Anyone who remembers a time when ‘Coronation Street’ was one of the finest sitcoms on British television will recall the comic double act of Stan and Hilda Ogden; the late addition of Scouse shirker and scam-merchant Eddie Yeats as the Ogdens’ lodger gifted the dynamic with a further layer of hilarity, giving lazy layabout Stan a partner-in-indolence for poor, weary Hilda to endure. One memorable moment came when Eddie promised Hilda he could acquire for her that most desirable 70s household appliance for keeping up with the Jones’s – a colour television set. Sceptical Hilda doubted Eddie could deliver, but was prepared to go along with it. Unsurprisingly, when Eddie turned up with his ‘colour telly’, it was simply a sheet of coloured Perspex he proceeded to stick on the black & white screen of the Ogdens’ set, one that turned the monochrome picture either green or red, depending where the viewer was sat. Hilda was immediately unimpressed, whereas easily-pleased Stan informed her ‘it’s better than nowt.’ Hilda sighed and declared the phrase would probably end up inscribed on her headstone. Better than nowt.
The most extreme lifting of lockdown measures to date comes into effect today – as if you didn’t know. This is the so-called ‘Super Saturday’, but the definition of ‘super’ is open to interpretation; anyone thinking it means a return to the old normality could well be disappointed, for this is a compromise that is essentially better than nowt. Yeah, like football being played in empty stadiums and co-opted by political sloganeering nobody thought to look at the small-print of in the rush to virtue-signal is better than nowt. The news that pubs, restaurants, cinemas and even hairdressers are to reopen, albeit observing social distancing rules, at least sounds like an improvement on what those who regularly patronise such venues have had to put up with these past few months; but none will provide the same kind of experience they did before.
Just as that dour puritan rag the Guardian has wagged its middle-class finger at irresponsible youngsters choosing to illegally dance the night away off their tits rather than pull down a racist statue for a good old-fashioned Marxist cause, get ready for Fleet Street furtively seeking images of red-skinned, pot-bellied plebs swigging the real ale of Olde England like there’s no tomorrow come Monday. One might almost mistake the anticipated gallery of excess as evidence that the English had abstained from alcohol for three months. Lest we forget, however, these new freedoms for the common man – for which we must all be grateful – come with an in-built warning from that intimidating East End gangster-masquerading-as-Health Secretary, Matt Hancock: ‘You could end up behind bars if you break the law,’ he declared. Ooh, a nation is really scared.
I suspect the new rules will be initially observed by customers as the cautiousness that has governed social interaction since March will make re-entering these locations a strange outing many might embark upon tentatively; ditto owners of businesses eager not to have them closed down for not following guidelines. But how long will either punter or proprietor be able to keep it up? I expect the rules to be enforced whilst the novelty of reopening lingers, though old habits will no doubt resume sooner than later; after all, the compulsory wearing of masks on public transport has already become lax, from what I’ve been told by someone who has started using buses again. This person informed me she has watched people board said vehicles sans-masques and the driver hasn’t batted an eyelid. I would imagine strict social distancing in the hospitality sector will restrict the usual taken-for-granted freedoms to begin with, but I doubt this can be maintained for much more than a week or two.
Human beings congregating in social surroundings tend to instinctively flock together; all the venues opening their doors again today generally aim to cram as many customers in as they can, so it’s difficult to imagine them sticking to the same ‘one at a time’ policies we’ve become accustomed to supermarkets employing during the lockdown – at least until they’re told otherwise, anyway. Crossing the street to avoid the contaminated breath of a passing pedestrian is one thing, but the unnatural separation being maintained at all times when indoors simply cannot last if these places are to return to their former status as desirable destinations. If not, most will stay at home to eat and drink in conditions more conducive to relaxation.
There’s also the small matter of making a profit for the businesses concerned, something that is harder to achieve when numbers are limited due to the cordoning off of space normally reserved for the punter. I can’t quite imagine what cinemas will be like under these new guidelines; I guess they could well put paid to the usual shenanigans reserved for the back row, though I wouldn’t know anything about that myself. There seem to be similarly unattractive delights in store re all the other places, with pubs sounding the least fun environments of all. The prospect of mixing and mingling is part of their appeal, and if that’s what you like, it doesn’t seem like you’ll get it on Super Saturday, regardless of the economy-salvaging duty being hyped-up by Rishi Sunak.
Of course, bar the return of weddings both north and south of the border, this lightening of the lockdown applies exclusively to one section of our disunited kingdom at the moment – England (with the honourable exception of Leicester). The First Minister of Wales has pleaded with thirsty Welshmen not to cross into England and indulge in a pub-crawl. Whilst this almost feels like a throwback to the distant days when setting foot on heathen soil for a Sunday pint was a Cymru tradition on account of all pubs in Wales being closed on ‘the Lord’s day’ until 1961, the fear is that the instant anyone from Wales gets pissed in England and breathes the same infected air as the English, they will then immediately catch the coronavirus and carry those pesky germs back to the Valleys – and presumably kill the sheep.
Today it’s the return of everywhere people go to forget about the rest of their lives; but the rest of their lives remain in limbo as the workplace for most has yet to fully reopen. It looks like the majority of schools will stay shut until September too, something that isn’t helped by the dominance of left-leaning teaching unions that seem more keen on picking a fight with the Government than the education of the nation’s children. So, we’re not quite there yet. I reckon those who venture through the open doors today may well come away thinking – like Hilda Ogden long before them – that ‘better than nowt’ isn’t quite good enough.
© The Editor