Goodbye lockdown locks, hello cafes, stay safe

  Hooray!  For the first time since March 19th, I’ve had my hair cut and coloured, and I no longer look like an ageing refugee from the 1980s (even if my music collection is still pretty much entirely 1980s).  I’ve been to my favourite café in town:  it reopened this weekend.  And, at Fountains Abbey yesterday, I had my first National Trust scone since March 14th.   I’ve been very impressed with the safety measures that most – not quite all, but most – organisations have put in place, and all the amount of hard work, not to mention that money, that’s gone into it all.  The salon’s even got a room upstairs where vulnerable or nervous clients can have their hair done away from anyone other than their stylist.

These are very strange and difficult times, and there’s no sign of things getting back to normal any time soon, but – and I do appreciate that things are different for people with health issues, and I do so wish they weren’t – we can’t shut the country down indefinitely, or else we’re going to end up with mass unemployment and a mental health pandemic.  So we need to move on.  Carefully.

We’re not using to dealing with an invisible enemy.  We can do defiance.  We marched back into town after the IRA bombing in 1996 and the Islamic fundamentalist bombing in 2017, determined that we weren’t going to be defeated by terrorists.  We’ve heard about how our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generation kept calm and carried on when the Luftwaffe were raining bombs down on our city night after night.  But, as some of our American friends are sadly finding out, defiance doesn’t work against coronavirus.   Social distancing, more frequent handwashing, wearing masks where appropriate … these are things we’ve all got to do.

It’s weird seeing hand sanitising stations at the entrances to shops, salons, cafes, restaurants, pubs and shopping centres.  It’s weird when you go to have your hair done, and you’re wearing a mask and the hairdresser’s wearing a visor – and you can’t even have a cup of tea.  It’s weird being asked to follow a one way system round the Arndale Centre, and to use certain doors only as an entrance and other doors only as an exit.

And it’s very weird indeed having to give your details when you go to a café.  That freaked me out a bit.  I’ve got a “staycation” booked for August, and I won’t be going to any cafes for three weeks prior to that.  This “test and trace” thing is not good for my anxiety, as much as I understand the need for it.  I’ve been very freaked out by the pictures from Leicester, which is in local lockdown.  Police everywhere, people being stopped and asked for their details if they’re out in their cars … again, I understand the need for it, but these are things we associate with totalitarian regimes, or at least with wartime.  Seeing that going on in a British city in peacetime is very scary indeed.

But we need to move on.  So many job cuts have sadly been announced already.  More will follow.  And there are quality of life issues: many people are beginning to struggle mentally.  And this is the only way we can move on: we’ve seen from what’s happened elsewhere that we can’t just go back to how things were.  How I wish we could.  I want to go to a football match.  I want to know that the Christmas markets are going to be on.  I’m worried about what’s going to happen to the local economy.  Metrolink’ve just spent a fortune on the Trafford Centre extension, and hardly anyone’s using it.   Hotels can reopen, but people come to Manchester to go to the theatre or live concerts or football matches, and you can’t do any of that at the moment.  I’m extremely worried about the future of theatres and live music venues.  And when will the gym reopen?

But we’re making a start.  And it’s been great.   I cannot say how relieved I am to have had my hair done!   It was getting to the point where I was amazed that people still recognised me.  And it was lovely to be back at The Vienna Coffee House.  And it was nice to feel that I was giving people my little bit of support.  I’ve been going to The Vienna Coffee House ever since it opened, I’ve been going to the same hairdresser for nearly 20 years, and my life would be very empty without the National Trust (and its scones).

Who knows when this nightmare’s ever going to end?  My respect for the generations who lived through six years of war, and then the austerity years afterwards, is growing even higher than it already was, every single day.    But this weekend’s been a big step forward.  We just all need to be so careful, and it’s not easy, when this is all so strange and different.  But most people are really trying – especially all the hairdressers and pub landlords/landladies and café/restaurant owners and managers who’ve worked so hard to get ready for reopening.   As Boris said, let’s not blow it!   Let’s enjoy it instead.

Lockdown Week 10 – May 25th to 31st 2020 inclusive

Bank Holiday Monday, May 25th

Lovely sunny day today.  I was at the National Trust car park at Alderley Edge just after half 8.  This was a good move: by the time I left, two hours later, it was nearly full.  I had a lovely walk, and went through some bits of the woods which I’ve never seen before.  The tearoom was sadly closed, but it’s reopening for takeaways next week, and I managed to get a drink from a Costa Express stand in a shop in the village.

The toilets were closed, though.  I have had it up to here with this Toilet Tyranny.  Some people are frightened to go out in case they can’t find a toilet.  Others are using bushes and trees – and these are people who’d never dream of doing anything so disgusting normally.  People who live in tourist areas have said that … well, that the results of the toilets being closed are too disgusting to talk about.  The Victorians who did so much to improve public sanitation must be turning in their graves.  This is appalling.  Get those toilets open.

Due to Toilet Tyranny, I then came home, but, later, I drove into town (i.e. central Manchester).  It’s much easier walking round town than it is walking round the suburbs, because the pavements are wider, and Deansgate’s been temporarily closed to traffic from Kendals northwards.  I had a walk round, and (despite being fat enough already) had an ice cream (my first 99 for more than two months!!) in Piccadilly Gardens.

And, hooray, the Arndale toilets were open!  I do not normally write about toilets, but it can’t be helped at the moment!

There was a gang of 13 teenage lads hanging around near Exchange Square.  Later, when I went for my daily walk in the park, I saw 10 lads cycling together, a load of games of football and cricket going on, and people letting their kids climb over the fence into the playground despite all the “Closed due to coronavirus” signs.  I’m not judging anyone, but the point is that this situation’s ridiculous.  Lockdown cannot be enforced any more: people have had enough.  Let parks and gardens at National Trust etc places reopen.  As long as social distancing measures are out in place, let cafes reopen.  Then at least we’re not all having to gather in the same places, and at least some organisations’ll be earning some money.   It’d be a lot safer than carrying on like this.  Sermon over!!

And, hooray, three soaps on TV tonight!


Tuesday, May 26th

I’ve written to my MP to ask why National Trust and English Heritage gardens and parks are not allowed to reopen when public parks are packed out, and why people are being left to use the great outdoors as a toilet because councils refuse to reopen public facilities.  I doubt it’ll do any good, but I’ve tried!

Tesco and M&S this morning, then to the office to leave some stuff and collect more.  I’m not saying much about work as I’m very upset about the way we are being treated, but probably shouldn’t say too much about it on a public blog.

Shops are all allowed to reopen from mid-June, hooray!  Well, as long as it’s safe.  And, as Sky News said, if shops are open, surely the stupid councils will have to reopen the toilets.  I’m not sure how this is going to work, though.  Are they going to monitor the number of people going into the Arndale Centre and the Trafford Centre, or just into each individual shop?  But, sadly, this does not include hairdressing salons.

Watching Borussia Dortmund v Bayern Munich, and hoping to see the Premier League back next month.


Wednesday, May 27th

Another nice sunny day today.  I went to the park early afternoon, and to the frozen yoghurt shop and the flower part after the “home office” had closed!

The BBC – making a rare effort to discuss things which actually matter to people! – did a big feature on the Great Toilet Tyranny this morning.  They interviewed someone from the British Toilet Association (yes, there is one!), someone from Crohn’s and Colitis UK about what a nightmare this is for people with particular medical conditions, and a delivery driver who said that he and his colleagues were being forced to use buckets in the backs of their lorries.  It’s absolutely appalling.  Why are the petty tyrants on local councils allowed to treat people like this?

Looks as if High Street shops will not be rushing to reopen 😦 .  Too easy to take the furloughing payments instead!  Yes, they need to put social distancing measures in place, but supermarkets have had to do that from the start, without any sort of precedent to follow.  If the big names don’t reopen, it’ll put people off going to city/town centres and shopping centres, and then that’ll kill it for small independent shops.

On a happier note, it looks as if progress is being made with Project Restart.  Getting football going ahead would be such a boost.  Fingers crossed!


Thursday, May 28th

Another sunny day – had a nice walk in the park,  And, hooray, the Premier League is restarting on June 17th!!  The matches in hand have to be played first, fair enough, so City’ll restart before we do, but then everyone should play that weekend.  We’re due to play Spurs.  Hooray!!

And Dunham Massey, Lyme Park and Styal are reopening!  Well, the parkland is.  I suspect that there’ll be an absolute stampede for tickets when booking opens in the morning, but I shall certainly try!

I really did need those pick-me-ups today.  My weight has gone all wrong this week – and I don’t know why, because I haven’t done anything differently to last week.  And I am so sick of work.  Nearly 10 weeks of working from home and not so much as an e-mail asking if we’re OK, just moaning and complaining about everything that doesn’t run 100% smoothly.  As one of my colleagues said, millions of people are getting paid 80% of their wages to sit around sunning themselves in their gardens or in parks – although it’s obviously not their fault that their workplaces are closed – whilst we’re chained to laptops and not even getting a word of thanks!

It’s the last Clap for our Carers tonight.  There’s supposed to be a sing-a-thon at half 7, but I’m not sure people are going to bother with that, but it’s a shame about Clap for our Carers.  As with everything else, people are using it to try to score political points.

And my nephews’ school has said that my elder nephew can’t go back until the end of June, and then only in the mornings, and that my younger nephew can’t go back until September.  So much for all primary schools reopening on June 1st!  My sister is not pleased!


Friday, May 29th

I thought that booking for the National Trust sites would open at 9, but I had a look at 7 and it was already open, and the 10am slot for Dunham Massey for next Saturday was already unavailable.  I got half 10, though!  And 10 o’clock for Lyme Park on the Sunday – it said not to book up a load of slots, but I decided that one for each of two different properties should be OK.  It said “parks and gardens”, so I got my hopes up that the gardens’d be open, but it’s just the parkland … but it’s a start!

And dates have now been pencilled in for the Cup, as well as the League.

Also, it was announced last night that groups of up to 6 people from different households can now meet outdoors, including in private gardens.  (There were two groups of well over 20 people in the park, incidentally.)  So Mum and Dad are going to London next week, to see my sister and bro-in-law and the kids.  I’m really pleased for them … but sad that I’m out of it.  Weekends are the only time that bro-in-law isn’t chained to his laptop/phone, so it wouldn’t be a good time for me to go.  I wish I knew that I’d definitely be able to go to the Lakes, or somewhere, in August if not in July.  I’m struggling a bit with being chained to the office laptop all day, especially when a) I see other people enjoying themselves in the park (OK, at least I can go for walks in the park, but still) and b) work haven’t given us one shred of support.  A bit of kindness goes a long way, though.  I had nice e-mails from two clients today, and they cheered me up.

And, hooray, it’s the weekend.


Saturday, May 30th

Another hot, sunny day.  It’s been the driest, sunniest spring on record.  Whilst there are now growing concerns about water shortages, please do not let the dry spell end just as hotels reopen … July or August!

I went to Hollingworth Lake this morning.  The Olive and Pickle’s now doing quite a lot of takeaway stuff, and other places are also open for chips, ice cream etc.  Sadly, the toilets are still not open.  Had a lovely walk, then came home.  Week 10 of Scones in the Garden – it started with daffodils, and now we’re on to roses.

Later, Mum and Dad came round to sit in the garden for a bit.  Technically, you’re not meant to sit in other people’s gardens until Monday morning, but jumping the gun by a day and a half was pretty mild compared to all the rule-breaking going on in the park, where I went later – groups of 20-odd people sat together, gangs of lads on bikes practically running people over, and three police officers strolling around, doing nothing!  This is stupid.  Groups of 20-odd people sit around together, there are gangs of bored teenagers all over the place, but pubs aren’t allowed to reopen beer gardens and hairdressers aren’t allowed to reopen.  FFS.

Live sport from June 1st’s got the go-ahead, so the Premier League and the FA Cup are definitely on for a restart!!  Hooray!!


Sunday, May 31st

Blackpool!!  Hooray!!  I’d normally have been going a week today, because I’ve got a weird ritual thing about going to Blackpool before watching the French Open men’s singles final, but nothing’s normal this year.  But I’ve been!  What a lovely day.  I was there at half 8, and it was already warm and sunny.  And pretty quiet, at that time.  It got busy later, but not too busy, and, apart from a few large family groups – totally ignored by the police – most people were trying to observe social distancing.  Even in the queues for the public toilets which, with cafes, pubs and arcades closed, were pretty long by the afternoon!  And it’s much easier on the prom and the beach than trying to dodge the crowds in parks.

Loads of food places along the front were open.  I’d taken some salad with, but, ahem, succumbed first to an ice cream and then to fish and chips.  The Scales will hang, draw and quarter me for that, but it was so nice!   It was all rather 1950s, everyone eating fish and chips on the beach!

It was sad to see the piers closed, though.  And the Tower, Madame Tussaud’s and the amusement arcades.  I could have cried when I saw a poster in one amusement place, with a list of family fun days planned for 2020.  Easter, VE Day, Euro 2020 … .  Even if all the hotels reopen later in the year, this good weather won’t last for ever.  Our tourist places’ll take a terrible hit this year.

But it was such a lovely, lovely day … to see the sea, to feel the sea breeze (messing up my already messy hair), to be in Blackpool …

Went to the park later.

If I could just get back to the Lakes … but I’m so glad to have been to Blackpool!



Lockdown Week 9 – May 18th to 24th 2020

Monday, May 18th

Hooray, I’ve got a National Trust parking space for Saturday morning!!  It’s at Nostell Priory.  I don’t understand why they’re opening Nostell, but not Dunham, Lyme, Styal or Speke (it can’t be because of the car park ticket machine, because you have to book on line), and suspect that they’ll refuse to let you do the nice riverside walk and say that it’s the open parkland only; but it’s a start – I’m very chuffed!

A neighbour with Scottish connections is 60 today, and, somehow, her husband had arranged for a guy to play the bagpipes in the street, in full Highland gear!   And some goats have moved into the park, and they’ve got a really cute kid 🙂 .

Premier League teams can resume training.

So that’s some nice stuff.  It’s been a dull, grey day, though.  And I still haven’t got my cancellation stuff from the holiday company.  I’ve chased them again.   I got an e-mail from the Lowry, saying that Les Miserables will now not be on until 2022, and offering me a credit note.  I’ve asked for a refund instead.  I felt rather mean, because I know that they’re struggling – they’re not part of a group like the Palace and the Opera House are – but I don’t want to book anything else for now.

Much lower death figures for a second day in a row, but they do tend to go up on Tuesdays, so let’s see what happens.


Tuesday, May 19th

Got an e-mail from Old Trafford this morning, saying that refunds will be issued for the remaining matches of the season.  I knew that City had contacted their season ticket holders last week, so was wondering when we’d hear.  At least the clubs are doing the right thing by not holding on to the money, but I’m so sad about it.  Football is such a huge part of the fabric of a city like Manchester, of so many cities and towns.  I’m still hopeful that the Premier League season can be completed – even though the SPL was abandoned yesterday – but it could be a very long time before fans are able to attend matches again.  The loss of that experience, the bonding, and the huge effect on local economies … it’s just horrific.

Went to Tesco this morning, and then to the office to collect some stuff.  Then to the park later.  Nice sunny day today.

The death toll was right back up again, to 545.  It does keep happening on Tuesdays.


Wednesday, May 20th

Really lovely day today – the hottest day of the year so far.  I went to the frozen yoghurt shop this evening, and then sat in the flower park for a bit, and then sat in the garden with my book.

Earlier, I watched a really boring training webinar, then went to the park, then did some work.

I’m a bit fed up with the National Trust.  They’ve only reopened six places, and five of those are in the same region (East Anglia).  If it’s OK to reopen the parkland at Nostell Priory, why is it not OK to open other places with lots of parkland?  Excuse me for being cynical, but it’s hard not to wonder if they’ve decided they’d rather keep the furlough payments, at least until the shops and tearooms have reopened.  I understand that this is an incredibly difficult time, but, as they haven’t extended people’s subscriptions to make up for the properties being closed, that’s a bit off.  I’m sure Rishi Sunak is on to this, but things need sorting so that places which reopen but can’t do anything like their normal volume of business, such as cafes and restaurants reopening for takeaways, benefit financially rather than losing out.

Loads of multi-household groups in the park, including one group of six adults and ten kids.  And loads of groups of teenagers hanging around together.  I’m not judging anyone, because I don’t know their circumstances, and at least they’re not coming close to everyone else like all the wretched cyclists on the paths and pavements are, but it’s pretty obvious that people have had enough.  I don’t know what the answer is.  An invisible enemy, i.e. a virus, is hard to fight.

Two soaps tonight, hooray!! Emmerdale at 7 and Coronation Street at half 7.


Thursday, May 21st 

Here’s a bit of getting back to normality which I could have done without!  In normal times, I spend half my life getting upset over the weather being nice during the week and horrible at weekends.  In February and early March, practically every weekend was wrecked by storms.  Lovely weather today, again.  But what’s the forecast for Saturday, when I’m due to pay my first NT visit for over two months?  Showers and high winds!  Gah!  Oh well, the showers don’t look like anything major, and my hair’s such a mess that the wind can’t make it much worse!  A bit cooler today – which was better in some ways, because the park was less crowded.  People sitting on the grass are fine, but the cyclists and skateboarders are a nightmare.

My rosebush’s first rose of the year’s pretty much out.  Hooray!  It’s a family thing that roses are supposed to be out in time for Mum’s birthday, which is June 1st, so it’s made it in plenty of time 🙂 .  It’s a reminder that it’s nearly summer, though, and that spring’s gone, and the virus has taken most of the things which make up spring.  Seeing the daffodils at Chirk Castle and Biddulph Grange, having a weekend at Grasmere and Coniston, Easter weekend, seeing the newborn lambs during Tatton Park lambing week, doing the Windermere walk in bluebell season and the bluebell walks at Capesthorne Hall, seeing the laburnum arch at Bodnant Garden, the climax of the league season, Cup Final Day, the Grand National, the Boat Race and, of course, the clay court season.  I always say that summer begins when the first ball of the French Open’s struck and ends when the final ball of the US Open’s struck.  Hmm.

Clap for our Carers later.  Right, let’s stop moaning, and get the tea in the oven!


Friday, May 22nd

From June, anyone arriving in the UK will have to self-isolate for a fortnight.  So anyone who works, and is restricted to annual leave, is effectively barred from going abroad.  FFS.  And, if this was going to be introduced, what’s the point of doing it now?  Why wasn’t it done in March?

I feel like everything’s got in a mess.  Councils and teachers are refusing to reopen schools, so kids are bored.  Teenagers are hanging around in groups, and people with younger kids are trying to occupy them by going out.  All this patronising “stay local” stuff doesn’t really work for people in urban areas.  Councils in areas attracting visitors are trying to put people off by refusing to open public toilets or other facilities, so people are dropping litter and, not to put too fine a point on it, making their own toilet arrangements.  It’s just not working.  And the group which includes Shearings and National Holidays has collapsed, which is very, very sad news.   Shearings has been going – had been going – for over 100 years.

Oh well, at least it’s a long weekend.  Really sick of work.  In almost nine weeks of working from home, we haven’t had a single e-mail saying so much as “Hope everyone is OK” – just a nasty e-mail reminding us that the first Monday in May wasn’t a Bank Holiday this year.  People are really fed up about it.

OK, enough moaning!!  The showers seem to have disappeared from tomorrow’s forecast, so that just leaves the wind to contend with.  It’s been very windy here today – there was a dust storm in the park!   It was already windy first thing, when I went to Sainsbury’s Local, and has been very windy this afternoon.  It’s quite weird doing stuff like putting out a bottle of water to take with me, and my portable phone charger.

The NT car park at Aira Force has reopened, which is interesting.  I’m not driving all the way to Ullswater for a walk – although I would do if it was Windermere or Grasmere! – but I thought the Lake District didn’t want visitors?  And, if you can “social distance” on the narrow paths at Aira Force, you certainly can at Dunham Massey or Lyme Park!!

I lit a candle this morning, to mark the 3rd anniversary of the Arena bombing.  People have also been putting pictures of bees in windows.

And, hooray, tennis clubs at Mallorca are now allowed to open, so Rafa’s resumed training 🙂 .


Saturday, May 23rd

Hooray, my first National Trust visit for over 2 months!  No gardens, no houses and no scones, but I had such a lovely walk round the (windy!) parkland at Nostell Priory.  It’s a huge estate, and they could have let far more people in without it being a problem.  Oh, the joy of walking through some fields again, of wide open spaces, of not having to dodge cyclists, skateboarders, kids and dogs!   The green, the yellow … just being in some fields again.

I really hope they reopen more places soon.  And it might reduce the numbers descending on places like the Peak District and Dartmoor.  This really is a big issue – I understand that rural areas, especially the Lake District which has had such a high rate of infections, don’t want hordes of visitors, but people from urban areas cannot just be denied access to open spaces.  I could cheerfully slap all those “I’m all right, Jack,” types saying that everyone should “Stay local and enjoy the countryside around them”.  Do they know the word “conurbation”?!  Where are people meant to go?  As for all the local authorities refusing to unlock public toilets, even George Orwell never thought of that one!  And it’s hard to get anything resolved with so much political points-scoring going on!

But anyway.  I had such a nice time.  I went to the park much later.  And, at home, had my “Scone in the garden” next to a hyacinth.

My official holiday cancellation came.  It came from the head office in Colorado, not the British office, and was very terse.  I was expecting a proper Word letter saying that unfortunately they had no choice but to cancel, but it was just a short e-mail saying “Urgent Tour Notice!  We have decided to cancel … “.  Oh well.  At least it’s sorted.  I knew it was coming, but I’m sad.  I’ve been on at least once coach tour every year from 1996 onwards, often two.  They’ve kept me going through some very bad times, and been the highlights of every year.  This would have been the 25th year.

My little cousin’s riding school has reopened, and my nephews can now go to football training as long as it’s one to one (i.e. one kid plus the coach).   It’s a start!!


Sunday, May 24th

I really, really want to sit down in a café or tearoom and have a cup of tea.

I really, really want to see the sea.  I’d get to Blackpool at 8 o’clock tomorrow, before anyone else was around, but it can’t really be done whilst the Toilet Tyrants refuse to unlock the public toilets.

I really x 1 million want to go to Windermere.

Fed up this morning.  It was cold and grey and wet, and I was upset because it should have been the first day of the French Open.  I went to Kenyon Hall Fruit Farm – I got a few plants and some fruit and veg, nothing I couldn’t have got nearer home, but I needed a ride out, and they’re such nice people there that I was glad to give them the business.  I’d thought I might go into Bents Garden Centre as well, to look round the food hall, but the queue to go in was so long that I decided not to bother.  Is it going to be like this when ordinary shops reopen?  Who’s going to go into town or the Trafford Centre if you have to queue for 1/2 hour to get into every shop?  Even if you get to one early, you can’t get to them all early.


Oh well.  Later, I went to the park.  Then Mum and Dad came round for their socially-distanced visit, which was lovely.  And the weather’s cleared up now.  Not that you can go very far when most places are closed – as they’ve been saying at Blenheim Palace, why can’t this confusion about opening parks and gardens be sorted out? – and the Toilet Tyrants hold sway!

And so ends Week 9 of lockdown.



Seeking peace in nature: Back to Life with the National Trust and English Heritage

In these troubled times, it can be difficult to find peace.  One of the best ways of doing so is walking through woodlands or gardens, and so I’m delighted that Dunham Massey, Lyme Park, Quarry Bank Mill (Styal) and Tatton Park have reopened, and that Brodsworth Hall and Beeston Castle will be reopening this weekend.   “Something kindly, beautiful, peaceful and stable … evoked whenever the name of England was spoken.”  (Reay Tannahill, Passing Glory).  You have to book, they won’t let you into the gardens at Dunham and Lyme for some irritating reason, and there’s a disappointing lack of takeaway tea and scones;  but it’s a start.

Nature doesn’t care about coronavirus.  The flowers are still coming, the fruit and vegetables are still coming, the deer are still wandering around in the deer park at Dunham, and birds have been nesting in the woods at Lyme whilst there’ve been no humans around.  You can walk and walk, enjoy the timelessness of the woods and the beauty of the flowers, and forget about everything that’s happening for a little while.  Lockdown spring’s come and gone, and now we’re into the summer with no Wimbledon; but it’s still summer, and the natural world continues to turn, turn, turn.  It’s good to leave everything else behind for a few hours, and lose yourself in that.

I went to Dunham Massey on Saturday and Lyme Park on Sunday.  It was certainly different to all the previous visits I’ve made to either of them.  There were cones all along the roads outside, to stop people from parking there and walking in.  We really are in a difficult position at the moment.  People are bored and fed up and feeling trapped, and shops, cinemas, theatres etc still closed, and sport are only just getting going again.  We need somewhere to go.  But there are issues with overcrowding.  I’ve seen some very nasty sneery comments about this, and I suspect that most of them are coming from people who do not live in densely-populated urban areas where public parks are getting very crowded and many people do not have gardens.  It’s not easy.

And stupid local councils are not making things any easier by refusing to unlock public toilets, sealing up bins and closing car parks.  Having said which, there’s no excuse for people parking all over the place, dropping litter, and trying to break into places which are closed.  I’m missing the Lake District like mad but am staying away as I know the authorities there don’t want too many visitors, and it annoys the hell out of me when I see pictures of litter being dropped all over the place.  Could we all make more effort, please?  That also goes for the people ignoring the “one way only” signs at Hollingworth Lake.  People were even ignoring the signs asking visitors to go into the Lyme Park toilets one way and out the other.  Come on, folks.  I’m sure we can all follow an arrow.

Anyway, to get back to the cones, sites which have reopened are presently admitting people for pre-booked visits only.  It’s a bit of a hassle.  If you’re working, you’re restricted as to when you can go, so you have to be very efficient about booking.  Then you have to stress about making your timeslot – not so bad at the moment, but might be more difficult once traffic gets heavier again – and can’t change it if the Great British Weather does not smile on you.  It’s hardly ideal for the National Trust or English Heritage either: they’re expecting big losses this year, the actual houses won’t be opening for some time yet, and a lot of people have cancelled their memberships, so they urgently need more visitors, not fewer.  But nothing’s perfect at the moment, and we’ve got to go with it – and focus on the positives.  And these really are very big positives.  We’ve still got these places.  They’re still there.

I didn’t half need to get out at the weekend.  I know that many people have been furloughed from work, and that many others are still working but getting tremendous support from their employers.  I’m working from home but we’ve had no support whatsoever, just complaining, and, with my holiday having had to be cancelled, I really was feeling quite down and very trapped … and the National Trust picked me back up.

The familiarity helped, for one thing.  Does that sound strange?  I’ve been seeing an awful lot more of my own house and garden recently than I do usually, and of my local park, so looking for more “old familiar places” might seem odd, but they’re familiar in a different way: they’re places which I associate with comfort and relaxation, with getting out and about.  And with scones, but hopefully the tearooms will reopen before too long!

And they’re so big!  Lyme Park in particular.  I walked round parts of the woodland there which I’ve never been to before: I usually spend most of my time there in the gardens.  Climb over a stile and you’re out on the hills, the Peaks – all that Manchester Rambler feeling.  You can just wander and wander.  It’s all open.  You feel so free.  And it’s quite hard to feel free when you can’t go on holiday, you can’t go out to a café for a drink and a scone, and, unless you sit outside, you can’t even go round to a relative or friend’s house for tea.  But, in the deer park at Dunham, out amongst the trees, or in the hills and woodlands of the Lyme estate, you can.

And, next week, all being well, I’m looking forward to visiting Styal and Tatton, where, hooray, the gardens are open, and I’ll literally be able to stop and smell the roses!   This year, I haven’t been able to see the daffodils at Chirk Castle or Biddulph Grange, I haven’t been able to see the bluebells at Windermere or Erddig or Capesthorne Hall, and I haven’t been able to see the laburnum arch at Bodnant Garden.   OK, I’ve seen daffodils and bluebells at the local park, but I always go to visit particular places at particular times: anxious people don’t like having their routines interrupted, and I’m particularly fond of those places.  But we’re moving on now, and I’m going to have a few hours of getting away from the uncertainty (I do not cope well with being unable to plan ahead), from the doom and gloom on the news, from the nastiness – all that Spirit of the Blitz/communities pulling together stuff we were hearing about in April didn’t last very long, did it 😦 – and from feeling trapped, and being able to stop and smell the roses, just as I’ve already had a few hours of walking through fields (at Nostell Priory, the first National Trust property in the North of England to reopen) and woodlands.  And that is something for which I am extremely grateful.


To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran




March 16th to 18th inclusive – heading towards lockdown

Monday, March 16th

We’re supposed to be staying 6 feet away from anyone else.  “Social distancing.”  These are the words that will go down in history from 2020 – “social distancing” (staying 6 feet away from everyone else) and “self-isolating” (which you’ve got to do for a week if you think you’ve got the virus.   And, just as my grandmas and great-aunts kept loads of food in stock until the end of their days, because they never quite got over rationing, I think we’ll all be keeping loads of toilet roll in stock until the end of our days.  If we can find any, that is!

An e-mail went round the office saying that you had to wipe down the kettle every time you used it.   And Boris has now said that people should avoid pubs, clubs and restaurants.  ATG theatres are closing.   I was supposed to be seeing Phantom of the Opera on April 1st, but that won’t be happening now.  The panic-buying’s getting worse.  It really is ridiculous.  Painkillers are being stockpiled now, which is a huge problem because people who actually need them are struggling to get them.  Some supermarkets are now saying that only people over 70 can go in at certain times, and restricting how much of each product you can buy.   And more and more people are trying to book online deliveries, but there’s so much demand that there are no free slots for weeks.

France has been put into lockdown.  Germany’s closed shops and entertainment venues.    And even the sex shops in Amsterdam have been closed!  A lot of countries are closing borders.

Rugby league’s now off, and the Boat Race, and the Grand National.  Easyjet are grounding a load of planes … not very hopeful about Iceland now.  I booked it last September, to make sure I got a week in between Wimbledon finishing and the Olympics starting.  Hah!

People are getting paranoid.   Every time someone coughs or sneezes, people think it’s coronavirus.  COVID-19, I mean.


Tuesday, March 17th

Ordered some Easter eggs from Amazon, to be delivered to my nephews. My sister and brother-in-law and nephews were supposed to be coming up from London over Easter week, but they’re not now.  Everything’s going to be closed.  I don’t know when we’ll next see them.  I can’t believe this is happening.

National Trust tea rooms are closing!!  Armageddon is here!!  I have a jam and cream scone every weekend, as a treat, and more often than not it’s at a National Trust tea room.   Bleurgh 😦 .  Houses are closing too.  However, parks and gardens will be staying open.   Must try to get to Chirk Castle and Biddulph Grange this weekend, to see the daffodils.  All manned English Heritage sites are closing.

Some friends have already lost their jobs, here and in the Republic of Ireland.

United have cancelled training.  Euro 2020 is now Euro 2021.  And the French Open’s been rescheduled … until just after the US Open!  What??  I know it’s going to be hard to fit in in, but the French Tennis Federation seem to have made the announcement without consulting anyone else or stopping to think how players are going to switch from hard courts to clay courts just like that. People in France now need to carry a form if they’re going out, to say that they’re on permitted business such as going to work or going to the supermarket. It sounds like something from the war.

Places of worship are also closing – not my thing, but it’ll upset a lot of people, although there’ll be some services on line.  You can now only have five people at a wedding – the couple, the minister/registrar, and two witnesses.  A lot of couples have already postponed their weddings.  Poor Princess Beatrice: she doesn’t have much luck!

The gym is also closing.  I usually go on Mondays and Tuesdays.  It was really weird walking out tonight, saying goodbye to people and having absolutely no idea when I’ll see them again.   I can’t see golf clubs staying open much longer.  Poor Dad’ll be lost with no golf!

All non-essential NHS operations are being postponed.  We’ve been told we could see 20,000 deaths.  TWENTY THOUSAND.

There’s been some muttering at the office about working from home.  I don’t want to be in the office, especially given the rising tide of hysteria in some quarters, but I’m scared of trying to use a remote link from home.  I’m frightened that it might upset my home internet connection.

I’m trying to channel the spirit of the Blitz and all the rest of it, but no tennis, no football and probably no summer holiday … 😦  .


Wednesday, March 18th

I just can’t take in everything that’s happening.

Schools are closing on Friday.   Quite possibly until the next academic year.  Kids’ll have to try to work at home, using stuff that teachers’ve tried to set up on line.  My elder nephew’s in his last year at primary school.  The kids in his class’ll be being scattered between different secondary schools in September, and now they won’t get this last term together.  My younger nephew’s in the 1st year juniors, Year 3 as it’s called now.  It’s bad enough for primary school kids, but what about people doing exams?  My friend’s son’s supposed to be doing his GCSEs.  And people doing A-levels and Scottish Highers need their grades for university places.  Presumably, it’ll have to go off teachers’ assessments instead, but that’s not necessarily going to produce the same results that exams would have done.  Oh, this is just a nightmare!  This bloody virus!

And filming’s been suspended on EastEnders, Holby City and Casualty.  Numbers of weekly episodes of EastEnders are being reduced.  Presumably Coronation Street and Emmerdale will be next.  So we could be locked up without even our normal TV to watch!  And there’ll now be no tennis until at least June.

And Biddulph Grange is closing!  Oh no.  I love the daffodil woodland walk there.  Chirk Castle’s estate and garden are staying open, though.  There are more and more rumours that we could be put on full lockdown, though.  Parts of the US are now in lockdown.  And maybe this sounds silly, but I’m panicking about my hair.  I’m due for a cut and dye next Thursday.  I booked an appointment for their late weekday night so as to leave the weekend free for going out to see daffodils at National Trust places – hah!   It’s only 8 days away, but … I’m getting stressed.

Getting some bizarre e-mails from shops.  M&S sent an e-mail round saying that they’re suspending their bra-fitting service, like anyone’s immediate priority is to buy a new bra!!   Their food shops are staying open, though, which is the main thing!  Tesco are no longer opening 24 hours: they’re restricting opening hours to allow time for restocking.  And reserving certain times for elderly/vulnerable people.  Mum’s going during the “elderly” slot on Friday!

I normally only go to Tesco on a Friday, but, feeling a bit panicky myself, I went tonight.  They were out of a few things, but I went to Morrisons and they had most of them.  But no toilet roll.

Glastonbury’s off.  The US PGA is off.  Even the Eurovision Song Contest is off.

Will someone please wake me up from this horrendous nightmare?  And, all the time, the death toll rises, each loss a tragedy.






Return to the National Trust

Oh, National Trust properties, how I am missing thee!  This is the first year in a long time that I haven’t been able to see the daffodils at Chirk Castle and Biddulph Grange, lambing week at Tatton Park, the bluebells along the western shore of Windermere and at Erddig, and the laburnum arch at Bodnant Garden.  Will I be able to see the rose garden at Dunham Massey this year?  I’ve known it since before it was born: I remember it being planted.  And I’m not half missing the scones!  But yesterday, for the first time in over two months, I was able to go to a National Trust property!   Nostell Priory.  It’s the only actual NT property (as opposed to stand alone car park) in the entire North of England which has reopened so far, and you can only visit the parkland, not the gardens; but it’s a start.  And it was wonderful!   It’s difficult to express the feelings of joy and freedom at being able to walk through fields for the first time in over two months, of being able to see nothing *other* than fields, of walking and walking without having to dodge cyclists, zig-zagging skateboarders and dogs which aren’t on leads, of being under wide open skies.

Coronavirus has taken a lot of things, and, for the last couple of months, that’s included something very valuable, which people in the 1930s – the leader of the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass came from just a couple of miles down the road from chez moi, as I often remind people! – fought hard for us, the ordinary people of this country’s towns and cities, to have, access to open space.  Now, we can take baby steps towards having that again.  As long as we’re careful, and sensible.  My visit yesterday had to be pre-booked, with only a limited number of spaces available.

This situation is an absolute nightmare for the NT.  It is for so many organisations: Sky News ran a report on Friday about the number of museums fearing that they might have to close.  As far as the NT goes, all those awful storms we had in February and March meant that visitor numbers for the calendar year were down before lockdown even started, and then they had to close all their properties and car parks, and cancel all the bookings for their holiday lets.  There’s been talk of a £200 million loss for this year.   Caring for historic properties and the valuable items inside them is not cheap: it’s not just a case of turning off the lights and locking the doors.  Then there are the gardens, and the work that goes into them.  Some environmental projects will have to be scrapped, and NT Scotland’s even talking about having to sell off land.  A lot of people, concerned about their own finances with many businesses unable to open until lockdown restrictions are eased, have felt unable to renew their memberships.

So, hopefully, this last couple of weeks, with the easing of some restrictions, and the reopening of some car parks and some parkland, will mark the start of the way back.  It certainly needs to, for all our sakes.  It really was so good to be back!

These are very difficult times.  The term “social distancing” didn’t exist until the middle of March.  Until then, the concept of having to stay 6 ft away from other people would have sounded like something from one of those weird dystopian novels of which I can never see the attraction.  No-one’s ever had to deal with anything like this before.  And it’s all being made far more difficult by the fact that so many people are more interested in scoring political points than in the public good and trying to find workable ways to move forward.

One of the biggest issues at the moment is that of access to open space for people from urban and suburban areas.  I could cheerfully slap the people going on about how everyone should “Stay local and enjoy the countryside around them”.  Are these people actually familiar with the term “conurbation”?  What countryside around us?!  Most of them are probably the same people tut-tutting over pictures of large numbers of people in city parks.  Yes, there are a lot of people in city parks.   Where else are we all supposed to go?  A lot of people in cities and towns don’t have gardens.  Kids have been off school for over two months and are bored stiff.

Almost all National Trust properties are still closed.  English Heritage have said that they won’t be reopening any of theirs until July.  Independently-owned estates where there’s usually access to parks and gardens are closed.  I gather that there’s uncertainty regarding whether or not it’s OK to reopen pay-for-entry attractions: I don’t understand why this applies to parks and gardens (although I know there’s concern about crowding in small gardens) but not parkland, when non-members have to pay to park to go in the parkland, and members don’t pay to go into gardens, but there clearly is an issue.  I know that the managers of Blenheim Palace have said that they’d love to reopen their park and gardens, but understand that they won’t be allowed to until July.  And I suspect that a lot of places are staying shut because taking the furlough payments is bringing in more money than reopening would, certainly whilst tearooms and shops have to stay shut.

So there aren’t a lot of places to go to.  There’ve been pictures of crowds in some places, and traffic jams building up.  Obviously that’s no good.  It’s risky for anyone to be in a crowd at the moment, and it’s risky for local communities.  Some rural areas, notably South Lakeland, have had very high rates of infection, and certainly don’t need that making any worse.  But just saying “Don’t visit,” and trying to deny people from urban and suburban areas any access to any open space is no good either.  There are issues of physical and mental health.  And national parks are actually supposed to be for everyone’s benefit.  As for this bizarre thing of trying to control people by refusing to unlock public toilets, even George Orwell never thought of that one.  All that’s doing is driving people to make, ahem, alternative arrangements, and I’m sure no-one wants that happening.

This is an extremely difficult time, and I don’t know what the answers are; but we need to try to find some, and that’s not going to happen until everyone starts working together.  A lot of places are facing similar issues: there’ve been concerns about the numbers of people visiting beaches in northern France, in Catalunya, in the Netherlands, in Florida, and elsewhere.  We do need to find ways of dealing with this which are fair to everyone, and that’s not going to be easy.   But we need to try, and, with so many people either taking an “I’m all right, Jack,” attitude or prioritising political points-scoring over the general good, that’s not happening as much as it should be.  But the National Trust, with the reopening of some parkland on a ticketed basis, are trying.

I’ll be interested to hear how they found this first weekend back.  There was certainly room for more people without any issues with social distancing: the Nostell Priory estate is absolutely vast.  So are the estates at Shugborough, Hardwick Hall and Fountains Abbey, to name but three.  I very much hope that more properties will be reopening their parkland soon, and that tea rooms will soon be able to open, even if it’s only for either takeaways or outdoor seating, as well.  The term “cultural bonfire” was used on Sky News on Friday: it wasn’t actually a very good one, but the point was made.  We don’t want to lose these places.  And we need access to open space.  Thank you so much to the National Trust for letting me have today’s much-need and much-appreciated visit, and I hope that there’ll be more to come soon.