Two Cities Laid Low

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.

Market Street.

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.

Deserted thoroughfares.

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.

Sinks too.

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.

Walk On, Dear Sibling

We’ve been blessed with great weather during this lockdown, For those of us that have gardens, being able to sit outside in the sunshine does help to raise the spirits. But you’ve got to feel for those people living in flats, especially high-rise flats, allowed one form of exercise a day.

This is our daily walk. My two daughters walk on ahead as my son makes it his intention to catch them up.

Sometimes it gets quite competitive. On one particular day I may walk with Millie, armed with a stopwatch, on the next with James, as they both try to beat each other’s personal best. Another day, Courtney and Millie will set off in one direction, James and I the other, and, with the route one large circular road, we end up passing each other along the way, spurring each other on with a wave and accusations of cheating.

And, if a wasp or a bee should come along, the girls end up breaking the land speed record.

The Noose Tightens

This Coronavirus is no respecter of status, reputation or wealth.

The other day I heard of the death of Eddie Large, he of the famed Little and Large double-act in the 80’s. Then, this morning, I saw that Lee Fierro, who played Mrs Kintner in my favourite film, Jaws, had died.

This afternoon I was in the back garden when my wife came out to tell me that the mother of Pep Guardiola, the Manchester City manager, had succumbed to the virus.

And now the breaking news is that Boris Johnson, our Prime Minister, has been moved to intensive care after his symptoms had tonight worsened, with Dominic Raab, the First Secretary of State, deputising. In all intents and purposes, though the government won’t label him so, he’s now the acting PM in this time of crisis.

These are all notable figures, far removed from me. But, as the situation grows, the casualty list has crept ever closer within the last two weeks.

The sister of my next door neighbour, both parents of a child from my son’s school, and several people from my wife’s workplace, have all caught the virus. Also two people known to me, (not closely, I must add), have sadly died. And a couple, again, from my wife’s place of work, have also sadly passed away.

From this new and remote illness that we were first becoming aware of several weeks ago, we’ve now reached the point where a lot of us know someone who has suffered with it.

It is a diminishing circle that, with time, in our imposed isolation, we will break. It is horrible to hear of people dying alone, away from their families because of the nature of this pandemic and the required separating of loved ones. The thirteen-year old lad who both died alone and was buried alone; the elderly woman who said goodbye to her husband through a window as the hearse stopped outside her home on its way to his last resting place; people saying goodbye to loved ones as nurses hold a phone.

My lockdown in regard to these cases holds no comparison.

Listening to the Queen’s call for self-discipline yesterday, we should hold onto the part where she echoed Vera Lynne’s popular song from the wartime 40’s:

We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.

Small Talk And Dance

I don’t know about you guys, but I could do with getting lost in trivialities. Making small talk with strangers, while waiting for my coffee to be made, about inconsequential things. Nothing of importance that mean everything.

A friend, who works in mental health, commented recently on a supportive FB post of mine:

 Andy, I’m telling you now, I’m having a massive fuck-off barbecue when this is all done with. You, Jen and the kids are all invited. Dad dancing and social closeness required.

I look forward to that.

 

 

Things Are Beginning To Get Hairy

So – I’m growing a beard.

This situation has encouraged me to go all Robinson Crusoe.

Having never sported a beard before, this lockdown has given me the opportunity to see how it looks, without having to look like a tramp when out shopping or nipping to the bank.

My wife isn’t keen. Sometimes I think she’s only with me for my chin.

It’s only been a week, but I think I may have left it too late in life, for this early growth, to look all Pierce Brosnan. Whereas I was hoping for a few flecks of grey, I think I may be the more crazed Saddam Hussein-in-the-bolthole type.

Pulling Up The Drawbridge

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.

Look after each other, people, and stay in touch.

Together we will all pull through.