My teeth were the first casualty of the pandemic. Both my routine check-up and appointment with the hygienist were cancelled as dental surgeries up and down the land shut up shop and the nation’s drills fell silent. But dentists are now back in business – just – and I went into town for my first scale and polish of 2020. Health and safety measures were in full swing with a new check-in app, a strict one way system, sanitisers everywhere and the poor hygienist dripping in enough PPE for a trip to Mars.
It was only our second trip into Norwich since lockdown so we made the most of it, picking up a few non-essential must-haves. Face masks must now be worn in all shops and indoor shopping centres. Most folk complied, with a rich array of styles from the unimaginative to the truly outlandish. Our little black numbers were at the dull end of the spectrum. And, unlike the man who was recently caught strolling down Oxford Street in London, the masks covered the right appendage.
But I couldn’t help thinking that they gave a false sense of security as shoppers weaved through the crowd pretty much ignoring signs and social distancing.
We also took full advantage of Chancellor ‘Risky’ Rishi’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ discount scheme to jump-start the hospitality sector after the leanest of months. We lunched late but before we were shown to our table, our temperature was checked by the maître d’. Very reassuring, I thought, and the only time I’ve been pleased not to have been called hot, hot, hot.
Weather in these isles is notoriously unpredictable at the best of times but, all things considered, summer this year has been good. Just as well with all this lockdown business. June was warm and dry, July was wetter and August has been a scorcher so far. Whenever the mercury rises, out comes the BBQ, bangers and burgers. On the hottest day of the year, we popped to the shops for grill grub and, after getting home, threw open the stable door to our little porch. The heat rushed in and the fire alarm went off. We had to unscrew it from the ceiling to get it to stop.
Later that day, as I was flipping the burgers, I stepped on a wasp with my bare foot. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t go down too well with the wasp and the angry little bugger stung me. It was my first time. Until that painful moment, this city boy had never been stung – bitten many times, yes, but stung, no. I didn’t know how I’d react, physically. Thankfully, I didn’t go into anaphylactic shock and have to be rushed to hospital. I did, though, hop around the lawn screaming ‘ouch, ouch, ouch.’
‘Don’t be such a drama queen,’
Liam said before pouring me a large glass of medicinal white.
It was a warm but rainy day for our first forage into Norwich since March’s lockdown. I must admit we felt unexpectedly anxious at the prospect of leaving the sanctuary of the village and heading into town on a bus. We girded our loins, with masks and sanitisers cocked and ready.
It was actually fine. Because of social distancing rules, bus capacity has been reduced and, as we were two of only six passengers, there was plenty of room. This didn’t stop a young couple sitting together in non-designated seats and removing their masks to chat. What is it with the young? They may feel indestructible, safe in the knowledge that the dreaded lurgy is unlikely to bring them down, but that won’t stop them super-spreading to the rest of us.
It was good to get back into the city again. Norwich was busy but not packed – almost normal. Big Issue sellers were back on the streets and most cafés and shops were open. The only thing noticeably missing were the buskers and artists who, in better times, provide a weird and wonderful addition to Norwich’s street life.
Wherever we went seemed well-organised and COVID-secure with lots of one-way systems going on. Most people complied. No one was overwhelmed with punters, though. It’s an anxious time for traders, I’m sure.
After a bit of retail therapy, we headed to the Lamb Inn for a cheeky bottle of blush and some hearty pub grub, using a handy app to order and pay. Our food and drinks were brought to our table by a delightful young waitress. It was all done efficiently and with a reassuring smile. I think this continental style table service might catch on – until winter sets in that is.
The fourth of July was independence day for boozers in England. For the first time since lockdown in March, pubs threw open their doors with staff waiting anxiously at the pumps. We were like rats out of a trap. First stop for a cheeky bottle of blush, the White Horse, transformed into a virus-free sanctuary (as much as anything can be) by the jolly landlord, Simon Peck, and his trusty staff.
The pandemic revealed an entirely different side to Simon as a bumbling and uncannily accurate BoJo impersonator as you can see in this tongue firmly in cheek performance.
Simon even made it on to Look East, our regional BBC news programme. If you’re on Facebook, give the video a like if you would. Simon would be chuffed.
Next stop was the Swan for a couple and then the King’s Head for a final snifter. We didn’t quite make it up to the Angel. That’s on the menu for next time. Too early for opening time? I’m no expert so I’ll leave that to the know-it-alls to speculate. What I do know is each establishment did their bit to keep people safe and all the punters behaved. Was it worth it? You bet! We got totally tiddlypooped.
Who knows what life will be like once we’re released from house arrest? What will the so-called new normal look like? What’s certain is we’re all Zooming, streaming and buying online like never before. This was already the direction of travel and it just got turbo-charged. How many bricks and mortar businesses will survive is anyone’s guess.
And then there are the most ancient of games – cruising, coupling and canoodling – and the arenas where these rituals are played out. From an LGBT perspective, swiping right had already forced many a gay boozer to call time for good. Why bother with the faff and expense of propping up a bar hoping for a chance liaison when you can order in with free delivery? But these places aren’t just about a Saturday night takeaway, they also provide a community hub and a safe haven from a sometimes hostile world.
An old friend sent me – via WhatsApp, ironically – these amazing images of some of London’s most iconic gay pubs, venues with long and infamous pedigrees. I don’t know who took the pictures so they can’t be credited but they brought back a flood of memories of my gloriously misspent past.
Ladies and gents and all those in between, I give you the seven sisters. As the old saying goes, use them or lose them.