Coronavirus in Manchester
I love the contrast of an empty space that shows abundant signs of life. When I worked in a cafe, I'd often be alone after closing time, cleaning down silent surfaces and humbling humming machines with the flick of a switch. The purpose of everything around me, from the coffee machine to the marked walkways, would sit dormant and lifeless. Object outlines dominated the concourse, but their meaning faded without the people who gave them life. I'd pad softly across the resting floor, no longer observing the energy of the day, but feeling it all around. I felt similarly the Saturday night I took my bike past the pubs and restaurants that had been ordered to close that day to prevent the spread of covid-19.
The evening streets would normally be full of taxis unloading frivolity into seas that vibrantly flow between drinking destinations. I'd be there amongst them, wearing jeans. That night I wore joggers as the usual commotion was replaced with only the motion of my nosy commuter bike. The would-be crowds were compartmentalised into suburbs and inner city flats, leaving me to peruse the hush they left behind. Like the peace I found in the cafe, the quiet was made beautiful by its close proximity to life. That night I viscerally felt the busyness that belonged there.
But as lockdown continues, the city seems less on pause, and more like it's crawling painfully by, as my romanticism fades. The streets move just enough to feign function and the missing bustle has become more like a fantasy than a memory. There's a sad litter-to-person ratio and the buses carry only their drivers. Posters show signs their lifespan has been exceeded by their tattiness and because they advertise mass gathering events, which are now illegal. Across Manchester, the side of some bus shelters have the big words Let's Get Together across a backdrop of a crowd of travellers. It's an advertisement for the very same train company that now frequently tweets: please avoid travelling by train unless it’s your only option. Those waiting for the bus don't look amused by the irony, they just look alone.