• Adam Whittaker

Once Upon A Time

Ancoats is a lovely place. In recent years it has become a hive of food and drink activity, bars popping up every few weeks, bakeries and breweries have taken up residence as have numerous white collar businesses. Within a mile walk of our apartment you can enjoy hundreds of different beers, more sourdough than you can shake a kale leaf at, ice cream, the best pizza I have ever had anywhere in the world and you are spoilt for choice for co-working space, barbers and coffee houses. And finally we have a Michelin starred restaurant!

Even on these sun kissed days, a darkness has descended over the neighbourhood recently and things have become a little sinister. Someone has reportedly been lurking on the canal tow paths, in the hallowed shadows of the Hallé St. Peters, within the grounds of the numerous building sites. Some have claimed they have seen a figure clambering the scaffolding that supports the forlorn Ancoats Dispensary. Friends and neighbours of ours claim they heard screaming in the early hours, emanating from the nearby school playground. Vomit splattered and blood speckled pavements, previously the hallmark of a ‘good’ Friday night out, now appear to be clues to something far less frivolous. The Bank of England pub, the nearby rundown former boozer was the scene of an alleged murder a couple of years back, and it is now believed the dilapidated building houses the cause of all the panic. But no one knows. No one has officially seen the perpetrator, but this doesn’t dissipate the fear and nervousness that now fills the greens and streets where sunbathers once idled and revellers staggered.

The local police have done their utmost. Curfews have been imposed, bars boarded up and delis deserted. Anyone venturing out, hurriedly attends to their shopping or other such needs before heading home, curtains twitching, every break of an evening’s silence feared. No one uses the tram at New Islington. The school, scene of the reported screams has closed. Police regularly patrol the area begging any random stragglers to return to their safe haven.

The strange thing is, I wish this were a true story. ‘Unfortunately’ this fiction may be reminiscent of stories you would hear of the area from years ago before gentrification took hold. I do wonder however, if this were fact not fiction, whether people would behave differently than they have been during ‘lockdown’ over the past few months. No sooner had Johnson announced he would be releasing details of easing restrictions, hordes of idiotic, brainless buffoons went sunbathing on our nearby marina, quaffing beer and having barbecues. Last weekend, a 5-a side game of football was cheered on by a whole host of equally negligent and irresponsible sun worshippers.

This had been the case prior to our ‘great leader’s’ utterance of a new freedom and the subsequent red top response, which, as with Johnson’s approach, was misguided, ill informed and quite frankly, dangerous. Even during the height of lockdown, you know those heady days, when we were told to stay indoors and we knew exactly where we stood (or sat – on the sofa), the rules were laid out, and while the obvious rebels eeked their way to nearby tourist attractions, the majority of us were pretty well behaved.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that there are idiots, those that have absolutely no respect for themselves, their friends, family or the general public. If however, the fear of God had been put into them (in a painful way), something along the lines of my little tale from earlier, would they have behaved differently? I think many would. You would of course have your crusaders, the vigilantes, desperate to take the law into their own hands, flush out the fear and dish out their own justice. In the case of COVID19 the instigator of such unrest is faceless, formless and invisible but undoubtedly more deadly.

The marketing and subsequent advertising of the lockdown has been misguided and misplaced. There have been some incredibly powerful public health campaigns over the years that have instilled a dread in so many of us that we couldn’t fail to be affected. For those that can remember, there was the ‘Don’t Die Of Ignorance’ campaign of the 80s, elevating the HIV and AIDs pandemic to a level none of us could have expected, making many of us believe it could happen to all of us. Which it could.

The power and success of  Government lead campaigns have been evident in the past and also in our recent history. Remember £350m a week for the NHS instead of the EU? One campaign divided a country, friendships and families but it did its job. So why not this? Why couldn’t Cummings and his cronies scare people into submission and make them Stay At Home, Save Lives etc? With the financial backing any Government has, instead of sending letters to households they could have done so much more surely?

With a second peak inevitable (I’m no scientist or epidemiologist but I listen to Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 so I’m qualified), what happens now? How do we force everyone back indoors when they’ve had the smell of the pub and freedom? Or are we facing a losing battle? Or maybe those in charge just don’t want to.