Yesterday, with the UK on the brink of lockdown, I made my final journey before hunkering down at home with the family for God knows how long.
My journey involved passing through two major northern cities, and both of them were like ghost towns.
This is Millennium Square, in Leeds. Normally teeming with life, there wasn’t a single soul to be seen. Up on that large screen, the Government’s Chief Medical Officer was giving advice about the Coronavirus, but there was nobody there to heed his warning except me.
A sign of the times: no matter the faith; the denomination, all services are cancelled. Faith can still be held, of course, faith and hope, but behind our closed and secluding doors.
There is normally the bustle; the mad scramble; dashing figures frantically digging out railcards and phones before merging into a bottle neck to pass through these ticket machines to access the platforms. This time, however, it was more in the way of an amble, a gentle stroll, a handful of people passing through these vacant gateways.
Waiting to board my train back to Manchester. There was only me on the platform. Eventually a couple of other people arrived. For most of the journey I had the carriage to myself. No guard arrived to check my ticket. The train passed through countless deserted stations. This country is shutting down.
The only thing to keep me company was this information screen, giving further advice about the virus. There’s no escaping from this all-pervasive crisis that is gripping the globe. When we pulled into Piccadilly, I noticed a girl, who had been in the adjacent carriage, use the cuff of her sleeve, wrapped around her hand, to open the door. Unwilling to risk the germs of previous travellers.
Back in Manchester. Exchange Square, in afternoon sunshine. Who’d have thought it? There’s only so many ways I can say empty or deserted. Only so many end of the world novels I can think of. A few posts ago I’d mentioned The Stand and ‘Salem’s Lot. Now a couple I’d read quite a few years back came to mind: Earth Abides and Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang. A touch dramatic, I know, but there is that feel to things. A man in Waterstones said that he felt like Charlton Heston in The Omega Man.
Cutting through the Arndale Centre, this is the Starbucks where my daughter works at weekends. Closed up; the machines stood redundant behind those darkened windows. The chairs stacked away to discourage loiterers.
There were a few sporadic shoppers, hunting in vain for bargains and best buys. Those days are over for now, the priority must be food. Of those that I did see, I’d say a fifth were masked.
I’m not sure how these people eat or drink while wearing these masks. And I know they weren’t supposed to be sitting there.
Lip-readers would be screwed.
From here I caught the bus to my town.
We are not quite on lockdown yet, at least while I’m writing this, but it’s surely imminent (the Prime Minister is due to address the nation in thirty minutes). For all intents and purposes, though, it’s already happened. Manchester is now off-limits to me and my clan. We are pulling up the drawbridge, but thankful for the technology that keeps us all connected.
This crisis is on such a scale that all of you-all of you, are likewise affected. No matter where you are in the world, in whichever country you are currently reading this post, this virus is challenging the very foundation of your everyday lives.
Reading all of the status’ on my Facebook tonight, coupled with several conversations throughout the day, it suddenly struck me that things are starting to kick in for everyone now, it’s no longer novel or an inconvenience. Health, family, logistics, finance, we are all in for some difficult months.
Try and stay positive people. Look out for each other.
I called up to our local church tonight, a church for which I’m undertaking an oral history project. I’m recording the memories of the older members of the congregation, those who hark right back to the beginnings of the church and its parish in which I live.
Of equal interest are the personal stories, how all of these different people, of different denominations and from different parts of the country, ended up belonging to this new Anglican Church serving this new housing estate.
I know this idea had been broached before, but for whatever reason it hadn’t got off the ground, and several stalwarts of the congregation had since departed. I volunteered because I hated the thought of these stories being forever lost, and sadly a few people passed away before I could speak with them, while others have succumbed to dementia. As a result I’ve targeted the older ones first. Sometimes it feels like I’m racing against the clock, there’s this line of people marching towards a cliff edge and I’m running to try and keep up.
Anyway, I digress a little. Tonight should have been an evening Eucharist service in the chapel, except when I got there it was in darkness. The priest was in the main church building, however, where the candles on the altar were lit.
Apparently, in the ongoing battle against this spreading Coronavirus, all Church of England services, like most other mass meetings, (no pun intended), throughout the UK, have been cancelled. Cancelled, that is, in relation to members of the congregation, for in every church the priests are still performing these services alone.
Allowed to sit in on tonight’s service, the echoing litany was recited in the shadows, accompanied only by the cars passing by on the main road. I’ve always said that a church has a whole different feel about it in the evening, and tonight was no different, especially so in this intimate setting.
I think it’s profoundly moving that, no matter what your faith is, or even if you’re religious or not, these priests, throughout the country, are conducting all services in solitude and faithfulness, mostly unseen and unknown, praying for their beleaguered and beset communities that are continuing the fight against this virus just beyond those liminal church doors.
Although I am grateful for the nominations and awards other fine bloggers bestow upon me, I don’t normally carry through the questions part. But it is Christmas, after all. So thank you to Nad over at Hugs x Heart. Technically challenged as I am, until one of you show me how to highlight the word ‘here’ to link to other blogs, I will have to give you the full link:
Around this time we go through the rigmarole of trying to find my wife’s favourite film. She says it is a particular version of A Christmas Carol, or a ‘Scrooge’ one. Old, black and white, set in Victorian times (that narrows it down!) but we never find it. We go through the whole TV guide. Our entire Facebook community mobilises to identify it, but we never do. Personally, I don’t think it exists. But we do this Every.Single.Year. As for me, It’s A Wonderful Life is great, but I like The Muppet Christmas Carol. I think our own cockney actor Michael Caine is great in it. But Miss Piggy is intimidating.
2.Have you ever had a white Christmas?
Of course. One year I managed to talk my uncle (sadly no longer with us) into coming to our house for Christmas dinner. He suffered from Motor Neurone Disease, and rarely left the house. As luck would have it, a blizzard set in while he was here. When it was time to take him home, I went to push him out of the door in his wheelchair, and his foot got tangled in the wire of the Christmas tree. “Timberrrrrr!!!!!” I then had to push him up a hill in the snowstorm, wheels spinning, eyes scrunched against the wind and snow, while he froze in silence. What I didn’t realise was that his cap was down over his eyes and he couldn’t see a thing the whole way. I asked him the following year if he wanted to come to our house again? “No.”
3.Where do you usually spend your holiday?
At home. Always.
4.What is your favourite Christmas song?
The Pogues and Kirsty McColl’s Fairytale Of New York is brilliant, but I’ve always been a fan of Lennon’s music, and liked this song long before I knew that it was by him.
5.Do you open any presents on Christmas Eve?
Absolutely not. The Christmas Demon is both watchful and vengeful.
6.Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer?
I could re-name them for you, if that helps? Okay:no. But everyone knows the red-nosed dude. I reckon the others resent him.
7.What holiday traditions are you looking forward to the most?
The whole shebang.
8.Is your Christmas tree real or fake?
I don’t like to think of it as fake, more like ‘representative’.
9.What is your all-time favourite holiday food/treat?
Christmas pudding. Just that one a year.
10.Be honest:do you like giving gifts or receiving gifts better?
I’m not one for either. I don’t bother about receiving gifts, I just enjoy the Christmas period. My better half is the shopper. I give her moral support. When people ring to thank us for the presents, I tell them that they are welcome, as I cover the mouthpiece and ask Jen what we got them.
11.What is the best Christmas gift you’ve ever received?
Maybe the iPad I am now writing this post on. Connections.
12.What would be your dream place to visit for the holiday season?
I don’t think I would like to spend Christmas away from home, but if I did, definitely not somewhere sunny and hot. That wouldn’t feel right. Sweden is on my visit list, so maybe there. Ja?
13.Are you a pro-present wrapper, or do you fail miserably?
I am notoriously terrible. I start to wrap, find I have not used enough paper, so cut off a little bit more. Then I spot another gap. It ends up looking like a patchwork quilt.
14.Most memorable holiday moment?
When I was a kid, my younger brother excitedly shook me awake. “Andy, come on, it’s Christmas!!!” I’m not sure what time it was, but it was still dark. He sprinted ahead down the stairs, whereas I, the sensible one, stopped to first put the light on. There was a sudden flash, the light went back off, and the bulb fell and smashed on my head. Really. Explains a lot.
15.What made you realise the truth about Santa?
What do you mean, truth? Santa is real. There is a consumer-swallowed conspiracy to try and get us to spend more money on buying presents, but we don’t need to. HE brings them, if you leave room.
16.Do you make New Year resolutions? Do you stick to them?
Nothing specific, maybe a general sense of what I want/hope for from the coming year.
17.What makes the holidays special for you?
It’s an old cliche, but family time.
Bonus questions (you can answer if you want)!
18.What do you wish for Christmas this year?
19.Favourite Christmas smell?
Not those sprouts. Maybe spiced drinks. Not spiked, spiced.
20.What is the worst/weirdest gift you ever got?
I couldn’t possibly divulge. Not in public.
21.Favourite holiday drink?
22.Have you ever spent Christmas in another country?
No, but I enjoy reading about how you lot spend yours, scattered all over the world like you are. A kaleidoscope of customs.
23.What place/landmark in your town do you love during Christmas?
The Manchester Christmas markets, unfortunately I didn’t make it to them this year.
24.Were you naughty or nice this year? You know Santa is watching!
I asked my wife-her response was just a raised,quizzical eyebrow. I asked my seven year old daughter, and she said that I’ve been nice. Although I think she is now borderline suspicious that it is I who supplies the presents, and is just hedging her bets.
Merry Christmas to you all, I look forward to reading your replies. Tag-you’re it!!
May I just bring something to the notice of you fine, discerning lot?
Of course I may-it’s my blog 🙂
It seems that my large, Cumberland sausage fingers have been inadvertently taking some of you from my ‘Blogs I Follow’ list. It must be that when I am scrolling through my newsfeed I am accidentally deleting some of you from my community of cool. I have discovered three such blogs that I have done this to just this very week. It was as a result of trying to locate the blogs, when thinking that the bloggers’ posts seem to have dried up, or that they had just gone a bit quiet, when I realised what I had done. Luckily I have managed to track down these blogs and ‘follow’ them again. And now I am trying to wrack my functioning-challenged brain to see if there are any more affronted bloggers out there who I have so coldly abandoned.
If ever you find that I have disappeared from your followers list, now or sometime in the future, please let me know as it will not be something I’ve done on purpose. I hang on the every word of you guys. We’ve got a good thing going here.
It’s either you lot keep me in the know, or it’s a finger transplant.
Cumberlands for chipolatas. Scrolls for screams.
Please-I’d prefer a nice comment. Enjoy the rest of your day.
As the world reacted with outrage at the news footage of the two men who butchered that 25 year old soldier to death in broad daylight on the streets of London on Wednesday, the horror felt nationally turned to shock locally when we learnt that the soldier was from this town, indeed this very estate, on which we live.
Once Drummer Lee Rigby’s name was released, the realisation spread like wildfire.
Our town was immediately catapulted into the centre of the media eye as various news crews descended upon it. Satellite news vans currently line the street where my wife’s parents live. The playschool which my son attends has been closed today as the community centre that hosts it is acting as the focal point for the local residents to come together in mutual support and solace. At the sports centre a book of condolence has been opened for people to sign and leave sympathetic messages. British and English flags are beginning to be displayed from windows and car aerials.
I didn’t know Lee personally, but I know people who did. This is a typical neighbourhood where everyone is just one place away from knowing everyone else.
Nationally there has been reports of sporadic attacks on mosques, with demonstrations being mooted for the coming days.
But here in Lee’s hometown the first response was to gather together, offering prayers and lighting candles for Lee and in support of his family. His sister attended the vigil, and we were told that his family appreciated the community coming together on behalf of them and their son.
Emotions are understandably high at the moment, but the ideal that we strive to reach for must surely be one of peace. Peace starts with the individual. And the individual starts with inner peace.
In this town, this multicultural town, that has been rocked by this senseless, brutal murder, it is a thought we need to cling to as the initial shock wears off and anger gathers momentum.
I will leave you with two quotes from two individuals who were both proponents of the path of peace, but neither of them passively so.
“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” – Gandhi
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King
These are sentiments that we should echo in what will be some difficult times ahead.
Our focus should be on Lee, his family, each other.