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.

Bleurgh.

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.

 

 

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.