Well done everybody, we’ve just made it through another day on lockdown and we’ll do the same again tomorrow. Stay strong, stay safe.💪✌️
Even my notifications are taking the piss.
I took this photograph a few days ago of a local fishing pond, frozen over.
There’s not much colour in it, is there?
January has always been bleak, even without the added burden of a national lockdown.
The lines of a poem in my first collection, Heading North, come to mind:
There’s not much colour in that either, is there?
But that was the particular tone of that poem, it is called Laments of the Urban Dead after all.
But we can still hold hope, if not joy.
I know I keep banging the same drum, but before we know it spring will be sprung, to be followed by the first fruits of summer. You know how it works.
Seasons don’t follow lockdown rules, nature doesn’t adhere to restrictions.
So hang in there, Jackdaw friends, wherever you are and whatever circumstances you find yourselves in, there are brighter days to come.
I know you don’t need me to tell you.
These are desperate times. But this is especially so if you’re a fan of non-league football and your team didn’t have a game on Boxing Day, for Boxing Day is traditionally football day. And without tradition-we’re lost. In these uncertain times we need the odd touchstone.
My team, Prestwich Heys, didn’t have a match because the team the fixture list had given us was the only one in the league that had decided that they wouldn’t play at the government reduced, Covid-caused capacity.
I had to find an alternative for my son and I.
A quick scan of the fixture lists showed me that Daisy Hill were at home and that was doable, just a twenty minute train ride and a quick walk. Plans remade.
Except, just as we were about to leave, we received the news that overnight Bolton had experienced some snow and the game was off.
So, after checking other possible games, (the fruitless results of which I’ll share later in this post), we decided to go a bit further out to Darwen, in Blackburn, jumping a lift with a friend.
Needing a game, needing fresh air, we set off, reassured in the knowledge that even if snow had ventured this far, Darwen had a plastic pitch and when cleared the match would be on.
Once we reached the hills, we saw the wicked snow that-this-way-came. It was nothing more than a novelty and pleasing to the eye, providing photo opportunities to document our dedicated search for football.
At the end of our journey, the ground awaiting, we rolled into the club car park only to be told that they had reached their reduced capacity limit and so we couldn’t get in.
Deep sigh. Wasted day. Journey back.
I wouldn’t be taking any photos this time.
Boxing Day equals football day. Remember that?
Though I wouldn’t now be watching a match in person I thought that at least when I got in I’d be able to see Man City on TV as at that level the games were always on.
As we were dropped off I received the latest news which was the final nail in the coffin of every match I’d held flickering hopes for:
Prestwich was cancelled because of Covid restrictions ;
Daisy Hill was cancelled because of snow;
Heywood St James was cancelled because of a waterlogged pitch;
Maine Road was cancelled because of Covid restrictions;
Went to Darwen but couldn’t get in;
And now Man City was cancelled because of positive Covid cases among the squad;
What an unbelievable set of circumstances they were, all coming together to thwart me. In resignation, I decided to look at the day’s football league results on my LiveScore app and got this:
From all of this I’ve come to the conclusion that the universe is telling me NO MORE BLOODY FOOTBALL!
NEW YEAR’S EVE
Restrictions building, a sense of the world closing in, we went for a coffee at one of the last places we were allowed to sit in (a motorway service station) as the sun slipped away for the final time from this most challenging of years.
Custom was scarce, enthusiasm more so, and after just the one drink we went home, staying in as the country, maybe even the world, stayed in for the build up to the midnight countdown. The clock struck twelve, the family hugged and then we went outside to see the fireworks.
Almost on cue it began to snow. I don’t think I’ve ever known it to snow on New Year’s Eve before, certainly not beginning at midnight. (I know I know, technically this is New Year’s Day.) It momentarily lifted the spirits, the children shouting in delight.
Snow on New Year’s Eve seemed a suitable way to draw a line under this difficult year. It was as if the earth had taken pity on us for all we’d recently endured and given us just a little sprinkling of magic to remind us that nothing lasts forever.
New Year’s Day
No hangover, no self-induced fragility, but this day seemed more subdued than ever. Perhaps it’s that play-off, that tormenting dichotomy, the knowledge that 2021 has been ushered in with an end in sight to our 2020 struggles, but to get there we are going to have to endure the more difficult days to come.
I write this as we have entered another national lockdown, one that reportedly could last until the end of March. We are like prisoners doing time, scratching off our days served on our cell walls until the day of release comes. And it is coming, be certain of that. We just have to keep our eyes fixed on that distant, longed-for prize.
Who will meet us at the gate?
In the morning, this leaflet arrived.
The council sent one to every address in the Rochdale borough, as numbers have spiked in the area, hoping to avert another lockdown being enforced upon us.
Overleaf were the simple bullet points:
You must wear a face covering
when in a shop or other
Do not have more than two visitors
to your home at any one time
Always keep 2 metres apart
Avoid close contact with anyone
outside your household, including
shaking hands or hugging
Get tested and isolate if you
Are told to do so
Help stop the spread
Before we had hardly had a chance to digest this, and think about our concerted effort to avoid another dreaded lockdown, Matt Hancock announced that the whole of Greater Manchester and parts of both East Lancashire and West Yorkshire were being out under special restrictions: people of different households were to be banned from meeting indoors from midnight. Oh, and in gardens too-though beer gardens are okay.
Nine out of ten boroughs in Greater Manchester have shown a rise in infections, and, though Rochdale is the only borough with a declining number, we have been lumped in with the others too.
Here is a map of Greater Manchester, with my town of Middleton surrounded by its equally condemned neighbours.
People are getting a bit fed up with it all now, and the criticism is that this news was announced on Twitter at 9.00pm, with the details revealed at midnight. The government had said that, when they ceased their daily press conferences, they would hold them for significant announcements, such as local lockdowns. It has been suggested that this short notice was with the Muslim festival of Eid in mind, which started the very next day.
There are some towns that haven’t got a single case of Covid, but have been included as being part of Lancashire.
For those not of the UK, or at least the north, I know it’s a confusing melting pot of counties and boroughs and townships. I think rather than a blanket of restrictions thrown over the whole area, a more localised town-by-town approach would be better.
But when was I ever an advisor from SAGE?
Anyway, I’m off now. I can’t call around to my mate’s house, but I can meet him in the pub for a beer.
How long now to that Holy vaccine Grail?
Have mask, will travel. Border crossings, on a damp and languid day.
Heading once more back to Manchester by train, having started a new book, Water Shall Refuse Them, along the way. The author, this being her debut novel, has been getting comparisons to Shirley Jackson and, although I’m only fifty or so pages into it, the protagonist does have a bit of Merricat about her.
Rochdale, the penultimate stop on my journey, in the dark, wet afternoon never looked so bleak.
The next few weeks are looking bleak, too. With rising figures, Rochdale is on the brink of following Leicester into a possible new lockdown. Though I don’t live in the town, my own town comes under the borough of Rochdale, and another lockdown is the last thing that any of us want.
After leaving the train, I caught a bus outside of this Rochdale Road pub, The Marble Arch, established in the Ripper year: 1888.
A renowned pub that brews its own beer, it has been some years since I’ve been in there. Possibly over twenty.
Maybe I should have called in for a pint, today, while I still can.
Who would have thought this, six months ago?
I look like I’m going to a riot.
A bit of a sterile riot, a friend pointed out.
One has to take one’s safety seriously when one is launching petrol bombs.
Another friend commented I see you’ve also had your ears lowered.
Seeing as though my wife performed my first lockdown haircut, I’m thankful I’ve got any ears at all.
And what do people do these days when they go on blind dates?
You’ve got nice eyes.
And I guess that lip readers are screwed.
These are crazy days. Stay safe, friends. Stay crazy.
This is how we seem to be living life at the moment. But all will soon be back to normal.
Hang in there, guys. The days are still passing.
A few posts back, I shared some photographs of a journey I made between two Northern cities, Leeds and Manchester, when the country was on the brink of lockdown. I had to make the return journey last week (essential travel allowed) and, with the UK now a month into lockdown, I took these photographs to share with you all to document these unprecedented days. I probably, hopefully, will never have the chance to see my city like this again.
This first one shows the seating arrangements in my local bus station, to enforce the social distancing. Only the opposite end seats were available, first come first served (though there weren’t many takers). An unenthusiastic game of musical chairs.
Again, on the bus-alternate rows of seating available. The driver taking my fare said it was the most he’d taken all morning.
Manchester, message delivered.
Looking towards the usually notorious Piccadilly Gardens.
I saw neither tram nor cycle, just the odd jogger taking their allotted moment of exercise.
When a passing bus departed, the city fell into a strangely hushed tone.
St.Anne’s Square, scene of much mourning and festooned with flowers following the Arena bombing.
Many shop doors and windows wore similar sentiments from their owners. Some just a stark notice that no goods or money were left on the premises, in lieu of any opportunist thieves moving into the city.
Not a drinker in sight.
Moving now towards the train station.
The statue of Gandhi outside the Cathedral. The only figure caught in motion.
Ever since the lockdown the weather has been glorious. The place would have been swarming with shoppers and drinkers and more.
Looking towards the Football Museum, symbolic of the sport that has now been suspended.
I could take a photo in the middle of the road, with little fear of trams or vehicles.
Looking towards Angel Square from the rear.
Victoria Station. Could it be that I was the only commuter?
More social distancing, now musical urinals.
There was only me and this railway worker.
Only for essential travel
The train I caught had originated in Liverpool, passed through Manchester and was bound for Edinburgh. I alighted in Leeds, the station there similar to the one in Manchester.
Leeds. Snippets of conversations that took place with the few people that I encountered I intend to print elsewhere.
Millennium Square. Manchester and Leeds-two northern cities laid low by an invisible foe.