Welcome to Lockdown II – the lights go out, the facilities stay open

  Lockdown II started on November 5th.  At least the date’s easy to remember, remember.  Blackpool Illuminations have been switched off mid-season for the first time since 1939.  The Army have occupied Pontins in Southport.  Parts of Fallowfield have been turned into a prison camp.  Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is probably wishing he’d been furloughed.  Andy Burnham has given a speech about Hilda Ogden’s muriel.  Memes are going round about the House of Commons Nativity Play being cancelled because no-one can find three wise men.  Denmark has been taken off the travel corridor list because the virus is mutating in mink.  And the US presidential election is about to be decided by Clayton County.  “Take a good look, my dear.  It’s a historic moment.”

It really isn’t funny, even though it sometimes sounds it.

Infection rates are still going up.  The North West continues to be the worst-affected part of the country.  Some hospitals are starting to struggle.  More and more jobs and businesses are going, despite the furlough scheme and the other support being made available.  And there’s no end in sight.  It was bad enough in the spring, when the days were longer, summer was coming, and people weren’t mentally exhausted from months and months of restrictions.  “Super Saturday” was on July 4th.  Greater Manchester was put under additional restrictions on July 31st.  Didn’t get much of a respite from it all, did we?  And the doom merchants are claiming that the lockdown will be extended until March.  Like Narnia under the White Witch – always winter, never Christmas.

It won’t go on until March.  The economy wouldn’t take it.  But the bloody Tier 3 restrictions might well go on till March – the Welsh authorities are abandoning local lockdowns, but the English authorities seem dead set on pursuing them.  Like last time, the weather’s turned nice just as we aren’t supposed to be going anywhere.  I’d booked to go round Blackpool Illuminations on a heritage tram tomorrow.  It would have been lovely, in this weather.  And Blackpool’s desperate for tourism business.  But Greater Manchester and 1974-admin-borders Lancashire class as separate areas for Tier 3 travel restrictions purposes, so that was messed up a few weeks ago.  And now, with Lockdown II, the Illuminations have been switched off.  For the first time since 1939, when they had to be switched off so that they wouldn’t shine through the blackout.

The Tower remains lit, so that it can be a symbol of hope.

United’s terrible start to the season is not the fault of the virus, to be fair.   And it was really rather sweet of Andy Burnham to take a few minutes out to congratulate Coronation Street on its forthcoming 60th anniversary.   But what on earth were the idiots in charge of the University of Manchester thinking of when they decided to put metal fences round halls of residence in Fallowfield, as a “Covid security measure”?  I’m sure we’re all well aware that there’ve been issues with the virus spreading at universities, but you can’t just put fences around people’s accommodation, like a prison camp.  Most of the people living in halls are 18 or 19-year-old kids who’d never lived away from home until the middle of September.  Use a bit of sense, please.  Following an outcry by students and the general public, the fences are being removed a day after they were put up.

That particular cunning plan was so ridiculous that even Baldrick wouldn’t have come up with it.  However, two other cunning plans are supposed to offer more hope.  And, like everything else seems to do at the moment, they centre on the North West.  One is a “lateral flow” virus test which gives results in half an hour, and is being trialled in Blackburn.  The other is mass testing in Liverpool.   Mass testing was supposed to be being trialled in Salford earlier in the year, but it didn’t seem to get very far.  Maybe this’ll work better.  It’s being carried out by soldiers.  Who are being accommodated at Pontins in Southport.

It’s no better anywhere else.  And at least we aren’t about to massacre 17 million mink, which Denmark is having to do.

This won’t go on for ever.  Pandemics never do.  But it would be nice to be able to see some light at the end of the tunnel.  In the meantime, at least there are still lights on Blackpool Tower.  And, hey, at least public toilets are staying open during Lockdown II, so we haven’t got to cope with all that again.  And, if anyone’s actually read all that, thank you for reading, and please look after your physical and mental health x.

Lockdown II.  Here we go again …

What is going on?

I have tried to keep faith with this government, but enough is enough.  If this lot had been in charge during the war, the Nazis would have been marching down the Mall by the middle of 1940.  I have never known such incompetence.   The announcement on tighter rules in Scotland, unpopular as it’s been in many quarters, was made last Wednesday, so people there at least know what’s going on.  We in Northern England have been left to deal with day after day of speculation in the media, leaving people distraught and anxious about their livelihoods, holidays, prospects of seeing relatives and friends, and many other matters.  Every newspaper and TV channel says something different, and all seem convinced that they are right.

Which areas will be affected?   Definitely Liverpool.  But does that just mean Liverpool, or does it mean Merseyside, meaning that places such as Southport and St Helens would be affected too?  What about us, in Manchester?  My newspaper says we will be affected.  The BBC says we will not.  Sky News says that it hasn’t been decided yet.  And, again, does “Manchester” mean the city centre or does it also mean Bury, Bolton, Oldham, Stockport, etc?  What about Newcastle?  And Leeds?  And Nottingham?  Nottingham’s infection rate, albeit largely student-driven, is now over 800 per 100,000, yet no additional restrictions at all are in place there – even though they were imposed on Rossendale when its infection rate was 4 per 100,000 and Wigan when its infection rate was 7 per 100,000.

What about smaller towns and cities where the infection rate is equal to or higher those in larger cities?  Bradford?  Preston?  Burnley?

What will it mean?  Travel restrictions?  I need to know: I’ve got a hotel booked for this weekend and next week.  Are we to banned from leaving our areas?  What does “area” mean – borough or administrative country?  Does “non-essential travel” include going to the city centre shops or to a park not within walking distance?

And which businesses will have to shut?  The initial rumour was pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants.  Now they’re saying restaurants will be able to remain open, but that gyms, casinos and bookmakers will have to shut.  One newspaper even mentioned hairdressers.  These are people’s jobs and businesses.  They need to know what’s going on.

And what about the financial support?  We’ve been told 2/3 of people’s wages, but many people working in hospitality are only on the minimum wage as it is.  What about other costs, such as rent?  What about businesses which won’t be ordered to shut, but will be severely affected, such as hotels, taxi drivers, and those in the supply chain?

There are also rumours that shielding is going to be reintroduced.

And how long for?  Four weeks initially, but some rumours say six months.  There’s due to be a complete ban on household mixing.  Are people seriously supposed to go for six months without seeing their families and friends?   There’ll be the worst mental health pandemic that’s ever been known.   And the economy will be ruined.

From what’s being said, no-one really knows, because it still hasn’t been decided, even though we’re supposed to be getting an announcement in five hours’ time.

This is beyond appalling. MPs and local council leaders, from all parties, are fuming.  There’s talk of court cases.  Everyone is anxious and distressed.

And nobody knows WTF is going on.  Meanwhile, MPs have just bagged a pay rise of over £3,000 each.  And there are no additional restrictions in any of the constituencies represented by the senior ministers.   And the fates of millions of people across the North of England hang in the balance, as we try to deal with one rumour after another and have no idea what our lives will look like by the end of this week.

Get a grip, Boris.  This is a shit situation.  But the way it’s being dealt with is inexcusable.  I’ve got two newspapers, and each one says something different, and neither of them agree with either the BBC or Sky, neither of which agree with each other.  Friends have shared rumours they’ve read elsewhere, all of which are different again.  The only thing anyone can agree on is that the government is making a mess of things.

Football’s coming back!

I’ve just inscribed on my calendar, for a fortnight on Friday, 14 glorious characters – “Spurs (A) 8:15pm”.  I don’t know why I’ve put “(A)”, because, whether it’s at White Hart Lane, Old Trafford or the Maracanã, I sadly will not be able to attend in person.  I don’t even know why I’ve put it on my calendar at all, because it’s not as if I’m likely to double book myself by arranging to go to the theatre, the cinema or a wild party that night.  But it felt so good just to be writing it – even if it was rather odd seeing a Premier League fixture written on a day when I’d already noted that England would have a Euro 2020 group match and the Queen’s and Halle tennis tournaments would be taking place.  It’s coming back, it’s coming back, it’s coming, football’s coming back!!

The huge upsurge in interest in German football since the return of the Bundesliga’s shown how much football is being missed.   La Liga and Serie A aren’t back yet, but, in attention to the Bundesliga, I’ve found Portuguese, Danish and Polish football on my TV, and I believe that Norwegian football’s coming soon!  But it’s not like being able to watch our own teams, our own league.  Bring it on!   But let’s all behave, please.  There’ve been some unwelcome scenes in Portugal: we don’t want to see that repeated anywhere else.  And, whilst we get excited over the return of the Premier League, the Championship and the Cup, and then, hopefully, the Champions League and the Europa League, let’s not forget all the clubs lower down the pyramid and beyond, and the women’s teams.  But, when Villa and Sheffield United walk out at Villa Park on June 17th, to kick off the restarted season, it’s going to be a big moment.

And I also want to say that I’m very proud of all the good work done by the Manchester United Foundation, and by individual players, especially Marcus Rashford, in these very difficult times, and that other clubs and players have done similar work.  I’m sure that that will continue.

Football matches with no fans are very weird.  We saw that when United played LASK Linz behind closed doors back in March.  It’s sad for us that we can’t go to matches, or even meet our families and friends to watch them on TV together, and it’s sad for the players that they’ve got to play without crowds.  Some players, especially those with household members in vulnerable groups, have expressed concerns about the restart, and hopefully no-one who doesn’t feel comfortable playing will be asked to do so.   And the situation is a huge blow for all the cafes, pubs, souvenir stalls etc near the grounds, which depend on income from fans going to matches or stadium tours, and for the economy as a whole.

Then, putting club rivalries aside, there’s the strange situation which Liverpool are in.  Surely, surely, Liverpool will clinch the title, maybe even within the first week of the restart.  I’ve got concerns about all clubs being asked to play so many matches in such a short space of time, especially when the players aren’t going to be at peak physical fitness, but these are strange times.   Liverpool are so close.  The title surely can’t be far away.   And they should have what United had 27 years ago.  Is it really 27 years?   Our first title for 26 years.  It was incredible: it was one of the best feelings of my life.  The Sunday when Villa slipped up against Oldham and the title was ours, and the Bank Holiday Monday night when we lifted the trophy.  Liverpool have waited 30 years – Jordan Henderson should be lifting the trophy in front of a packed, delirious Anfield crowd, people should be celebrating into the night, and then there should be an open top bus tour.  But none of that can happen.  And I’m so sorry about that.  Take that from a Manchester United season ticket holder!

But at least the Premier League and Championship  season will, all being well, be finished.  At least Liverpool should get their title, their reward for their superb season, and they will actually have that moment of winning it, not have it decided by some mathematical formula.  In some countries – France, Belgium and indeed Scotland – the league seasons won’t be finished.   Nor will they in League 1, League 2 and all the women’s leagues here.  Places have been or will be decided one way or another – points per match, current standings, whatever works best – but it’s not the same as finishing it properly.  In some of the lower leagues here – I’m talking non-league leagues (silly expression, isn’t it?!) – the season’s been declared null and void.   OK, there are more important things than football, but that’s still sad – especially for those clubs set for promotion in the leagues where the season’s been scrapped completely.  We’re going to finish.  The title, the European places and the relegation places will be decided, fair and square.  And we’re going to have football back!

We’re going to have football back!  For an awful lot of us, life is pretty empty without sport.  Sporting fixtures and events mark out the year.   Weekends revolve around football fixtures.  Supporting a football club is part of our identity, of who we are.  Football is what people talk about – with their families, their friends, their colleagues, their schoolmates.  And life’s pretty empty full stop at the moment.   We can’t go to the theatre, the cinema, the pub, restaurants, cafes, or even round to see our families and friends.  Holidays are being cancelled right, left and centre.  You can’t go out anywhere without stressing about whether or not there’s going to be a toilet available!  We’ve already lost 2020’s Wimbledon, the Grand National, the Boat Race and so much else.   The Olympics have been postponed until next year.  Euro 2020’s now Euro 2021.

It should have been such a glorious summer of sport.  Most of that’s gone.  The US Open tennis hasn’t officially been postponed yet, but it’s very hard to see it happening: Rafa said straight out yesterday that it can’t happen, as things are.  But at least we’re going to have the Premier League, the Championship and the Cup back.

Football’s coming back!

Bring it on …