The cinemas reopened in WA a couple of weeks ago and, after a somewhat draining week, an afternoon at the movies sounded like a particularly fine way to recover. So, last Friday I headed off to the Windsor Cinema to hide out from the rain and restock the spoon drawer.

The venue choice was partly because the cinemas, although quite small, have generous spacing between the rows of seats and the candy bar stocks the most delicious choc top ice-creams. But it was also because they were screening The Personal History of David Copperfield, starring the perfectly lovely Dev Patel in the lead role.

The odd thing was that, even though I was keen on the idea of going to see a film – the first in many months – and anticipated enjoying it, I simultaneously encountered an all-pervasive sense of disquiet as I took my seat. I couldn’t figure it out at first. Why was I feeling so disproportionately anxious? What was it that was making me so unexpectedly uncomfortable?

As I sat there munching away on my choc top and looking around, it finally dawned on me. It was people. Too many people in too small a space. Too many people too close to me!

I felt compromised, as though I either shouldn’t be there at all or, at the very least, should be wearing a surgical mask. I found myself counting and recounting just how many people were in the cinema. Initially only 10 people, which seemed fine. Then 13 and, finally, a total of 16. That was still less than 50% of the cinema capacity, but each additional person twitched my spidey-sense a bit more.

Despite there being at least one empty seat on each side of me, every sniffle or sniffle-sounding noise, every move made by people on either side of me, hit my hyper-alert button. My monkey-brain kept telling me it wasn’t safe, that I should flee – flee now!

My choc top took the brunt of my anxiety, disappearing in record time. With its help, the rational part of my psyche gradually settled me down. I acknowledged that the relative isolation of the past months and the current spike in Covid-19 cases in Victoria were probably undermining my capacity to just be in the moment and enjoy the outing. Listen, said sensible-me, we’ve had almost 100 days without community transmission of the virus in WA, the borders are still closed and we’re (most likely) quite safe… Just settle down.

So I did. I took a (not too deep) breath, sat back and, once the house lights went down and the show began, allowed the magic of the cinema to take over. The theatre suddenly felt enormous and the landscape infinite. Mostly, anyway.

I was still very conscious of the ‘crowd’ around me, but I loved every moment of the film. The costuming, characters, setting (Victorian England) and dialogue were superb. Some of my favourite moments included the Mr Dick’s crazy kite flying and Mr McCawber’s comment on his current abode being “primarily al fresco at present.

It was delightful and I’m so glad I went – and stayed.

Although WA’s borders remain closed for now, pressure is mounting for them to reopen. The last couple of weeks have seen a veritable Covid-frenzy in Victoria and (increasingly) in New South Wales, leaving many in WA fearful that a second wave of infections will inevitably hit here too, perhaps sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, we may as well make the most of the relative freedom we have. Enjoy the sunshine, do fun things and be in the moment, folks. But don’t get complacent. Stay at home if you feel unwell or have flu-like symptoms, have difficulty breathing or have had a fever without a known source. If so, call your doctor about getting tested, just in case, then self-isolate until you get your results. Be well.

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