Hooray! For the first time since March 19th, I’ve had my hair cut and coloured, and I no longer look like an ageing refugee from the 1980s (even if my music collection is still pretty much entirely 1980s). I’ve been to my favourite café in town: it reopened this weekend. And, at Fountains Abbey yesterday, I had my first National Trust scone since March 14th. I’ve been very impressed with the safety measures that most – not quite all, but most – organisations have put in place, and all the amount of hard work, not to mention that money, that’s gone into it all. The salon’s even got a room upstairs where vulnerable or nervous clients can have their hair done away from anyone other than their stylist.
These are very strange and difficult times, and there’s no sign of things getting back to normal any time soon, but – and I do appreciate that things are different for people with health issues, and I do so wish they weren’t – we can’t shut the country down indefinitely, or else we’re going to end up with mass unemployment and a mental health pandemic. So we need to move on. Carefully.
We’re not using to dealing with an invisible enemy. We can do defiance. We marched back into town after the IRA bombing in 1996 and the Islamic fundamentalist bombing in 2017, determined that we weren’t going to be defeated by terrorists. We’ve heard about how our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generation kept calm and carried on when the Luftwaffe were raining bombs down on our city night after night. But, as some of our American friends are sadly finding out, defiance doesn’t work against coronavirus. Social distancing, more frequent handwashing, wearing masks where appropriate … these are things we’ve all got to do.
It’s weird seeing hand sanitising stations at the entrances to shops, salons, cafes, restaurants, pubs and shopping centres. It’s weird when you go to have your hair done, and you’re wearing a mask and the hairdresser’s wearing a visor – and you can’t even have a cup of tea. It’s weird being asked to follow a one way system round the Arndale Centre, and to use certain doors only as an entrance and other doors only as an exit.
And it’s very weird indeed having to give your details when you go to a café. That freaked me out a bit. I’ve got a “staycation” booked for August, and I won’t be going to any cafes for three weeks prior to that. This “test and trace” thing is not good for my anxiety, as much as I understand the need for it. I’ve been very freaked out by the pictures from Leicester, which is in local lockdown. Police everywhere, people being stopped and asked for their details if they’re out in their cars … again, I understand the need for it, but these are things we associate with totalitarian regimes, or at least with wartime. Seeing that going on in a British city in peacetime is very scary indeed.
But we need to move on. So many job cuts have sadly been announced already. More will follow. And there are quality of life issues: many people are beginning to struggle mentally. And this is the only way we can move on: we’ve seen from what’s happened elsewhere that we can’t just go back to how things were. How I wish we could. I want to go to a football match. I want to know that the Christmas markets are going to be on. I’m worried about what’s going to happen to the local economy. Metrolink’ve just spent a fortune on the Trafford Centre extension, and hardly anyone’s using it. Hotels can reopen, but people come to Manchester to go to the theatre or live concerts or football matches, and you can’t do any of that at the moment. I’m extremely worried about the future of theatres and live music venues. And when will the gym reopen?
But we’re making a start. And it’s been great. I cannot say how relieved I am to have had my hair done! It was getting to the point where I was amazed that people still recognised me. And it was lovely to be back at The Vienna Coffee House. And it was nice to feel that I was giving people my little bit of support. I’ve been going to The Vienna Coffee House ever since it opened, I’ve been going to the same hairdresser for nearly 20 years, and my life would be very empty without the National Trust (and its scones).
Who knows when this nightmare’s ever going to end? My respect for the generations who lived through six years of war, and then the austerity years afterwards, is growing even higher than it already was, every single day. But this weekend’s been a big step forward. We just all need to be so careful, and it’s not easy, when this is all so strange and different. But most people are really trying – especially all the hairdressers and pub landlords/landladies and café/restaurant owners and managers who’ve worked so hard to get ready for reopening. As Boris said, let’s not blow it! Let’s enjoy it instead.