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.

Thoughts On A January Day

Coincidence. It happens all the time.

I’m sat inside, reading a book as a weather warning comes over the radio threatening strong winds for my area in the next couple of days. The book I’m reading is by Nicolas Bouvier, and I’ve just got to the part where, during his travels in Ireland, he is asking a local about a meandering road of pointless bends:

I like that. I bet that’s why those lovers of straight routes, the Romans, wore helmets all the time.

*

I lost my Evie twenty years ago.

It was a man behind me, in the queue at the local bank, after enquiring how a newly widowed acquaintance of his was doing, during their chance encounter.

You don’t know what you’ve got ’til you lose it. No, you wouldn’t have seen me, I’ve been in hospital for a hip operation. But I’m still here, still upright. Eighty-one on New Year’s Eve. You’ve gotta fall apart sometime, haven’t you?

I was recently saddened to hear of the passing of an old colleague of mine. He’d made it to his eighties, too, though he’d succumbed to dementia. I bumped into him once, my own chance encounter, and he’d exclaimed “Bloody hell, I’ve not seen you in ages!” The next time I saw him he didn’t know me.

My Mum has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. At the moment she’s not too bad, and living next door allows me to keep an eye on her. I asked her if she could remember the name of an old dog that she had:

“Was it Andy?”

“No, I’m Andy!”

She laughed, confusing me with the one who had slouched on the sofa and pissed on the floor. Easy mistake.

Though she’s not yet at the stage that my colleague was, I can see that this person I’ve known for the whole of my life is fading. I guess time can do that anyway, regardless of that particular condition. The years diminish us. It’s like we grow, we build, we peak, then begin to slip back to our primordial beginnings.

*

There is a house near to us where the occupants are shut away. Every single window, both front and back, night and day, has the curtains closed, fastened together in the middle to create a perpetual twilight for those, unseen, living inside.

The young me, the one who had not yet reached his teens and spent his time watching Hammer movies on television, would have immediately thought: vampires. The current me, a bit longer in the tooth, came up with crack den.

Another Train

one of those days,

as the light fades

and the sky becomes a charcoal smudge

and the train rolls on, to familiar territory

it’s the people you share the journey with

the quiet ones; the rowdy ones,

like that guy staring out of the window, lost in thought,

those girls giggling over a censored photo

held close to the chest like a card hand,

we will spill from the carriage and disperse,

like on the wind,

where will the gusts take them all, I wonder?