by Colin Campbell
I QUITE often take the family dog of my offspring for a walk, when the parents are working and are too weary in the evening to venture out into an inhospitable winter.
The other night, instead of the usual riverside ramble, we ventured into the city centre for a change. It looked so quiet and devoid of life that I thought he could be let loose to run off the lead, and so it proved.
It’s months since I’ve been there at night and we had the place to ourselves. There wasn’t a soul in sight and virtually no cars either.
Elsewhere, this lockdown is not like the last one. One sunny afternoon last week there were more people strolling along the riverside around Ness Walk than there were after the last lockdown was lifted. There is plenty of traffic around. On the west side of the river, with supermarkets open, smaller stores, chemists, people and cars in abundance, it looks much like normal.
But the city centre, particularly at night, is a completely different story. Ten months on, it is dark, desolate and still exudes an eerie atmosphere.
The Christmas lights haven’t yet been taken down. Stray bulbs still flicker overhead along the length of Church Street. Some closure notices attached to premises which have been closed since last March have been there so long they are starting to peel off and hang down, held on by fragments of tape.
The pubs – closed, opened, closed again – stand out in their lockfast emptiness because a serious questionmark must now hang over how many will reopen. Whatever other restrictions will be eased in the weeks and months ahead, they will be the very last to be allowed back into business.
A couple of police officers strolled around. Nothing to see there, but routine is routine.
And then there is Max’s takeaway in Baron Taylors Street. Open as usual, though customers aren’t allowed to enter. I don’t think anything will ever close this city bastion of fast food, tasty grub, and grease. It will ride out any storm. If the lockdown lasted another 10 years, I suspect Max’s would still be open for business and the kebab meat would still adorn its spire.
If I’d brought money with me I’d have bought a takeaway to give them some business – and they do generously large servings – and eaten most of it and given what I couldn’t eat to the dog. That would have been a very special night for him.
In normal times Max’s is the favoured diner for hordes of weekend revellers, some of whom can barely find the words to place a drunken order. But they’re an awful long way away from that now and it will be quite some time before they get back there.
So apart from a couple of other smaller places, Max’s is the only nocturnal beacon of light in our barren city centre these days.
Their resilience and determination to get through this and stay open, no matter how few customers they have, I found admirable.
Some people have had mixed views on the culinary products of this everlasting fast food venue. But I hope they thrive and prosper in better months ahead.
As the dog and I departed our utterly desolate city centre, I couldn’t help but think if Max’s was to close, the place really would have died and gone to lockdown hell.