By Barry Didcock

SOCIAL distancing. It has been the phrase of 2020 and an odd one to conjure with. During months of lockdown, with the schools closed and families crowded together in flats and houses, there wasn’t much distance to be had and whether it was arguments about who got to use the laptop or who finished the Cheerios – or about the bigger things that tug marriages and relationships apart – our atomised and isolated groups often felt far from social.

Next year I want to take that phrase, social distancing, and cut it in half. The second word and everything it implies I’d like to stick in the back of the cupboard along with all the other stuff I don’t want to have to think about. It’s the first word, social, that I want to play with in the next 12 months.

It’s not that I’ve missed being sociable. I’m not a particularly sociable person. And it’s not as if I’ve missed the society of friends because there has been Zoom and Skype and any number of other video conferencing platforms. I think what I’ve missed most, and what I wish to have returned to me in 2021, is specifically the society of strangers. The power of the flock. The strangeness and excitement of the crowd and the opportunities it offers for both anonymity and shared experience.

I want to gather, congregate, associate, mass. You'll find other words for it in the thesaurus but they all point to the same thing: I want to not have to distance. It’s what I enjoy about going to the theatre, almost as much as the spectacle itself. It's what I enjoy about jostling at the bar, almost as much as the pint of IPA at the end of it (other drinks are available). And it’s certainly what I enjoy most about the thing I have missed the most in 2020 and which I am most looking forward to in 2021 – going to a football match. A proper, raucous, fractious, football match, where you queue to get in and you queue to get out and if you value your personal space then forget it.

When all this started, I was a season ticket holder. I won’t say who I support, it doesn’t matter. Again, the spectacle itself isn’t necessarily the draw either, it’s that sense of crowding together. And I mean really crowding: the thoughtless, amiable physicality of the pressure that funnels you through the turnstiles because the game’s about to start, the conversations you only overhear because you’re jammed in cheek-by-jowl climbing the stairs, the arms-around-a-stranger delirium when you grab a late equaliser – and the sense of weary bonhomie in the tight concourse as you’re queuing to leave having suffered a last minute reverse.

In any other year it would be a simple enough wish to grant. I hope 2021 can make it come true.

By Teddy Jamieson

TO tell the truth, I’m not sure I’m on talking terms with hope these days. After 15 months of loss and grief and coronavirus, it’s not really a commodity I’m dealing in anymore.

But if I force myself to raise my head what do I want to see?

Like everyone else I want to see friends and family. Some human contact. I’m not going to lie, a hug would be nice.

But I’d settle for small pleasures. To be able to sit in a cinema and not worry about who is sitting behind me (and have them not worry about me either). To take a seat in a cafe and drink a cup of coffee and not think how well the owners washed the cup I’m drinking from. Or just to stand in a busy street in Glasgow or Edinburgh or London or Liverpool and enjoy the spectacle of people just going about their business. That would do me.

What we’ve lost in the last 12 months is peace of mind. A kind of unthinking assumption about our place in the world. The pandemic has shaken us out of that. What we hope for is some resumption of what we used to take for granted. Who knows if that will be possible?

Obviously, I have all my usual hopes too; hopes that are really wishful fantasies. That Trump and Boris Johnson will disappear in a puff of smoke, that Spurs will win something and Stirling Albion will get promoted.

Other than that, though? The best I can come up with is a day without worry, one day without the trickle of fear, one day when I could look ahead instead of looking back, to imagine possible tomorrows rather than mourn for all the things that are already behind me, disappearing into the dark.

By Alison Rowat

HOPE? As every cynic knows, that’s the stuff that kills you. If the year just gone has taught us anything it is the folly of planning ahead, of laying down plans in what we think is concrete but turns out to be air.

Some of my worst years have been those I greeted at the bells with a sense of excitement and hope. This would happen, that would arrive, he/she/it would be happy and well. It was a lucky year, usually an even one, and things were going to go our way. Cut from this happy, colourful scene to 12 months later and a blasted, monochrome landscape filled with giant tumbleweed. That’s what hope gets you.

I have always been a superstitious sort, being careful what I wished for. A more rational person would weigh the odds and reason accordingly. But look at everything that happened in 2020, the year of the dreaded “unprecedented”. This was unprecedented, that was unprecedented. So what, it still happened.

If I was to have a list of hopes maybe it would be better to keep them small and achievable. I hope to walk more and further afield, perhaps. Or I hope to finally give the dog a bath (or at the very least take her to a groomers for a shampoo). No conquering Alaska for me, or writing that novel. After a career in journalism I know two things: first, most hacks have a book in them; second, that’s exactly where it should stay.

So this year I am going to take things as they come. Plan but don’t think everything can be controlled. Look ahead but also take time to stop and smell the roses, and the manure. And definitely, at the very least, brush the dog every so often. Maybe run a comb through my own hair.

You see, even the most superstitious cannot resist making plans. It is the triumph and the tragedy of being human, to keep on going in the hope that things will be better. The sight of the path home over the next hill; the great snooze that follows the run of sleepless nights.

I have even gone so far as to book a holiday for next May, even though the same one last year had to be cancelled and rescheduled so many times. It is the hope that kills you, but it can keep you alive too.

By Susan Swarbrick

HEALTH is the new wealth. It is a saying we have heard often over the months and one I will carry into 2021. In the early days of the pandemic, I did a lot of comfort eating and gained some pounds that I have struggled to shift (that’s middle age for you).

I’m usually reluctant to be one of those people who starts a health and fitness regime in January but given that there are still moments I think it is March (I fear it will always be March – the clocks stopped when our world irrevocably changed), then I suppose there’s no time like the present.

The other thing I yearn for is travel and adventure. More specifically, getting out and exploring Scotland again. Rather than just meandering round and round within the same five-mile radius near my home and feeling like I live in The Truman Show.

Last year I had holidays booked to Stranraer, John O’Groats and Blair Castle in Perthshire. All three were cancelled. My hope is that they can go ahead this year. We’ll need to wait and see. My mum turns 70 in July and I would love to take her on the Waverley down the Clyde at the Glasgow Fair fortnight.

Spontaneity. Remember that? When you would do something on the spur of the moment – take a road trip, have dinner with a friend, pop into the cinema to see a film – without it feeling akin to a mash-up of the Krypton Factor meets Contagion.

Sometimes I marvel at how brave we all were in the “old normal”. Dashing here, there and everywhere with bare faces and hands that weren’t being slathered in alcohol gel.

While some spontaneity would be nice, oddly, it is being able to plan that I miss most. As much as I try to let myself go with the ebb and flow of this pandemic, there are times I would like to stand on terra firma. I got myself a 2021 diary, even though my 2020 one was as much use as a chocolate teapot.

Among my biggest hopes is that the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine moves quickly and without hitch. Knowing that those most vulnerable will have some degree of protection against the virus would help with easing the gnawing anxiety that is claiming squatter’s rights in the pit of my stomach.

By Vicky Allan

MY hope is that we take what we’ve learned from this experience of Covid-19 and use that to help us tackle the bigger threat ahead, the climate crisis. This ongoing pandemic has delivered questions about what our society and economic system values. It has shown us what communities are capable in terms of change. We need to take the answers found and use them to help us reach net zero goals, and without delay.

I hope that over the next year, we create a new idea of what prosperity means – one that is rooted in the notion of the wellbeing of humans and the health and balance of the ecosystems on which we depend; a prosperity that is less about finance and material wealth and more about balance, circularity and strength in reciprocity. That, I recognise, can seem like an absurdly big hope. Fantastical to ask for so much change given what we now are already going through with Brexit and Covid! But still I hope.

It's a hope that doesn’t come without its accompanying fears. It doesn’t come without the acknowledgement that Greenland’s ice sheet is melting faster than it has done at any time in the last 12,000 years, or that some of the changes are likely to be hard – though not nearly as hard as those that would be thrust on us were we not to do them.

But, if we look back over this pandemic year, we see we have done things we would never have imagined – things that are hard, not just physically but mentally and emotionally. We have rewired ourselves with stunning rapidity. We have built hospitals and turned vaccines around at unimaginable speed.

Many of us have talked about how we have been changed by the pandemic – not just in terms of how we relate to each other, but also how we connect with nature and our environments. It seemed as if our worlds had got smaller. We were, a great many of us, forced to exist within our own four walls, the few miles of our local neighbourhood. We struggled, but we also, often, re-visioned.

Here in Scotland, where, this year we are due to host COP26, we are well placed to push for strong climate action – for real change, not lip service.

One of the biggest questions right now is around what we value. Our current economic system has led us to create value around things which are neither good for our own wellbeing nor that of the planetary ecosystem, and devalue those things that are. The need for a reappraisal of what we value at the heart of the recent Reith lectures by Mark Carney, the former Governor of the Bank of England. I hope conversations like these start to lead to change, rather than more conversation.

Recent analysis has suggested that warming of 2.1C, not the terrifying 3C, is possible by the end of the century – but only if every country that has announced a zero emissions goal achieves it on time, and the US adopts a similar target. With Joe Biden in the White House, all of this sounds cause for hope. But hope is not enough. We must play our roles in making it happen. This year, not next year. Now, not tomorrow.

By Garry Scott

I can't wait... to go for a pint

'What are you after?' Ah, who would have thought 12 months ago that these four little words would have largely been excised from our lives, condemned by coronavirus to the drip tray of history. A lost world of good cheer and good company, where maybe everybody doesn't know your name but they are prepared to make space for you to get to the bar.

We've heard, rightly, so much about those who face losing their jobs and businesses due to the virus but beyond that what has society lost? Pubs are about more than booze. Without pubs there wouldn't be civilisation. And here's why:

Everyone is equal in the barmaid's eyes. You can flash a £50 note and shout 'over here, doll' at her but you'll pretty soon learn manners maketh the punter. Here, a banker is not valued more than a builder. And if the barman comes to you before the couple next to you who have been waiting longer it is incumbent upon you to ask him to serve them first, selflessness must come before your drouth.

You'll learn respect for your elders, too. They have been coming here for a lot longer than you and if that's their spot at the bar, then that's there spot at the bar. Expecting them to move would be like expecting Ben Lomond to shift over a couple of miles. Tolerance, too. You may not agree with what the red-faced fellow at the bar is saying about the gender recognition bill or the gee-gees at Musselburgh but he's every right to say it, though he will eventually find  democracy means the world evolves and changes, whether he likes it or not. Legend has it that my local when I was growing up banned Scottish Secretary Michel Forsyth as he upset too many customers. Now that's democracy.

And finally, you'll understand the importance of community. Whether it's an auld man's howff, a city style bar or one that caters to scruffy music lovers, this is where you meet new friends, find the love of your life and discover your community. And in doing so, discover yourself.

So here's to Scotland's pubs.

Now, what were you after?