Don’t Panic! Jog Quickly!

I really thought we’d made it, managed to make it through to the other side, unaffected. On May 17th restrictions are lifting, in ten days we can attend matches again. The wife and I have had our two jabs. Summer’s coming.

And then this morning, having already dropped my son off at school, I got a message from said school: There’s been a positive Covid test in Year 6 and so they’d have to close their bubble.

Year 6 is my son’s class and ‘closing the bubble’ meant that they would be sending him home to self-isolate. I’d only been home fifteen minutes after dropping him. The parent of whichever child had tested positive must have only got the test results when school was due to open.

So off I went again to pick him up. I crossed the deserted playground to the office, gave James’ name and one of the receptionists went to get him while the other explained that, though James would have to isolate for ten days, my wife and I didn’t as we were classed as contact of a contact. I really thought we’d seen the last of all this.

James came out and when he saw me he greeted me with a shrug of resignation. “So,” I began as we headed for the gates, “someone tested positive in your class?”

“Yes, someone who’s been in school.”

“Any idea who it is?” I asked.

“Well it could either be me, or . . . “

“You? How can it be you?”

Well, Ive been in school.”

“Have you done a test?”

“No.”

“Then it can’t be you then, can it?”

“It can’t?”

To test positive, you have to do a test to begin with.

He seemed to think this over. “No . . .”

“How did you find out about it?” I asked.

“We were sitting where the computers are, then all of a sudden the teachers all started panicking and running around.”

“They were running?!”

“Mrs * has a son in our school, and she was shouting to him ‘Run son!”

“She was shouting run?” I asked with some scepticism.

“Well, it might have been ‘jog quickly.’”

I’m sure that you’ve all seen those disaster movies, too, you know the ones where everyone is told to jog quickly for your lives!

Save yourselves! Jog quickly!

You could forgive me for thinking that he was being a bit dramatic, but later one of the mothers said that she’d asked her daughter who confirmed that teachers were indeed shouting “Quick! Run! Run!”

Maybe they were trying to head off all points of entry to the building, maybe they thought that the predatory virus was now chasing them down the school corridors?

Anyway, ten days start now, ten long days. Keep washing those hands. And if anyone around you appears a little off-colour then remember: jog quickly and don’t look back. They always get you when you look back.

Bang The Drum, Let Summer Come

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.

Post-Festive, Lockdown Blues

BOXING DAY

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?

Turn On Your Lights And Be Damned

Guys, 2020 . . .

This Halloween I didn’t see a single trick or treater. Not one. In fact, for wont of a phrase, you could say that where I lived that night it was a ghost town.

My family are supporters of a local non-League club. This season started two months late, and we have managed to get to four matches before it has been suspended again. On Tuesday we had the chance of one final match before this pause, fighting the elements to get the game on, but then we received the message that we’d lost the other fight:

one of the player’s family members had tested positive for Covid-19 and now some of the players and coaching staff were also showing symptoms.

Everyone that attended last Saturday’s game were advised that if they’d had any contact with any players or staff members and began to experience symptoms then they should isolate and take a test. Straight off I remembered that one of the players had shook my hand before kick off, and also my lad James had his photograph taken with his favourite player.

With all of the publicity about distancing measures and the like I should have known better, but, being the social animals that we are, it’s sometimes difficult to avoid our long-established instinctive acts when greeting each other.

At the moment everything is fine, we all appear symptom free.

Tomorrow we enter our second national lockdown, provisionally set for a month. On the cancellation of our game I bid my fellow fans farewell until December, possibly even 2021, as our club was mothballed again.

The lights are going out:

Regular City Jackdaw followers may recall that every Remembrance Sunday I attend a service and place a cross at the foot of a memorial on which family members are named, and also another on the site of my Gt Grandfather’s unmarked grave. Well, I’ve just heard that the services are beginning to be cancelled for this year. You could have put money on it.

I will remember in my own individual way this year.

We lost Easter and now Christmas is under threat. Normally I’m not an advocate of Christmas decorations going up before December, but this year is not a normal year. I think if people need to then they should put up their trees and decorations whenever they want. Whatever it takes to lift their spirits.

This year more than ever, though it will be a different kind of Christmas, it is still the light in the darkness, the hope in despair.

And I do think that by then that the end will be in sight.

Before We Fall

While you are in Middleton get some black bags

It was a text from my wife who was in work. How the hell did she know I was in Middleton?

I swear she has some kind of track and trace programme that the government should look into because it just blows their billion pound effort away.

I did as I was told. I got the black bags.

That’s the secret of a good marriage.

Then I called for a coffee in McDonald’s where I could hear a man complaining to himself in the booth next to mine.

Fucking sick of this now. Where’s your mask? Stand here. Stand there. We don’t do that. Put your mask back on. Sit here. There’s no ketchup. Wait there. If you can’t taste salt on your chips it’s a Coronavirus symptom bollocks.

The last line rose in volume as it neared its end. I couldn’t help smiling in private at his public fatigue.

I think a lot of us are losing the stamina for this now, and some are really struggling.

There was an elderly man in there, crying and apologising for being a nuisance. The prospect of another lockdown had filled him with dread, for he had only one family member to speak with who would have to isolate. This was the only place he could come for some human contact, and embarrassed by his tears he made to leave.

The woman who was seating the customers tried to reassure him:

“You’re not a nuisance at all. Sit down and I’ll get you a drink. Ignore what the government says, as long as you’ve got your gloves and your mask on you’re alright. You need to keep coming in every morning to see us.”

That was true, but if this place was forced to go delivery only again that option would no longer be open to him. It’s a trade off, catching Coronavirus v your mental health. Not everyone had the fortitude and the people around them to cope with this once again.

I left the restaurant and made my way home along a path that gradually rose away from the town centre in a steep climb. At the top of the hill, where the slope evened out, was a tree well on its way to its autumn transformation. I paused a while to both take it in and get my breath back.

There were still many leaves to fall, and those that had were stirring in a cool breeze.

Although it looked familiar, we’d not seen an autumn like this one before. But they will keep coming around and there’s a reassurance in that, even as they age us.

We are still here, all of us, doing the same old things, climbing hills, gasping for breath, and little by little shedding our leaves.