I was watching a woman of mature years slurping on a spoon.
I could not avoid looking, to be honest.
She was sitting opposite me in another booth at my favourite coffee house in Aberdeen. The place was still stumbling out of lockdown and getting into the swing of things again.
She was about eight feet away and clearly relished licking it clean. Even if it was only partially edible I think she might have eaten it, too.
People often enjoy doing this with a spoon covered in ice cream or a nice pudding but I think hers was frothy cream from her coffee. It’s not for me – I shudder at the unpleasant metallic taste you pick up from some cutlery. It’s a phobia which stayed with me, as bad things do from childhood.
Anyway, the spoon had a good scrape around inside her mouth before she tossed it down on to the table and resumed conversation with a companion.
Just like watching movies, my gaze switched to a background character coming into focus. The cafe’s table clearer was ambling forward, picking up dirty cutlery and plates. She was wearing a mask and apron, but her hands were bare and unprotected.
I knew that she would pick that spoon up with her gloveless fingers at some point soon. There was nothing to suggest there was anything wrong with the customer, but you can never tell can you? We have to assume there is just in case or Covid-19 spikes will keep happening.
If that spoon was smothered in dangerous bugs they stay alive for 72 hours if left uncleaned. But the table clearer might pick it up in 72 seconds
I hoped she exercised some professional caution and treated it like a stick of dynamite. She did have a huge bottle of sanitiser on her trolley.
But I was distracted by the antics of another older woman at a table close by (I am not being sexist or ageist – as it happened, a young man was being a pain by showing his breakfast to someone on his mobile camera, with a loud spluttering running commentary as he ate it).
The woman leaped up, with face mask slung low around her neck, and began shouting greetings over my head to another group several tables away.
This palaver went on for about a minute. That’s a long time when potential infectious droplets are cascading out of her mouth. I put my mask back on even although I had coffee in hand. Why doesn’t someone invent a mask with a mouth zipper?
I retreated to a shopping centre public loo for safety. That’s saying something: the last time I was here someone was fast asleep, snoring in a cubicle.
This time a man came in and spat at a urinal several feet before he reached it. I didn’t check accuracy, but his gobbet could have gone anywhere.
Is it this type of wanton ignorance, or careless absent-mindedness, which is driving Covid-19 spikes around the world? Wherever people gather it is down to them as individuals to control it, not governments.
This is the sort of thing which has driven a knee-jerk lockdown on Spanish flights, for example.
I have some sympathy with the Spanish prime minister, former UK minister Michael Portillo and the World Health Organisation, who all said there were profound personal and economic reasons for travel to start moving again.
I must declare a vested interest in exempting safer regional travel destinations from flight bans as a way forward. Like a rare species threatened with extinction, I still have an intact travel booking for Lanzarote soon with Jet2.
But I have not been selfish or naive about it. I booked last year before anyone heard the dreaded word coronavirus.
In a way – after our travel trials and tribulations this year – I would not be surprised or bothered if it was cancelled.
Like many others, I’ve suffered a string of cancelled bookings already – for a wedding, family reunion and holidays. But I am still nurturing my Lanzarote booking like the last bud of summer on a fuschia.
London and Edinburgh governments reverted to type with their sledgehammer, blanket approach to quarantine and flight lockdowns. I fear they are flying close to the wind on retaining public goodwill. And there was a sanctimonious whiff around Michael Gove as he told us proudly that he had cancelled a foreign holiday himself. Staycation was the buzz word to avoid foreign travel.
As I described earlier, I had three self-distancing shocks while out for coffee. They say bad things come in threes, but good things can come in threes, too.
Take Johnshaven, Gourdon and Stonehaven, for example. All potential staycation destinations. What a trio of treats I discovered as we sampled north-east seaside hospitality on our doorsteps over a few hours.
We pottered about Johnshaven and watched skippers shouting pleasantries to each other in warm sun across the tiny quayside. We dined on fish and chips from a table overlooking Gourdon harbour as storm clouds gathered. And we queued for half an hour in lashing rain for ice cream near Stonehaven beach.
Smiling people walked past with ice cream melting on their fingers – and rain drops streaming down their faces.
A nice man at the ice cream parlour was dishing out brollies.
It was very British and nice.
But it wasn’t Spain. It’s my birthday today and I want to go to Lanzarote, so there. I can’t mask my feelings.