Town before lockdown

I’ve been into town this morning, partly because I needed a new watch battery, partly to do the “Windows of Creativity” walk before we’re confined to barracks again, partly to lend support to my favourite cafe before it has to close again, and partly because I just wanted to be in my city centre, the centre of Manchester.   We’ve got through worse times than this – 80 years ago, Luftwaffe bombs killed nearly 800 people in the week before Christmas – but, oh, it’s miserable, seeing pubs with “Closed” notices on them, and knowing that restaurants and many shops will be closing for at least a month from Thursday, just when we should be getting ready to have a glass of gluhwein by the singing reindeer head at the Christmas markets.

Pretty much of all of Europe, and many other countries, are in the same mess that we’re in, so I’m not blaming the authorities.  The virus is just a lot cleverer than we are: it’s very difficult to defeat nature.  There isn’t really much option other than another lockdown, but the thought of what it’s going to do both to people’s mental health – I’ve got a long and unpleasant history of anxiety – and the economy is very worrying.  And we, in Greater Manchester, have now been under additional restrictions for over three months, and yet things have just got worse.

I’m a historian, so I am supposed to be an expert on the evils of bias and prejudice.  And I usually find them very annoying.  The Whigs said this and the Marxists said that and the revisionists said the other … just tell me the facts and let me decide for myself.   The same with media reports now: just tell me the facts, not your biased opinion of it.   But, now that I’m actually writing a first hand account of a major event in world history (even if I don’t suppose it’s of much interest to anyone but me), I’m finding it impossible to be objective, because it’s all just so close to home.

For whatever reason, Greater Manchester has been the epicentre of the pandemic in England since July.  As I said, we’ve been under additional  restrictions for over three months now.  And, at the centre of events, we have, as the people’s champions, United’s own Marcus Rashford, not only a United player but “one of our own”, Manchester born and bred and at United since he was a kid, and Andy Burnham, whom I’ve had a bit of a crush on for years ❤ .  I once wrote to Andy Burnham about something, and I got a letter back with “Dear [my name]” handwritten at the top, and “Best wishes, Andy Burnham,” handwritten at the bottom, and I was so excited that I kept the letter: I’ve still got it.    And don’t get me wrong, I’d have supported the children’s meals vouchers campaign regardless of who’d started it, but Marcus is one of our own.

Incidentally, could someone please tell me why a 67% furlough scheme was considered adequate for Manchester, Liverpool and other parts of the North, but, the minute London’s put back into lockdown, it’s announced that the 80% furlough scheme would be extended, something which Andy Burnham asked for and was told wasn’t an option?   It’s pretty hard to be objective when you’ve got good reason to feel that you’re getting a raw deal.  And it’s hard to be objective about anything when your city, your region, is at the heart of it.

Even with the 80% furlough scheme, a lot of businesses will inevitably have to make redundancies, or even fold completely.  And the mental health effects of another lockdown, especially at what’s always a fairly miserable time of year made bearable only by the Christmas stuff that won’t be happening this year.  This is going to take a hell of a lot of coming back from.

But we’ll get there.  We’ve got through worse.  It would just be very nice to see some light at the end of the tunnel.  And it would be nice to get back to feeling that we’re all in it together, that Spirit of the Blitz which we had in the early days.

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