A trip into town, mayhem at the US Open, and EastEnders returns

 

 

I went into town yesterday.  It wasn’t quiet, but it was certainly nothing like as busy as it would usually be on a Sunday.  Cafes seemed a lot busier than shops, which was interesting.  OK, maybe they looked busier (in terms of having few empty tables) than they actually were, because most had fewer tables than usual due to social distancing, but they certainly *looked* quite busy.  And is the Federal Café on Deansgate now the “in” place to see and be seen?  There was a great long queue of young people outside it.  I looked at the menu and didn’t find it particularly exciting, but seemingly it’s the cool place to go. I am clearly old and out of touch!   But the shopping areas were certainly quieter than usual.  So what are the reasons why?

BTW, I took this photo because I thought the Free Trade Hall (now the Radisson) looked nice in the sunshine. Then I realised that there were skyscrapers behind it, and decided that it was deeply symbolic because it showed the history of Manchester and the modern “Manctopia” (who thought up that ridiculous expression?!) thing together!  Ooh look, you can see the Peterloo plaque (the red circle), as well!

Also, the US Open gets more bonkers every day.  And EastEnders is back tonight.  “The Paire Eleven” sounds more like something from EastEnders – maybe a list of suspects? – than something to do with a tennis tournament.

This was a Sunday, so it was nothing to do with people working from home rather than being in their offices.  A lot of people, especially older people and those with medical conditions, are obviously nervous about going out and about, especially if it means using public transport.  And people are watching the pennies, given the effect of lockdown on the economy.  I’m not sure that it’s only, or even mainly, that, though.  People go into town because they’re going to the pictures, or the theatre, or a concert, or perhaps to galleries, museums or Central Library.  A lot of people, especially away fans, go into town before football matches.  People from out of town also visit to go to concerts or musicals, or to business conferences or private functions such as weddings.  None of that’s happening at the moment.   And maybe that helps to explain why cafes are so busy.  There aren’t that many other places to go to, if you don’t want to go for a walk.

And have we all got used to buying everything on line?   I was already buying a lot of stuff online.  When you’re stuck at work 5 days a week, it doesn’t leave that much time for shopping.  And, well before all this started, most shops had reduced their staff numbers so much that it’d become very hard to find someone to ask if you couldn’t find what you wanted; and don’t get me started on the queues at checkouts.  Lockdown’s pushed even more shopping online.  It’s a big problem for shops, and obviously there are small shops which just don’t have an online presence.

Are people also being put off by the hassle of having to wear masks and follow one way systems, and maybe having to queue to get into shops.  The only place with a really long queue, incidentally, was Zara, and that was all young people.  Must all have money to burn!  I don’t know that any of that’s putting people off, but I’ve heard plenty of people say that they don’t want to go to clothes shops whilst changing rooms are closed, because they don’t want to have to waste time taking things back if they don’t fit.

There’s also the issue of toilets!   The Arndale Centre’s got ladies’ loos only open in some places, and gents’ loos only open in others, which is a bit complicated if a man and a woman are out shopping together!

I’d like to see some more research done into this.  We usually get opinion polls about anything and everything, but there seem to be very few about why people are not going into city centres as much as they did pre-pandemic.  In particular, it seems strange that cafes – and, whilst there’s a lot more outdoor seating than there used to be, most of the seating is indoor – are so much busier than shops are.

There were plenty of people sat inside cafes with people who were clearly not part of their household.  That’s against local lockdown rules, but I’m not judging anyone for that.  We’re not talking about big rave-ups, just 2, 3 or 4 people sat together.  I’m not advocating rule-breaking, but we’re going to end up with a serious mental health pandemic if people are unable to spend time with their families and close friends.

Some people were wearing masks whilst waiting to order at the till in cafes … there seems to be a lot of confusion over this.  The vast majority of people were wearing masks inside shops and inside the corridors in the Arndale Centre. But there were still a few idiots without masks.  I accept that some people are exempt on medical grounds, but I can’t believe that they all were.  One man, on being refused admission to a shop because he wasn’t wearing a mask, asked if the shop had masks, as if it was everyone’s responsibility but his!  But we’re only talking about a small minority of people.

And, instead of the usual stalls selling mobile phone covers, football souvenirs and children’s toys on Market Street, and indeed the people trying to get you to complete surveys or sign petitions, there are now lots of street traders selling masks.  Very 2020.  But good for them, for adapting to “the new normal”.   There are signs everywhere reminding people to wear masks and observe social distancing, but there are also, on King Street, morale boosting banners saying things like “New Normal, Same Manchester”, “You’re Not Alone” and “New Chapter, Same History”.  Well done to the council for that.  Heaven knows that we could all do with some morale boosting.

As for the US Open … well, without Rafa, it’s not quite the same for me, and Roger’s missing as well.  So is Stan, and so are most of the women’s top ten.  And, of course, there are no fans.  Fans are supposed to be being allowed into Stade Roland Garros for the French Open but, given the state of affairs in Paris, I’m not sure whether or not that’ll actually happen.   But it’s been brilliant to have some live tennis, especially Grand Slam tennis, to watch at last.

However, it got off to an awkward start when Novak Djokovic decided to try to set up a rival players’ union.  There were some issues over the ATP at the start of the year, but, given what’s happened since, it’s hardly the time to be making waves.  Rafa and Roger both said as much.  The idea doesn’t seem to have got very far.  Then there was the saga of the Paire Eleven.  Benoit Paire tested positive for the virus.  He had to pull out of the tournament.  We were then told that eleven other players, who’d been in close contact with him, were now in a “bubble within a bubble”.

Then some of those players, notably Kiki Mladenovic, complained that they were being treated like prisoners and escorted everywhere.  Things got farcical when Sascha Zverev and Adrian Mannarino were told, just before their match was due to start, that they’d have to wait whilst the State of New York decided whether or not Adrian, who was one of the Paire Eleven, could play.  This was a third round match.  If they had issues with Adrian playing, why wait until the third round?!  And what about the rest of the Paire Eleven?  The match eventually went ahead, after a four hour delay!   And then Kiki was told that she wasn’t allowed to leave her hotel, meaning that she and Timea Babos, the top seeds, had to pull out of the women’s doubles.  Why wait until then?  And what about the rest of the Paire Eleven?   Does anyone know what’s going on?

On top of all this, Nole lost his rag after messing up the first set of his match against Pablo Carreno Busta, and hit a ball away in anger … and it hit a line judge in the throat.  Thankfully, the line judge seems to be OK, but a ball travelling at speeds can be dangerous.  No-one’s suggesting for one second that Nole meant to hurt anyone, but, under the rules, he had to be disqualified.  It’s not the kind of headline that the US Tennis Association was hoping for!

What it does mean is that someone is going to win their first Grand Slam men’s singles title.  Annoyingly, it will not be Stef Tsitsipas, who managed to lose to Borna Coric after being 2 sets to 1 and 5-1 up.  Dominic Thiem?  Sascha Zverev?  Denis Shapovalov (I would love him to win, but am not sure he’s mature enough yet)?  Felix A-A?  Frances Tiafoe to become the first American man in years to win the US Open?   We shall see.

And EastEnders is back.   Coronation Street and Emmerdale have managed to keep going all the way through, but EastEnders has been off for weeks.  But now it’s back. And Coronation Street and Emmerdale are going back to six episodes a week.  We’re getting there!   Could we have Casualty and Holby City back as well, though, please?

 

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.