Goodbye Debenhams

 

Debenhams in town’s been there since before I was born.  It’s in a beautiful Art Deco building at the corner of High Street and Market Street, close to Piccadilly Gardens.  It’s one of the major landmarks of Manchester city centre.  When I was growing up, we had Debenhams on one side of Market Street and Lewis’s on the other, right opposite.  When Lewis’s sadly closed, Primark took over the building, but it’s hard to see anyone taking over that big Debenhams store, in these uncertain times.   BHS, Littlewoods, C&A and so many other of the big shops in town have already gone.  Now it looks almost certain that Debenhams’ll be going too.

It looks like most of the Arcadia Group shops could go as well.  Topshop and Miss Selfridge were two of the in places for teenage girls to buy clothes in the ’80s and early ’90s … not so much for weird fat girls like me, but for cool girls.   Dorothy Perkins had some lovely stuff in the ’90s, and I’ve bought stuff from Evans over the years as well.    We’ll draw a veil over the time I got stuck in a dress in the Wallis changing rooms because I was too vain to admit that I was too fat for the size I’d decided to try on.  I did get out of it eventually!

Burton’s a famous old northern name … even if it is a famous Leeds name.  It was a great example of how someone could start off with nothing and achieve so much.  The Burtons were the sort of people Barbara Taylor Bradford meant when she talked about people like the fictional Emma Harte and David Kallinski in A Woman of Substance giving rise to the greatness of a northern city.  They even made the suits for the England 1966 World Cup winning team.

There used to be some great stuff in Debenhams, especially in the days of the Dash concessions.  And in Dorothy Perkins, as I’ve said.  But they just went bang off.  The clothes were ridiculously expensive for what they were: people who spend a lot of money on clothes go to designer places, not High Street shops, and the rest of us just can’t be spending that much money on everyday clothes.  A lot of it wasn’t even nice.  It used to be.

There used to be something quite romantic about department stores.  There’ve been TV series about them.  OK, Are You Being Served wasn’t exactly romantic, but The Paradise and Mr Selfridge were.  There’ve been books about them too – A Woman of Substance is the one that immediately springs to mind, but there’ve been others.  In the days when a lot of people left school without taking any public exams, they provided good opportunities for young girls.

If they all go, 25,000 jobs’ll go.  25,000 people out of work.  Plus the knock-on effect on suppliers, landlords, the councils, etc etc.

And they attract people into town.  It’s not just the city centre: it’s everywhere else round and about.  The big Debenhams in Bury is the flagship store of The Rock shopping area, which is still fairly new.  The big Debenhams in the Trafford Centre’s one of the “bookend” shops: it’s at one end of the centre, with John Lewis at the other.   And, of course, there are all the branches of Dorothy Perkins, Evans, et al.   Town and city centres are struggling enough at the moment.  “Non-essential shops” have had to close for 17 weeks of this year.  A lot of office staff are working from home.  People aren’t going out shopping because of concerns about being out in crowds, about using public transport, about long queues, and about not being able to try clothes on.  It’s certainly not just the pandemic that’s done for Debenhams and the Arcadia Group, but it’s a big factor, the straw that broke the camel’s back at the very least.  And so we go into a circle of decline, especially with cafes and restaurants only allowed to open for take-aways as long as we remain in Tier 3 – despite Greater Manchester, like many other Tier 3 areas, having lower infection rates than many parts of London which are in Tier 2.

If you go into town to do some shopping, and you travel by Metrolink, you get off the tram right outside Debenhams.  It’s going to be very strange doing that and Debenhams not being there.  It’s always been there.

 

Confused of Manchester … are we all with this?

  OK, folks.  From next Tuesday, beauty salons offering things like eyebrow threading, and casinos, skating rinks, bowling alleys, exhibition halls, conference centres, and indoor play areas including soft play areas will be able to reopen round here.  Unless you live in Bolton (10 miles away), in which case they won’t.  But you still won’t be able to meet people in houses or gardens, only in the park.  Unless you live in Stockport (15 miles away) or Wigan (18 miles away) in which case you can meet up in houses or gardens.  If you live in Oldham (10 miles away in another direction) or Blackburn (22 miles away), you still won’t be able to meet people anywhere, even in the park.   But you’ll be able to have your eyebrows threaded – the no threading thing only applies to Bolton.  And swimming pools and gyms in Blackburn will be able to reopen.  They’re already open everywhere else.  Except Leicester.

In Corby, the infection rate is double the rate in our borough, but they’re not under restrictions.  But we are.

In Bolton (10 miles away) and Trafford (6 miles away), restrictions were lifted at midnight on Wednesday but re-imposed by midday.   To be fair to the authorities, the infection rate in Bolton had plummeted and the council there had asked for the local lockdown to be ended.  Then it suddenly sky-rocketed and is now the highest in the country.  No-one seems to have a clue how things turned round so quickly.  In Trafford, the Labour councillors and the Conservative MP for Sale and Altrincham are busy squabbling, all apparently far more interested in scoring points off each other than in what’s best for local communities.

And does anyone know what the situation is if you live on the outskirts of Chester (where Portugal isn’t on the quarantine list) but work 10 miles away in Wrexham (where Portugal is on the quarantine list) and are flying back from the Algarve tomorrow?  Can you go to work or not?  Anyone know?  I’m sure I don’t.

I’m not really having a go at the authorities.  I understand that the idea is to keep things local – and I moaned like mad when all 10 boroughs were put under restrictions because Oldham had high infection rates.   Oh, except if we’re talking abroad, where a rise in cases in one part of a country means that the entire country’s shoved on the quarantine list.  But it’s so bloody confusing that no-one’s sure what they’re allowed to do and what they’re not.  And I object strongly to the fact that restrictions are in place here when they aren’t in Corby, Middlesbrough and various other places where the infection rates are higher.  That’s not fair.

Rates in our borough had fallen.  But they’ve gone up a bit.   Trafford, Salford and Tameside are apparently all at risk of becoming “hotspots”.  I can’t see a way out of this.  All I can think is that London, like Italy, is doing better because it was further along “the curve” when restrictions were lifted, and that nowhere else is as densely populated.

And I don’t want to get my eyebrows threaded.  Nor do I want to go to a casino, a soft play centre, a bowling alley or an ice rink.  I want to be able to meet up with my family and friends in a house or garden.  Please, everyone, wear masks, wash your hands, and, above all, don’t meet up in big groups, because that seems to be what’s causing the problem.

And the actual numbers are so small anyway.  12 cases in our entire suburb, in one week.  And, because of that, this.  How long can we go on imposing restrictions because of so few cases, and with, thankfully, hardly anyone seriously ill?

Sweden, which never went into lockdown, now has the lowest infection rate in Europe.  Spain, which probably had the strictest lockdown, has by far the highest.  I’d assumed that that was due to tourists, but apparently a lot of it’s due to itinerant fruit pickers not being provided with decent accommodation and therefore being unable to observe social distancing.  In France, the virus is apparently spreading around nudist camps.

Even in areas which aren’t under local lockdown restrictions, everyone’s lost track of what they are and aren’t allowed to do.

Is a puzzlement …

 

The coronavirus era arrives in Coronation Street and Emmerdale

Are you allowed to remove your mask in a hospital setting, whilst talking to your ex-fiancé, who’s just been run over whilst pushing you out of the way of a car, about the fact that he murdered a loan shark and buried him in the woods?  Sarah Barlow, formerly Platt, nee Tilsley, did.  I don’t understand why she’s even bothering with Gary, when she’s married to Adam, but never mind.  Meanwhile, the Rovers Return, Roy’s Rolls, Speed Daal and, presumably, the Bistro – there are a lot of food outlets in Coronation Street! – are now only doing take-aways.  Does this include Betty’s hotpot?  The factory is making PPE for the NHS, nurse Aggie Bailey was unable to celebrate her 30th wedding anniversary due to having to self-isolate, Maria is desperately trying to keep up with the demand for haircuts after the salon was finally able to reopen, and Gemma regretted that social distancing meant that she couldn’t hug Abi after inadvertently upsetting her.  Over in Emmerdale, now back to proper episodes after the lockdown specials (some of which were OK, some of which were dire), it’s also take-aways only, and two characters played by high-risk actresses (Claire King, who’s got rheumatoid arthritis, and Michelle Hardwick, who’s pregnant) have disappeared, one on a business trip and one to stay with relatives.

None of the child actors are allowed to feature at the moment, either, because children require chaperones on set and that would mean more people.  Noah and Sarah in Emmerdale have been around, but I assume that those scenes were filmed pre-lockdown.  The Coronation Street teen gang of Amy, Asha, Aadi, Summer and Kelly, who are great and who had been at the centre of two plots, are out of the picture, as are all actors aged over 70 or those who are high-risk for other reasons.

It’s easy to explain that Gemma can’t hug Abi because of social distancing, and there are social distancing signs up in the cafe and the factory, but it’s a bit more difficult to explain why characters can’t get too close to their partners, children, parents or siblings!  However, social distancing didn’t stop Amy in Emmerdale from arranging a date with Lee, even if it was only in the hope that it’d make Victoria realise that she wanted Lee back.  Come to that, it didn’t stop Sarah and Charity from breaking into Priya’s house.  However, there must have had to be a fair bit of last minute rewriting.  Yasmeen in Coronation Street has even had a heart attack to explain why her courtroom appearance couldn’t take place!

Ironically, EastEnders, the one soap which usually likes to mention current events, is off air at the moment.  But, when it’s back, presumably it’ll be the same there.  The scriptwriters had to do this: soap world might not be the real world (how many people do you know whose ex-fiances murder loan sharks and bury them in woods?) but it has to mirror it to a reasonable extent.  So our favourite characters are going through it all with us!

It is very, very weird, though, watching it and knowing that neither we, the characters, the actors nor the scriptwriters have any idea what is going to happen.  Now, over 35 years after I first read The Chalet School in Exile, I know a tiny bit – obviously the pandemic is hardly to be compared with the risk of a Nazi invasion, but the uncertainty is comparable – about how it must have felt for Elinor M Brent-Dyer to write that, and for her readers to read it.

Strange times.

Strange times indeed.

The Never Ending Story

  “There upon a rainbow is an answer to a never ending story.”  Well, I wish someone could find that rainbow!   I’ve always wondered how so many people in 1914 could have been so naive as to think that what became the First World War would be over by Christmas.  Well, now I know, and I feel like I owe them an apology.   You know how the pandemic was going to peak over Easter weekend and then we were going to be pretty much back to normal by now, not just here but all over the world?  Yes, about that.  It now looks very unlikely that we’ll be going to Christmas markets and pantomimes this year.  I’ve just been told that my gym won’t be reopening until January.  The local council have said that they’re planning for restrictions to last until next summer.  People are busily cancelling things they’d rebooked for later in the year.  Will the US Open go ahead and, if so, how many players from outside the US will actually play? And as for the holiday chaos …

On a happier note, this may have been the longest league football season in history (I’m saying “league” because we’ve still got the Cup Final, the Europa League and Champions League matches to come), but at least it ended on a happy note – well, insofar as finishing third is a happy note.  The Ingalls family had Christmas in May, in The Long Winter, and United have qualified for the Champions League in July … just as we should have been recovering from Wimbledon and Euro 2020 and settling into the Olympics.  Talk about down the rabbit hole.

I was trying to find out who first said “Hope for the best, plan for the worst,” but it’s one of those quotes which seems to be attributed to a zillion different people.  It seems to be the only way to go at the moment, whomever said it.  Meanwhile, bring on those Europa League matches …

I like Whig history.  I like the idea that things move onwards and upwards.  I’m not very good with this two steps forward, one step back thing that’s going on at the moment.  Or should I be quoting Paula Abdul and saying “one step forward, two steps back,” given the worrying news about the increase in the number of cases in so many countries.  And I’m the world’s greatest overplanner: it’s part of having anxiety.  I plan everything months ahead.  I should have returned yesterday from a holiday which I booked last September.  I chose that week because I didn’t want to go away until after Wimbledon and Euro 2020 but I wanted to be back before the Olympics.  It was going to be the most wonderful summer.  Who the hell saw this coming?  OK, most people in 1914 didn’t see the First World War coming, but, if you look at things carefully, you can see how things were building up to war from well beforehand.  You can’t do that with a pandemic.

There’ve been so many pandemics before.  It’s barely a century since the Spanish flu pandemic.  Look at all the outbreaks of plague over the centuries.  But we didn’t think it could happen.  Even when coronavirus first appeared, who would ever have thought that it would go like this?  SARS, bird flu, Zika virus … they all hit the headlines for a few weeks, if that, then vanished.   I keep thinking about what Ashley Wilkes says in Gone With The Wind, about the Gotterdammerung.  Previous generations faced world wars, the Cold War, the fear of the bomb, but nothing could stop us.  Then this did.

 

Quarantunes

Are there any songs about lockdown and social distancing yet?   There ought to be.  There are always songs about difficult times.  There are so many wartime songs; and there are songs about famine, about the Depression, about the Cold War, about apartheid, about AIDS pandemic in the 1980s, and about slavery.  Maybe there are coronavirus era songs.  I’m so old and out of touch that I probably wouldn’t know 🙂 – I only listen to stations playing music from the 1980s and early 1990s.

I can hear pretty much any well-known songs from the mid-’80s to the mid-’90s and know, without even having to think about it, exactly when it was around and what was going on in my life at the time.  For example, a good song for this month – other than “Summer Rain” by Belinda Carlisle – would be “Back To Life” by Soul II Soul, but, great song though it is, I’ve always had a bit of a problem with it because it was number 1 on the day of the disastrous 1989 Wimbledon final, which I broke my heart over!   Songs from 1989 are like that: they immediately take me back there.

At some point in the mid-1990s, I lost my soundtrack.  Maybe I just got old and past it.  Maybe, once you’re out of full time education and have moved into the working world, things are different.  Maybe I just didn’t want my life at that time to be defined by the Spice Girls, All Saints and B*Witched!  But it feels as if there needs to be music which says 2020, which will always speak about this very strange year in our lives.

Maybe there will be.    Meanwhile, here’s a list of ten old favourites which all seem to say something about a time their composers and singers could never have seen coming.

  1.  Depeche Mode, Enjoy The Silence – this was a song for very early on in lockdown, when it hit me that I could hear bees buzzing and birds singing, because there was no traffic noise.  The traffic noise is back now.  It’s one thing I really didn’t miss!
  2.  Bryan Adams, Summer of ’69 – this (just slightly ahead of Eternal Flame by The Bangles) is my all-time favourite, and the lines about “Ain’t no use in complaining”,” And now the times are changing” and “I guess nothing can last for ever” seem very apt for 2020.
  3.  Dame Vera Lynn RIP, We’ll Meet Again – it was so sad that the great Dame Vera died in the middle of all this, and just when that wonderful wartime song, quoted by the Queen in her speech in April, was inspiring and comforting everyone all over again.  April seems so long ago now, but I’m still welling up when I think about that song and that speech.
  4.  A-ha, Stay On These Roads – another one for the days of full lockdown.  “We shall meet, I know.”
  5.  Roxette, Spending My Time – this was one for the more difficult days, when it felt as if we were just marking time.  Roxette songs are great for difficult times.  “Life will go on.”
  6.  The Beautiful South, Manchester – ignoring the jokes about the rain (it was actually dry and sunny throughout late March, April and much of May), this has been a time for staying close to home.  For weeks and weeks, I barely left my own suburb, because we weren’t supposed to go out except for essential shopping and an hour a day’s exercise!   I must go into town again soon: businesses need our support.
  7.  Georgie Fame, Sitting In the Park – I have been to the park nearly every day.  I don’t know what I’d have done without it, those first weeks.
  8.  Belinda Carlisle, Summer Rain – how typical of the Great British Weather that we had blue sky and sunshine throughout the weeks when we couldn’t go out, and now, when people want to be heading off on days out and staycations, it’s one wet day after another.
  9.  Soul II Soul, Back To Life – Wimbledon traumas aside, this really is a song for July 2020, as well as for July 1989.  “Back to life, back to reality …” … well, sort of.
  10.  The Proclaimers, Over And Done With – this is the ultimate anti-anxiety song.  Will this nightmare ever be over and done with?  Well, yes, it will.  One day.

 

I need a 2020 song about 2020, though.  But I’m so out of touch that I don’t even know who’s in the charts these days.  Are they even still called “the charts”?  Someone from the ’80s record a song about social distancing and masks and everything else about these strange, strange times, to bring us together and help us get through it all, please?   And so that there’ll be music about these times, like there’s music about the difficult times of the past.

Socially-distanced strawberry-picking – a lockdown experience!

I’ve been going fruit-picking at Kenyon Hall Farm for many years.  The people there are wonderful.  One year, I very stupidly decided to go on a boiling hot day, straight after blood donation, left my bottle of water in the car, and started feeling faint whilst waiting in the long queue to pay.  The lovely owner sat me down, got me a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits, and waited with me until I felt better.

I used to go fruit-picking every year, as a child.  There was a fruit farm not far from where my maternal grandparents lived, and we used to go there with them.  But, over the years, a lot of “pick your own” fruit farms have closed … so I was delighted when I came across Kenyon Hall.  When I first started going there, they just had the fields and a polytunnel.  I’ve seen them build a café and a farm shop, put in extra polytunnels as a plant centre, and even put in a kids’ playground.  It’s quite a North West institution now: people from Manchester to Liverpool go every year to pick berries in the summer and pumpkins in the autumn.  Running a fruit farm at the mercy of the Great British Weather isn’t always easy, and, even just over the last few years, we’ve had gales, heavy snow in March, floods, heatwaves and droughts, but they always manage to produce fruit for us to pick even so!

Normally, I just turn up at 9 o’clock on a Saturday or Sunday morning, and off to the strawberry fields or raspberry canes I go.  It’s amazing.  You’re very close to both the East Lancs Road and the M6 there, but it feels like being right out in the country: it always makes me feel as if I’ve been transported into an Enid Blyton summer holiday book.

But, this year, the coronavirus pandemic struck.  At first, we didn’t even know if we’d be able to go fruit-picking at all.  The website kept saying that the fruit was coming along, and that they hoped that they’d be able to open, but we just didn’t know.  However, thankfully, restrictions were eased before we got into the swing of strawberry season.  I think I’ve been in July before, but strawberries really ought to be picked in June.  It just goes.  Because June goes with Wimbledon … even though Wimbledon’s now almost entirely in July, since the decision (which I had been saying needed taking for years!) to make the grass court season a week later was taken.  There’s no Wimbledon this year 😦 .  This crazy year when, on the Saturday before Wimbledon should be starting, United are playing in an FA Cup quarter final.  But there are still strawberries.

However, there’s also social distancing.  So, as with a lot of other things at the moment, you have to book a slot for fruit-picking.  And how manic has it been?  I don’t think anyone anticipated what it would be like!   It’s always popular, but, with most kids still off school, and now having been off school for over 3 months and being very bored, and a surprising number of adults still off work, it seems as if everyone wants to go fruit-picking!  And, quite apart from the social distancing issue, it’s still relatively early in the season and there just aren’t enough strawberries to meet demand.  I sort of have it my head that the fields magically replenish themselves overnight, so that, after a day’s picking, there’ll be a load of new strawberries there in the morning!   But, er, it doesn’t work like that.  500 tickets were released this Monday for this Wednesday, and they were snapped up within 20 minutes!

I’d hoped to go on Saturday or Sunday morning.  Given that the weather’s broken with a vengeance, it’s a jolly good job that that plan didn’t work out!   I checked the website every 10 minutes on Tuesday afternoon … and saw that, wa-hay, to give extra slots, they were now opening until 7pm!  Previously, the last slot’d been 3:45pm.  So I could go on a weekday.  There were evening slots for Thursday.  I grabbed one, quick!

I don’t often strike lucky, but, this time, I did.  It’d been a boiling hot day, but it’d cooled down a bit by half 5 … and the hot, dry weather meant that the field was dusty, not muddy, so I could kneel down rather than having to keep bending over!    I filled my four punnets, and the little punnet that you got included with the booking price, and I smiled all the way through.  What a lovely, lovely evening.  And what lovely, lovely strawberries!  And they do always taste that bit better when you’ve picked them yourself!

Thank you so much, Kenyon Hall.  You’re bringing a lot of pleasure to a lot of people.  You always do, but it’s appreciated all the more in this very difficult year.   I just wish that I could wave a magic wand so that the field would magically replenish itself every night!  All being well,  I’ll be back when the raspberries come!   In the meantime, I shall eat some more of these lovely strawberries.

 

 

Tennis is back … going well in London, disaster in the Balkans

It is lovely to have some live tennis to watch, and I’m pleased to say that everyone involved in the tournament at the LTA National Tennis Centre, organised with scrupulous care by Jamie Murray, is following the protocols/safety measures made necessary by the coronavirus pandemic.  Unfortunately, the Adria Tour in Serbia and Croatia ended in disaster, with four players and a number of connected people – including a heavily pregnant woman – testing positive for the virus after players stood in a row with their arms round each other, hugged at the net, and partied in a nightclub.  We’ve now got the unedifying spectacle of Novak Djokovic’s dad saying that it was all Grigor Dimitrov’s fault, because he tested positive first!  Excuse me?  This is not the school playground.  You can’t go around pointing the finger at another person and saying “Miss, it was his fault, he started it”.  No-one intended to cause any harm to anyone else, but none of them were behaving appropriately.  Yes, it’s really horrible that we can’t hug our friends or go out partying, but this is how it is.  *Everyone* needs to take responsibility for what they’re doing in the current situation.  Actions have consequences.  Oh, guys, what were you thinking?!

No-one’s done this on purpose.  None of the players would have been there if they’d known they had the virus.  And, to be fair, no-one broke any rules.  Serbia and Croatia have not been badly affected by the virus, and social distancing rules there are far less strict than they are in many other countries.  This is possibly going to be an issue as borders reopen and travel resumes.  Crowds are allowed into sports stadia … and 5 players at Crvena Zvedza (Red Star Belgrade) have tested positive.  But the players should have known better.  You can’t even say that they were a bunch of silly young lads who didn’t think – three of the players affected are in their 30s or late 20s.

We all make mistakes.  The tournament was meant to raise money for charity.  But we all need to take more care at the moment.  I’m sick of seeing people on buses without face masks, and big crowds gathering in the park.  We’ve been hearing about “lockdown raves” and street parties.  It’s not on.

Actions have consequences.  This has made headlines all over the world.  It’s put the resumption of tennis, and of other sports which haven’t restarted yet, in danger.  Tourism chiefs on the Dalmatian coast are worried that it might put people off visiting.  And the players’ reputations have suffered lasting damage: I’m seeing headlines like “Djo-cov-idiot”.  Please, please, let’s all think about what we’re doing, and take care, for our own sakes and those of everyone else.

Of football, hairdressers, techno-trauma, anxiety and Blytonesque picnics

  Now life will return in this electric storm … .  Well, this has been quite a week.

On the plus side, the Premier League and the Championship are back.  Hooray!!  And the US Open is going ahead, although I’ve got mixed feelings about that because I know that a lot of players don’t want to travel at the moment.  And, hooray, assuming that hairdressing salons do, as expected, get the go-ahead to reopen on July 4th, I’ve got an appointment at 8am on July 5th.  Yes, 8am, on a Sunday, and no, the salon does not normally open then, but people are frantic for haircuts!   Also, non-essential shops have reopened, which will hopefully give the economy an urgently-needed boost – I’ve already sadly heard that a number of people I know have been made redundant – and save a lot of jobs.

Oh, how wonderful is to have football back?  I have missed it *so* much.  Having no live sport for over two months was very weird indeed, and it was getting on for three months when Villa and Sheffield United finally took the field on Wednesday night, followed by City and Arsenal.  And, on Friday night, it was us!   United v Spurs.  Well, Spurs v United.  It’d been a very long wait.  Normally I’d say that a draw at Spurs was a good result, but we should never have conceded that goal.  What were De Gea and Maguire doing?   But we’re talking about defensive errors.  We’re talking about the blooper that Hawk-Eye made by disallowing Sheffield United’s goal.  This is sort of normality.  OK, it’s not normal when the stadia are empty, but it’s a big step forward.

I love the piped noise!  I thought it might sound awful, like canned laughter on sitcoms.  But it was great. Watching the first Bundesliga matches after the restart was very, very odd, with that deathly silence.  Even watching United v LASK Linz, behind closed doors in March, my own team winning a resounding victory, was very odd with no noise.  But the piped noise really is great.  As long as no-one presses the wrong button, like the unfortunate moment when the Juventus piped noise cheered rather than groaned when Ronaldo missed a penalty!

None of the matches so far have been that great.  That’s inevitable.  The players aren’t match fit, and, like the rest of us, they’re no doubt a bit dazed with how their world’s been turned upside down in the last three months.  But it’s back.  We can get back to stressing about whether our teams are going to clinch a Champions League or Europa League place, or stay safe from relegation, or, if you’re a Liverpool fan, when the title will be won.  We can get back to moaning about and criticising 😉 the players, the managers, the officials and the technology – first match back and goal line technology got it wrong!  We can drool over the good stuff – and there was some good stuff.  And we can get back to discussing it all with our families and friends.

And the bad stuff.  On Tuesday night, we had the worst storm we’ve had in decades.  It was just horrendous.  And my broadband went off.  I assumed that the water’d upset a connection somewhere.  I managed to get through to BT on Wednesday morning, and they sent an engineer on Thursday.  I thought it’d be sorted within an hour or so.  Instead, he said that:

  1.  The hub had been damaged by lightning.  They would send a new hub by post, but, “due to coronavirus”, would not let me book an engineer to set it up and reconnect all my devices.
  2. He had had to rewire the phone.  The phone in the study works – although it’s still fuzzy, but the fuzziness goes off when the hub’s disconnected, and he claimed that it’d work OK when the new hub was in – but the phones in the front room and the bedroom are now dead, and I’ve got no answering machine.  He refused to rewire the other phones “because of coronavirus” and said that I would have to order wireless phones and set them up myself.

At this point, I lost it.  I suffer badly from anxiety, and I can’t take medication for it because of the side-effects.  I had quite a bad breakdown in 2013.  I was so upset that my mum and dad had to come round – OK due to the “support bubble”.   It then got worse when the wireless phones came but didn’t work properly – the line’s so fuzzy that I can barely hear what the other person’s saying, and they can’t hear what I’m saying.  I don’t know whether the handsets or base are faulty, or whether the engineer messed something up.  The line is now clear on the old phone, but, as I said, the phones in the front room and the bedroom are now dead, and I’ve got no answering machine

Better news is that, touch wood, I managed to get the new hub working.  And I’m eternally grateful to my mum and dad, to my cousin who helped me “tether” my laptop to my mobile phone whilst I was waiting for the new hub, and to my lovely supportive Whatsapp groups – a family group and a friends group.  Work, on the other hand, tried to hassle me into going into the office to work there, and I ended up getting so upset and stressed that I said I was having two days off ill with anxiety.

I wish I could get this phone situation resolved.  Meanwhile, this whole nightmare really brought it home to me how dependent we are on technology.  We could not have “done” lockdown 25 years ago.  A lot of people are doing grocery shopping online.  I’m not, but I’m ordering a lot of stuff from Amazon.  I need the internet to prebook visits to National Trust and English Heritage sites.  And where I’d be without Facebook and Whatsapp, I just do not know.

It’s also really brought it home to me that we’re going to be hearing “becauseofcoronavirus” as an excuse for crap service for months to come.  I pay BT good money for their service.  They should not have disconnected my sockets and refused to reconnect them.

 

On a different and more cheerful note, I went to Brodsworth Hall on Saturday.  They did have a small mobile catering outlet open, but a lot of people had brought picnics.   It was the same at Tatton Park.  And, at our own Heaton Park, I’m seeing loads of people bringing tables, chairs, and enormous picnics.  I’m not just talking about a few sandwiches and packets of crisps: I’m talking about huge spreads, like people have in Enid Blyton books.  In fact, it goes back way before then.  The whole gang go for a big picnic in Jane Austen’s Emma!  In children’s books set in the inter-war years and (forget a little thing called rationing) the immediate post-war years, everyone’s always going out for picnics.  The Chalet School girls lug all sorts of food up mountains with them … usually managing to forget the lemonade.  And Toad, Mole, Badger and Ratty eat even more than the Famous Five et al do.

I think picnics used to be a lot more common.  Think of the days of big Sunday School picnics.  Even when I was a kid, in the early ’80s, we had a big picnic basket, and we’d go out for picnics with the extended family.  But they seemed to be dying out, as it got so much easier to buy food on the go.  Why lug your own stuff when you could grab sandwiches and crisps wherever you were?  But now, with a lot of cafes sadly closed, although many are doing a brilliant job with their takeaway services, and people meeting up in the park because you aren’t supposed to meet up indoors unless you’re in a support bubble, it feels as if picnics are making a big comeback.

I am not having Blytonesque picnics, I hasten to add!  I am far too lazy to make all that stuff, and, as I’m on a permanent diet, I’d be far too stressed about the calories anyway.  But still.

And, finally, I was sad to hear of the death of Dame Vera Lynn.  I know she was 103 and no-one lives for ever, but she was such a respected and iconic figure, and it’s very poignant that she should have gone just when “We’ll Meet Again” was inspiring the country over 75 years after it did the first time round.

Well, this has certainly been an eventful week.  Please, please let the phone saga get sorted soon.  Meanwhile, if anyone’s read all that, thank you, and I hope you’re enjoying the football, enjoying your picnic, and have got yourself booked in for a haircut!

 

Support bubbles, scones and snapdragons

I am now in a “support bubble”.    This means that I can go round to my mum and dad’s and actually go inside, that they can come to mine and actually come inside, and that I have actually had a hug for the first time in 12 weeks.  I have also had a cream tea of sorts (tea in a takeaway cup, scone in a wrapper) somewhere other than my own garden for the first time since the middle of March.  And I have been round the gardens at Quarry Bank Mill and Tatton Park.   And, hooray, the Premier League resumes next week.   Now, if I could just have my hair cut and coloured, so that I could a) stop having to clean spray-on wash-in hair dye out of the bath and b) look rather less like I’m about to start singing an ’80s power ballad … .  OK, I’m always singing ’80s power ballads, but the look doesn’t really work in 2020.  But hooray for support bubbles, scones and snapdragons.

Has anyone else wondered if somehow they’ve fallen down a rabbit hole into a world where everything’s completely mad?   I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Cheshire Cat, the March Hare and the (Mad) Hatter all turned up on my doorstep.

I cannot think of any other time in history, or even in myth or legend, where you haven’t been allowed to hug your own family and friends.    It really is strange.  But, hey, thanks to the support bubble, we’re getting somewhere!   A “support bubble” is an arrangement between a single adult household and one other household to form a “bubble” within which social distancing need not be observed.  Fortunately, our situation’s straightforward.  Mum and Dad are together, so I didn’t have to choose between them.  My sister isn’t a single adult household, so they didn’t have to choose between her and me.

And, hooray, unlike Dunham Massey and Lyme Park, Quarry Bank Mill (Styal) and Tatton Park are letting people into the gardens.  Even better, the weather has actually behaved this weekend.  Blue sky!  It feels like … well, it feels like the grass court season should be here, but it isn’t.  Oh well.  But at least there are flowers.  It’s so lovely to see big gardens, full of flowers, again.

And so peaceful.  The public parks, especially at weekends, are full of kids on bikes, adults on bikes, kids on scooters, dogs … it’s like playing some sort of computer game in which you have to try to steer a path (at a 6 foot distance!) between all the hazards.  That’s why I’ve kept saying how ridiculous it was that big estates like Tatton Park were closed.  With so few places open, it was inevitable that we’d all be crowding into public parks.

Tatton Park, although National Trust members don’t have to pay to go into the house (which isn’t open ATM) or gardens, isn’t run by the NT, and, with all due respect to the NT, its management have shown a lot more sense, by getting the tearoom open.  The nice Gardener’s Cottage is shut, but The Stables tearoom is open for takeaways.  There’s a big outdoor seating area in the courtyard anyway, and more space has been made so that more tables and chairs can go out there.  They must have made a lot of money today.  Good for them.  It made me think of Mrs Merriwether in Gone With The Wind, pulling herself together and selling her pies, instead of bemoaning the collapse of her world.  A lot of local cafes and restaurants are doing takeaways now.  Good for all of them.  I very much hope that they all survive this horrible time.

And I really needed those peaceful gardens this week, because there seems to be so much anger and hatred everywhere.   What happened to all that talk, in April, about community spirit, when Captain Tom Moore was inspiring us all?  This week’s been awful.  Say you’re upset because someone vandalised a statue of the man who saved Britain from the Nazis, and someone accuses you of being a racist.  Point out that most policemen would are neither racist nor violent, and someone accuses you of “white privilege”. How did the peaceful Black Lives Matter protests become twisted like this?  The Guardian newspaper prints a cartoon depicting Priti Patel as a bull with a ring through her nose.  Whilst you don’t expect decency from what the Guardian‘s become, overt racism, and in a way that’s also religiously offensive, from a well-known newspaper is very shocking, particularly so at a time when so many people have been speaking out about the damage done by racism.   A woman who’s been a victim of sexual violence says that she thinks there’s a need for single sex spaces, and she’s threatened with rape.  What is going on here?   These are very difficult times.  We need to be working together, not hurling vile abuse at each other.

And as for the fact that, after 12 weeks of working from home, we still haven’t had so much as one e-mail asking if we’re OK …

But we have support bubbles.  And we have scones.  And we have gardens.  And we have each other.  And, this weekend, we also have sunshine!

Support bubbles, scones and snapdragons

I am now in a “support bubble”.    This means that I can go round to my mum and dad’s and actually go inside, that they can come to mine and actually come inside, and that I have actually had a hug for the first time in 12 weeks.  I have also had a cream tea of sorts (tea in a takeaway cup, scone in a wrapper) somewhere other than my own garden for the first time since the middle of March.  And I have been round the gardens at Quarry Bank Mill and Tatton Park.   And, hooray, the Premier League resumes next week.   Now, if I could just have my hair cut and coloured, so that I could a) stop having to clean spray-on wash-in hair dye out of the bath and b) look rather less like I’m about to start singing an ’80s power ballad … .  OK, I’m always singing ’80s power ballads, but the look doesn’t really work in 2020.  But hooray for support bubbles, scones and snapdragons.

Has anyone else wondered if somehow they’ve fallen down a rabbit hole into a world where everything’s completely mad?   I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Cheshire Cat, the March Hare and the (Mad) Hatter all turned up on my doorstep.

I cannot think of any other time in history, or even in myth or legend, where you haven’t been allowed to hug your own family and friends.    It really is strange.  But, hey, thanks to the support bubble, we’re getting somewhere!   A “support bubble” is an arrangement between a single adult household and one other household to form a “bubble” within which social distancing need not be observed.  Fortunately, our situation’s straightforward.  Mum and Dad are together, so I didn’t have to choose between them.  My sister isn’t a single adult household, so they didn’t have to choose between her and me.

And, hooray, unlike Dunham Massey and Lyme Park, Quarry Bank Mill (Styal) and Tatton Park are letting people into the gardens.  Even better, the weather has actually behaved this weekend.  Blue sky!  It feels like … well, it feels like the grass court season should be here, but it isn’t.  Oh well.  But at least there are flowers.  It’s so lovely to see big gardens, full of flowers, again.

And so peaceful.  The public parks, especially at weekends, are full of kids on bikes, adults on bikes, kids on scooters, dogs … it’s like playing some sort of computer game in which you have to try to steer a path (at a 6 foot distance!) between all the hazards.  That’s why I’ve kept saying how ridiculous it was that big estates like Tatton Park were closed.  With so few places open, it was inevitable that we’d all be crowding into public parks.

Tatton Park, although National Trust members don’t have to pay to go into the house (which isn’t open ATM) or gardens, isn’t run by the NT, and, with all due respect to the NT, its management have shown a lot more sense, by getting the tearoom open.  The nice Gardener’s Cottage is shut, but The Stables tearoom is open for takeaways.  There’s a big outdoor seating area in the courtyard anyway, and more space has been made so that more tables and chairs can go out there.  They must have made a lot of money today.  Good for them.  It made me think of Mrs Merriwether in Gone With The Wind, pulling herself together and selling her pies, instead of bemoaning the collapse of her world.  A lot of local cafes and restaurants are doing takeaways now.  Good for all of them.  I very much hope that they all survive this horrible time.

And I really needed those peaceful gardens this week, because there seems to be so much anger and hatred everywhere.   What happened to all that talk, in April, about community spirit, when Captain Tom Moore was inspiring us all?  This week’s been awful.  Say you’re upset because someone vandalised a statue of the man who saved Britain from the Nazis, and someone accuses you of being a racist.  Point out that most policemen would are neither racist nor violent, and someone accuses you of “white privilege”. How did the peaceful Black Lives Matter protests become twisted like this?  The Guardian newspaper prints a cartoon depicting Priti Patel as a bull with a ring through her nose.  Whilst you don’t expect decency from what the Guardian‘s become, overt racism, and in a way that’s also religiously offensive, from a well-known newspaper is very shocking, particularly so at a time when so many people have been speaking out about the damage done by racism.   A woman who’s been a victim of sexual violence says that she thinks there’s a need for single sex spaces, and she’s threatened with rape.  What is going on here?   These are very difficult times.  We need to be working together, not hurling vile abuse at each other.

And as for the fact that, after 12 weeks of working from home, we still haven’t had so much as one e-mail asking if we’re OK …

But we have support bubbles.  And we have scones.  And we have gardens.  And we have each other.  And, this weekend, we also have sunshine!

 

(I know this is in twice – Facebook had a strop and wouldn’t share the first one, so I had to repost it!)