The deserted city centre at midnight.
by Colin Campbell

INVERNESS had a historic turn of the year last night, the quietest Hogmanay for 100 years, or 200, or 300, or maybe even way back to 1494, when in Scotland the first evidence of whisky production is recorded in an entry in the Exchequer Rolls where malt was sent “To Friar John Corr, by order of the king, to make aquavitae”, enough to make about 500 bottles.

There were no bottles clunking along in carry-out bags on the streets last night, at least. Although how long 500 would have lasted behind closed doors is a matter of guesswork.

Inverness news and views went down to the normally teeming city centre around midnight, where there wasn’t a soul or even a car to be seen, either in the centre or in the streets leading away from it.

As with so much that has already happened in 2020, we are unlikely ever to see such an empty precinct so free of revellers, booze and raucousness at this time of year again. The only sign of life was a police van parked on High Street, but after midnight they abandoned their watchful role, with nothing whatever to see.

You could have heard a pin drop in the High Street and the sound of a stray bottle smashing would have been akin to a minor explosion amid the graveyard-like silence.

The town clock struck 12 and 2020 was gone.

However, the reality is that the emptiness was not an uplifting sight at the end of this terrible year. The usual crescendo of noise laced with drunken songs and the frequent sound of breaking glass, while not being to everyone’s taste, would still probably have been a preferable scenario.

But any perception that the city had a quiet night with everyone tucked up in bed before the bells would have been a delusion.

Yesterday afternoon well-stocked supermarket shelves were rapidly emptying and the booze purchased would not have been bought and stored away for future medicinal purposes.

The police had sternly and justifiably warned in advance that they’d have no hesitation about barging in as unwelcome first footers at illicit celebration parties reported by irate and probably disgusted neighbours.

How many of these idiotic gathering took place is at this stage not known, although information on that is liable to emerge in the next day or two. Hopefully most people acted sensibly.

There were plenty lights on in homes in streets to and from the city centre. Folk having a few drinks in their household “bubbles” to celebrate the departure of 2020 would have considered this change of date very well worth raising a glass to.

And after midnight 2021 was greeted with a brief fusillade of fireworks from different parts of the city.

But that was all that broke the Hogmanay silence.

The coronavirus nightmare which began last March in Inverness has taken a drastic turn for the worse in the past few days.

Regrettably, Hogmanay spirits for some people may well have been dampened still further by the fact that more than 80 new infections were reported across the Highlands on New Year’s Eve, the highest number since the outbreak began.

The previous day more than 60 were reported in Inverness and the surrounding area, also a record high.

In Dingwall, stricken by an outbreak linked to three pubs, the total of virus infections has been reported as rising from an initial figure of 12 to more than 20, in a town with a population of just 6,000.

Health chiefs are not confirming it, but the strong suspicion must be that the new mutant strain of the virus, much more easily transmissible than in recent months, is in our midst and is working overtime.

Your correspondent, not later devoid of refreshments, celebrated the end of 2020 alone. A colleague in Dingwall, did the same.

Solitude in these dire circumstances, we agreed, is an entirely satisfactory situation to be in.

The chances of younger people suffering serious consequences if they do catch the coronavirus remain very small, although they are certainly not non-existent.

But for those in the older more “at risk” category, entering any house crammed with partygoers would be as welcome as joining in celebrations at a leper colony.

For older people in their 60s and beyond in “high risk” groups the threat is becoming ever more serious.

And it would take more than a rendition of “Mull of Kintyre” and a few drinks to blot out that chilling reality at the end of a uniquely strange and scary year.

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