Lockdown, think we all felt like this a lot of the time
Lockdown Grassmarket 03
Spring and the pubs and restaurants in the Grassmarket should be bustling with tourists on short breaks. Not this year. All closed, many boarded up for safe measure. Boarded over windows, closed bars, empty Old Town streets. I kept thinking I could hear the music from 28 Days Later in my head as I walked alone through it.
The Distance Between Us Keeps Us Safe
The new normal: friends doing socially distanced chat in the grounds of the Gallery of Modern Art
We Are Observing Social Distance
More safely distanced chatting in Princes Street Gardens. As time went on during Lockdown and spring arrived this was about the only way we could see friends and family, in an open space, distanced. Handshakes, hugs, all off the menu.
Light Traffic 02
Walking the city during Lockdown – there was so little traffic even in the middle of the city in the middle of the day I could stand in the centre of the normally busy junction of the Mound and Princes Street quite safely to take this shot.
How We Shop Now 03
This rapidly became the new normal – boy, did we get sick of that phrase quickly. Hardware store in Morningside, allowed to remain open during Lockdown but no customers in the shop. Instead now staff masked and behind a plastic safety screen talk at the door to customers who wait in the street, socially distanced in a queue for their turn to ask for what they need.
Sorry, We're Closed 02
“Sorry, we are closed” – what we thought would be a few weeks or perhaps a couple of months of Lockdown and Furlough was going on. And on. And on….
Skater Life 04
The skaters who usually hang around Bristo Square were still active even during Lockdown – a sport and hobby the could share with their chums while all being outside and safely distanced.
Skater Gal
Lockdown Juggling Practise 06
Some used the enforced downtime of Furlough to learn new skills, like practising their juggling skills on Bruntsfield Links
Operatic 02
Spring had arrived, most places were still closed but there were more people out walking as the weather got nicer and warmer. Walking in the Meadows I heard someone singing an aria and found this woman on Middle Meadow Walk. With no street performers and no music venues for months, this was the first time I had heard someone performing since Lockdown started. I sat under a tree with a newly leafy canopy of spring greenery, in th spring sunlight, as her voice soared upwards into the branches. It was so unexpected and so beautiful I was overwhelmed and cried. It reminded me of the scene in The Shawshank Redemption where the central character plays an opera disc over the prison tannoy, and for a moment all the inmates are transported. Little moments like this were life rafts in the despairing sea of isolation that was Lockdown.
Hello, There
Masks quickly became part of our new everyday life….
Masked in the Mist
Trio 05
Receipt
Three Women, Masked 02
Timmy Two Phones
God I miss my local pubs – this is the Diggers in Gorgie, one of my regular watering holes. Sure you can buy booze in the supermarket and drink at home, but it is the social aspect of the pub, especally your regular local haunts, that you miss.
A Hand to Hold is a Wonderful Thing 01
It wasn’t all loneliness and isolation – 2020 was no doubt a little easier to take if you had a hand to hold. Many of us didn’t though…
We All Need a Hug Sometimes
Elegant Lady in a Hat
Elegant lady in summer dress and hat, almost seemed like a normal scene in this abnormal year….
Time For a Quick Break 01
Water Music
Summer weather arrived, more people took advantage of being outdoors but safely distanced, like this chap sitting in the sun by the old Leamington Lift Bridge, playing his guitar
Summertime, and the Living is Easy 02
Books Are Back
July and our lovely wee bookshop could re-open (with masks, visors and safety screens and regular handwipes, but at least we were open and it felt so nice)
Squirrel and Tree 03
Met this bushy tailed wee chap as I was walking through the Meadows
Akva Returns 01
The pubs re-opened in the summer, with social distancing, tracking and other safety protocols. It was a peculiar experience to go back – I had missed them but now felt wary of being in one, so I only went a couple of times, usually to outdoor beer gardens, only able to meet one friend at a time, distanced and only for a certain time slot. Now as the year end the pubs have all been closed once more for weeks…
A Strange Graduation Time 02
Another unreal aspect to this strange year in our world – I was walking in the summer through Bristo Square, and saw several Asian ladies taking photos of each other in their academic robes. Graduation photos to take home, in a year where the graduates never got to have a graduation ceremony. My friends and I had our graduation in this spot many years ago and I felt terribly sorry that so many this year would miss out on that event, what for most will be a once in a lifetime occurence, maybe last time all their college friends are together before going their own ways to start their new lives.
Vinyl Therapy 01
The pop up music stall re-appeared in the late summer and early autumn on Middle Meadow Walk. The first time in over half a year I had been able to indulge in the simple pleasure of browsing for some new vinyl records. What little pleasures we used to take for granted before Covid.
It's So Tiring 02
Exhausted cycle courier during Lockdown, grabbing a short break by the National Museum of Scotland
Window Shopping on a Misty Night
Getting late in the year and the autumnal and winter haars settled over Edinburgh. I love how this city looks in the mist, especially at night. This was Bruntsfield Place, near Holy Corner, as I was leaving our bookshop one night, I took a freehand night shot, as I had no tripod with me, so it is a bit rough, but I liked how it came out.
Fountain and Spires at Night 03
Saint Cuthbert’s church and the Ross Fountain, from a nocturnal stroll through the town
Twilight Fortress 02
Edinburgh Castle at night, viewed from the gathering darkness below in Princes Street Gardens
Hot Food 02
The small open-air cafe in Princes Street Gardens at dusk
Steamed Up
Steamed up windows at night in the Mayfly cafe, Bruntsfield
Evening at Cafe Grande 02
Looking through the window of Cafe Grande after dark, Bruntsfield Place.
Misty Evening in Bruntsfield 02

 

Winter Hills 05
Winter arrives – snow on the great, volcanic bulk of the Campsie Hills over the Christmas holidays (such as they were this year)