Growing up in the UK in the 1980s, an outing to London meant many things. It meant feeding the squirrels in Hyde Park, seeing the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, a trip to Hamleys on Regent St to see every toy a small child could ever dream of. It meant following your parents around Fortnum & Masons as they gasped over the high prices and exotic foods on display, racing up the stairs to get the prime front seats on the top floor of the red double-decker bus, and walking through Kensington Palace gardens wondering if you would bump into the Queen picnicking in the grounds.
A trip to London was normally made by train, and the trip home meant carrying your bags, not just of souvenirs or that precious teddy bear bought from Hamleys, but also the shopping bag stuffed full of your rubbish.
Back then, London's train and tube stations didn't have bins available. Neither were many visible on London's busy streets. They were only reintroduced after 2010, and even now there aren't anywhere near as many bins as you might see on the streets of any other capital city.
This lack of bins isn't part of some "take your litter home" environmental campaign, but rather a consequence of terrorism. In the early 1980s, they were removed from London's railway stations following an Irish Republican Army (IRA) mainland bombing campaign in which rubbish bins were a common place for the deadly bombs to be planted. Just over 10 years later in 1993, an IRA bombing in the capital's financial district led to the decision to remove more than 2000 bins from the streets in the surrounding areas.
Growing up, this lack of bins was normal to me, it was just part of life. It wasn't something I ever noticed until I moved overseas and discovered a trip to the capital didn't mean trundling back home with a bag full of empty food packaging and other rubbish.
For my children, all born after 2001, overseas travel has always meant long lines at security check-in points, unpacking all electronic devices for screening, and not bringing any large bottles of water, shampoo or other liquid in their hand luggage. That's normal to them, and to the rest of us, since the 9/11 terrorist attacks that have changed the way we fly to this day.
Now, a different kind of terror is changing our daily life. A worldwide pandemic has led to restricted movements, locally and internationally, we have stayed home for weeks or months on end, and moved much of our business and leisure to online.
After Covid-19 was discovered in our own town earlier this month, our shops emptied of people overnight. The town was almost deserted as people stayed away from our local shops, restaurants and other businesses. Last week, as each day brought more reassurance the outbreak had been safely contained, people began to venture out again, but our local business owners report a distinct downturn in trade compared to previous years. While I applaud people for keeping themselves safe, I think it is important to recognise this pandemic is not going away anytime soon. My concern is, can our local businesses say the same?
Our local shops and businesses need us to support them now, just as they have always supported our charity raffles, school fundraisers, church auctions and more over the years. They need us to be there for them, as they have been there for us.
I am not suggesting we cram ourselves into shops and restaurants ignoring social distancing requirements, but I am saying we can shop, dine and do our business locally in a manner that is safe for us, and supportive of our local economy. Please, don't do all your Christmas shopping online from overseas companies, try shopping with local suppliers wherever possible. Markets might not be running right now, but you can still shop from many of the stall holders by following their business pages on Facebook or Instagram. You can use local tradies, buy vouchers for restaurants and cafes as gifts this year, or even remember to write an online review if you have received good service with a local business recently - it all helps our business community keep going.
We are facing a choice right now, just as Londoners did back in the 1980s and airline passengers did after 9/11. We can stop, stay still and avoid all risk, or we can adapt and embrace the changes implemented to keep us safe. The Government did not put our town into a lockdown when Covid-19 was discovered in our community, because it didn't need to. We have enough measures in place to keep us safe without stopping us going about our daily life. There's no point waiting for things to go back to normal, because that normal might be gone for good. Londoners didn't wait for the bins to return, they learned to adapt to life without bins. We need to do the same now.
If we don't adapt to this new way of life, it's not bins we will be missing on the main street, but businesses themselves. So mask up, scan in, and go local.