It seems like life really is back to normal here in South London. The pubs are full and the traffic is back to pre-lockdown levels – the two miles on the bus to work is back to its usual 40 minutes.
The local Italian restaurant I’m working at this summer has made many changes over the course of this pandemic. Our new deli counter, selling produce direct from supplier to customer, allowed the business to stay open while the kitchen was closed. There is also a lot less Italian being spoken – my colleague and I, both hired after lockdown, are the first non-Italians to work in the restaurant. Brexit had already made hiring immigrants complicated, but the pandemic caused many more to return to their families in Italy.
The restaurant has had no lack of customers since reopening last month. Many regulars have begun showing their faces, and our tables are fully booked over a week in advance. In this respect, we have been supported by our community – and it is this swift offloading of cash into our till that the government has hailed a success.
More worrying to me, however, is the number of things that have stayed the same.
While diners may be desperate to throw their money at bruschetta and parma ham, they are apparently reluctant to invest in face masks or any other protective wear. In the last month, I can think of only one person who has worn a mask when walking through the restaurant to the bathroom.
It feels like customers are far more concerned with rebuilding their social lives than with observing safe social distancing.
It feels like customers are far more concerned with rebuilding their social lives than with observing safe social distancing, but we staff members can do little to encourage different behaviour; we need their custom, and we need to get paid. Furthermore, our restaurant is in a narrow, old building where 1.5metre spacing is just not possible. It is telling, though, that nobody has complained.
On Saturdays and Sundays, the road outside is...