Blackpool

I went to Blackpool yesterday!!   I’d have expected to go this coming Sunday instead: I’ve got a ritual of going to Blackpool for a long walk before coming home to watch the French Open men’s singles final.  But, whilst there’s no French Open this month 😦 , there’ll always be Blackpool.  So off I went.

I know that many people are nervous about going out, and also that there are mixed feelings in tourist areas about the urgent need to restart the economy versus concerns about the risks of visitors coming in.  There are no easy answers to any of this.  I will say that walking along the wide pedestrianised areas of the Prom, and of course the beach, was a lot easier and safer than walking along narrow pavements in housing estates, having to step into the road whenever someone comes the other way, or dodging cyclists and gangs of bored teenagers in busy city parks.  And it felt great … to see the sea, to feel the famous Blackpool breeze making my already messy hair even messier, to see our beloved Tower, and to hope that The Scales would forgive me for eating ice cream and fish and chips!

The vast majority of people, whether walking along or sitting on the beach, were trying very hard to observe social distancing.  I did see a few large groups, and I also saw the police completely ignoring them.  I see this every day in my local park.  I don’t know what the answer to that is.  I do understand that two or three police officers, on foot, probably feel uneasy about tackling a group of 20 or 25 people.  But the majority of people were sticking to the rules.

And, to get back to the diet-breaking, yes, there were loads of food places open!  Places like McDonald’s weren’t, so the local, independently-owned food places were taking all the money, which was great.  The chippy which I went to had plastic screens up to protect staff, who were wearing gloves, and customers were being asked to go in one door and out another, and to wait 6 ft apart.  That was great.  Other places weren’t trying so hard:  at those, staff were not wearing gloves, and people were being told that only cash payments would be accepted for transactions under £5.  But most were really making an effort, and it was wonderful to see them open.

It was sad to see all three piers closed off, and the Tower, Madame Tussaud’s, the Pleasure Beach and all the amusement arcades closed, as well as all the hotels.  One of the big amusement places had posters in its window, innocently put up earlier in the year, advertising family fun days for Easter weekend, VE Day and Euro 2020.  I could have cried.   Our tourist places have been hit so terribly hard by this.  Hotels remain shut, and it’s proving hard to get answers about when they’re likely to reopen, even if they’re allowed to reopen in July as currently planned.  And, even if attractions are able to reopen within the next couple of months, visitor numbers will have to be limited.  Also, it’s June already, we’re not far off the Longest Day and then (to state the obvious!) days will start getting shorter, and this good weather can’t last for ever.  People won’t be rushing off for a week or even a day on the beach in November.   So I was very pleased to see people in Blackpool yesterday.  It’s a difficult balancing act, but we need to get the economy going again.

But, hooray, the toilets were open!  By the afternoon, the queues were very long – someone should write a new version of that George Formby song about Blackpool Prom, and change the bit about queues for drinks and trams to queues for toilets! – because the usual options of using the toilets in cafes, pubs, restaurants and amusement arcades weren’t there, but at least they were open.  Some local councils haven’t shown the sense or decency to reopen toilets.  Get them all open, please.  A tannoy reminded people – not that people should need reminding, but still – to put all rubbish in bins, and, to be fair, people were doing that.

Food places were open.  Toilets were open.  Blackpool was open.  The sea was there.  The beach was there.  It had a bit of a nostalgic 1950s feel: with amusement arcades closed and no option to sit in cafes, everyone was eating ice cream and fish and chips on the beach, and kids were playing football or cricket or making sandcastles with buckets and spades.  And, as I’ve said, most people were trying very hard not to get too close to others.

And it was fun.  It was lovely.  I enjoyed myself. These are very difficult times.  We deserve to enjoy ourselves.  And we need to get the economy going: we’re already facing a severe recession and large numbers of job losses.   But we need to be careful.  And most people were being careful.  As I’ve said, it’s a balancing act.  Everyone will have their own views, and what’s right for one person may not be right for another, but I never once felt unsafe.  I just felt happy and relaxed – and I really needed to feel like that.  And Blackpool can do that, even in these weird times.

If you feel safe going out, it’s OK to do so.  If you don’t, you don’t.  Everyone’s circumstances are different.  But this worked for me.