Those freedoms we took for granted pre-pandemic are slowly being restored and for many of us it’s not a day too soon. Just having the shops, bars and restaurants open again has made such a difference and, of course, throwing in a glorious bank holiday weekend was guaranteed to raise the spirits.
I’ve dined out locally a few times but it’s now time to catch up with old friends and a trip into Manchester for the first time since… well, I can’t actually remember.
The first thing you notice is the lack of social distancing, both on and off public transport. On a train journey last summer lots of seats were out of commission – none of that appears to be the case now. The only reminder that we are still in a pandemic were the face masks.
Once in the main station at Manchester, it felt like I had joined a city-wide party – the noise and people! There were hen parties and groups of young women dressed for a night on the town and looking to celebrate early.
With spirits high at 12.30 in the afternoon I wondered at what time these happy groups would peak. The odd Manchester City football shirt was starting to make an appearance, although those lads were drowning their sorrows later.
This was almost a tiny steps trip for me – lunch and home. I knew I wouldn’t be tempted by several OFTR (one for the road) as my friend had been called into work at 4am. I’m not so sure a sensible finish to lunch would have happened otherwise.
So what was the city like? Well, busy but with probably about half of the numbers you would expect to be spending a Saturday in the city. There weren’t many shopping bags on display so I’m guessing it was the bars and restaurants that were benefiting more than the shops, apart from Zara, where there was an inexplicable queue around the block.
It was sad to walk past the shopping stalwarts of the city, Debenhams and House of Fraser, both closed for good, casualties of the pandemic.
However, the thing that really stood out was the noise. Having spent months listening to bird song and the odd car engine, I needed ear protectors. Within a few yards of each other and competing for an audience we had a rally in support of Palestine, a chap trying to save our souls, a swing singer (I did find myself swaying in time as I walked past) and two young lads hoping to be spotted by a talent scout for X Factor.
These were followed by another guy wanting to save my soul (I didn’t take it personally), a gospel singer and two young girls who were ‘on a break’ so I have no idea what they were up to. By the time I’d reached the end of the street I was exhausted!
But it was great to be amongst people again, to eavesdrop on conversations, to smile back at people who were celebrating and feel that life was going to be good again.