Watch the streets: they could soon be filling up again

If you are, like me, an avid watcher of old movies or a keen gazer at old photographs, you may have been struck by the way 2021 seems in one respect to be heading towards the past.

To see the resemblance you must steer clear of shopping centres. They tend to be on the empty side. But riverside walks, woods, parks and beaches are, in my part of the world anyway, surprisingly busy.

Obviously they are frequented only by local people exercising in accordance with Government regulations – the temptation to remain law-abiding is almost irresistible, I find – but they still seem to be much fuller than they were a couple of years ago.

Recently I watched Brighton Rock, a film set in – you guessed it – Brighton, in 1948. This was unusual in that it was filmed with hidden cameras, featuring Brighton residents and tourists engaged in their day-to-day activities, unaware that the 25-year-old man in a hat rushing through their streets and looking ten years older was in fact playing a 17-year-old hoodlum in a Graham Greene story.

Don’t be put off by the age problem: it’s a great film. But what impressed me as much as anything was the number of people in the streets. The streets were packed. And if you look at old real-life pictures and films, you’ll find the same thing. Everyone is out of doors.

Why? Because something is missing from their lives. Television.

It was only recently that I realised how much time I spend watching television – mainly dramas and documentaries. It is not because I’m bored. It’s not even because the Government wants me at home, where it can keep its eye on me. It’s because I really enjoy dramas and documentaries. Well, most of them. I try not to think of what I might accomplish if television didn’t exist.

If I had been around in 1948 (actually I was – but only just) I would have been out in the street. True, they had radio, but it wasn’t that exciting. So why stay at home? There was a big world out there to explore. Well, biggish.

My childhood days were like that, and I suspect it may happen again. When the restrictions are relaxed people will be so relieved that they will rush excitedly outside, form crowds and start interacting like mad. We won’t be able to move for people, and they won’t even be part of a protest. Television will be moved to the back shelf.

Am I mad? Possibly. “We are all born mad. Some remain so,” as Samuel Beckett wrote in Waiting for Godot. (Good drama. If it were on television, I would watch it.) But you can be mad and right at the same time. Anyway, watch the streets, especially if you live in Brighton. And keep an eye out for hidden cameras.