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.

(Oh For) Peace In Our Time

My daughter, Millie, jumped out of the car, excitedly waving a piece of paper in the air without even closing the door.

“Dad, guess what?” She looked like Chamberlain brandishing his treaty.

“We have peace in our time?” I replied, shouting equally as loud across the leaf-covered garden.

“What? No-I’ve got to isolate! School have given me a letter saying I’ve been in contact with someone who has Coronavirus!” She was beaming.

I looked to my wife, playing Millie’s personal home-time chauffeur, who nodded in confirmation.

“Who?”

“They can’t say, but I DON’T HAVE TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL UNTIL THE 3RD OF NOVEMBER!!!” She was almost maniacal in her glee.

“The third . . . of . . . November?”

NOVEMBER!”

It turned out that there was indeed a confirmed case in Millie’s year, someone who she’d been in close contact with, and, taking in account the half term holiday, that’s another twenty one days off school. It has only been five minutes since the kids had had six months off.

Three of Millie’s close friends also received copies of this letter. Tonight, by phone, they’d form a quartet of sleuths wrapped up in their very own whodunnit.

It had only been a matter of time, with different years in different schools being forced into similar action over the last month. James’ school was surely overdue, too.

Later, for our Drama Queen, would come the expectant angst, but for now it was only holiday fever that Millie had.

It doesn’t affect the rest of us, yet. She has to isolate for fourteen days, the rest of us can continue as before unless Millie starts with symptoms and it’s at that point we would be impacted, having to also isolate and be tested.

A difficult winter has been predicted by the experts. Now, I’m no member of SAGE, but I’m predicting a difficult three weeks ahead for the Murray household. What with a housebound, paranoid, over-dramatic adolescent with a tendency to hit hyper-speed in 0.5 seconds, I may need to hold my own COBRA meeting.

In the meantime, little Miss Millie is on lockdown. For the rest of us – I’ll let you know.

Mr Chamberlain, where’s your face mask?

Not So Same Old, Same Old.

Blackpool 2020. I’ve been to this northern seaside town countless times since I was a child, but in 2020 even the familiar is different.

I was there with my son, James, last Saturday to watch a football match, staying overnight on the Friday. It was busy, but not pre-Covid busy.

As James was walking out on the beach, I walked along this promenade, keeping apace so I could keep an eye on him.

There was a car to my left, stopped at a red light, and a guy was shouting through a rolled down window “Hey mate, improve your social distancing!”

I looked around. Was he addressing me? It appeared he was.

“Improve your social distancing!”

Really?

There wasn’t anybody within at least fifty metres of me. James was about a mile out to sea. The lights turned to green and he drove off, shouting the same message to other pedestrians that he passed. He wasn’t anyone official, and he didn’t look like, you know, a loon. It seemed that he had made it his own personal mission to prevent the town having more Government measures imposed upon it.

Blackpool seafront is breezy at the best of times, if bearing rain a destroyer of plans, and this day was really windy, as is evidenced by these bending tulips. Or, as they are better known- ‘giant spoons’.

I was feeling my age.

While my son walked freely across the beach, I found numerous windbreak-walls to sit against while watching him.

Then, hood on, hat on, mood on, I joined him to walk beneath one of the old Victorian piers, the sea being out, spying the tower between the supports.

This caught my eye and so my camera. Emerged from the depths to breathe once again in light, like barnacle-encrusted cootie trees, shaped like a St.Andrew’s cross.

Halt-who goes there? A shoed adult, a barefoot child, and a gull. It wasn’t volcanic ash in the Cretaceous period forever preserving a passing sauropod, but I liked it.

If you squint, or maybe do that thing with your thumb and index finger to enlarge this photograph, you’ll see my lad out there-far enough away to give my wife a heart attack if she’d been there with us. I assured her by text that he remained in sight at all times. I didn’t tell her that I had binoculars.

The day wore on, the light grew dimmer, the wind grew colder. This gull was gliding effortlessly in,similar to how we freewheel on a bike, coasting in to find a place to settle for the night.

There were starlings, too, around the pier. If it was a murmuration, then they were murmuring above us, turning and wheeling perfectly in unison like a shoal of fish.

Twilight – a liminal time, and James was on the edge, as the tide rolled back in and my thoughts began to turn to that warm room back at the B&B.

Before the sea had started to return to shore, there’d been the odd person out there on the beach, hundreds and hundreds of yards out, walking alone and wearing face masks. Unless it was a way of keeping their face warm I just didn’t understand the thinking behind it. The guy in that car would have been proud of them. And still tell them to improve their social distancing, by megaphone.

Evening was coming on, autumn was coming on, exhaustion was coming on.

The sun sank into the sea, a final flash of fire engulfed in its repetitive end, and still the wheel on the pier turned, around and around, everywhere we looked – the same old cycles.

This gull seemed reluctant to leave, allowing me to come closer to observe it. One final photograph and then we sought the sanctuary of our room.

It’s a nostalgic place for many of us, Blackpool, with long memories of family and old friendships. Away from this attractive seafront though, I think it is quite a deprived town.

Whenever my wife has been here with us, a common question of hers is uttered with an expected regularity while observing the members of numerous Stag Nights and Hen Dos staggering out of the promenade pubs:

I wonder how many marriages are being wrecked tonight? How many babies being conceived?

All out of the hearing of the children, of course, for they see nothing but magic.

That’s her astute understanding of human behaviour, but that kind of stuff can’t go on this year, can it? Not in 2020, when we’re all social distancing.