I’ve been out! Twice!
The first time was on Saturday for my longed for hair appointment. I was oddly anxious about it. Not worried exactly, more a little wary of going into the city. I decided not to catch the bus, as I normally would, but instead drove in and sucked up the almost £12 parking charge for a 3 hour stay in an NCP car park.
No, my hair appointment didn’t take three hours. I ran a couple of errands afterwards.
I think my nervousness about the appointment was because this was the first time I would be in a room with a lot of other people. It felt strange. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Like I’d forgotten what social situations are.
When I got there, it was all fine. At reception I had my temperature taken with one of those thermometers that’s more like a speed gun. Then I had sanitiser sprayed onto my hands. Then I was led to the perspex cubicle formed around one of the mirror units. And I had my hair done. My hairdresser was wearing a face mask. Others were wearing visors. The back wash also had perspex dividers between each seat. Sadly, there was no tea and no trashy magazines (my secret hair salon joy), but I had a new book with me, Eliza Clark’s Boy Parts, and I got through a good chunk in between having my roots done and having my hair washed. It was great to catch up with my hairdresser and with the junior who washed my hair. I’ve really missed going to the hairdresser’s.
Afterwards, I spent stupid amounts of money in Boots, stocking up on perfume and Clinique products. It was the quietest I’ve seen Boots on a Saturday. The sales assistants at each counter were super quick to serve me and didn’t try to persuade me into buying something I didn’t want (they never succeed – I have a core of steel). It was my ideal visit.
I tried to stock up on birthday cards, but Paperchase is still closed. I didn’t look at the other card shop nearby. It’s too pokey. Too hard to navigate without colliding with other shoppers at the best of times, let alone under pandemic conditions.
I could have stocked up on cards in Waterstone’s but I was so excited to be in a bookshop again that I forgot. It was such a joy to be among an almost infinity of books again. I was impressed by the one way system they’ve applied – up via the escalator, down via the stairs – and by the hand sanitiser stations between each room. The Manchester Deansgate branch of Waterstone’s is the best branch. The comfy chairs had been moved out of sight, but that gave more space for tables of books. I stocked up on birthday presents.
Apart from while I was in the hairdresser’s, I wore my face mask the entire time. It’s the longest I’ve worn it and it started to feel uncomfortable by the time I was heading back to the car. It’s a cloth mask, impregnated with silver thread, with natural anti-bacterial properties. The masks are made locally by a factory that usually makes knickers. A friend recommended them to me. I’m glad to see that they’ve redesigned them to be more close fitting. The one I have is more like the disposable surgical masks. I’ve got a small face (not freakishly so, calm down) and had to take it in at the sides so it would stay hooked over my ears and snug to my face.
So that was my first trip out. I felt really tired afterwards, and a little bit sad. I think because I’d used up a lot of emotional energy in the lead up and during. And perhaps also because it was all very far from normal, and I wonder if we will ever see normal again.
My second trip out was today. I went to work. It was the opposite of Saturday. There was hardly anyone around. I think I was one of half a dozen people on site. Normally, there can be up to 100 members of staff and up to 1000 visitors at busy times. It was strange to see the introductory gallery empty with the media wall switched off.
I cycled over. Getting there was fine. It took 15 minutes. I braved the temporary cycle lane along the dual carriageway. There weren’t many cars out and having a coned off lane to myself on my bike was much less dicey.
Being in work felt like I’d never been away. Apart from the shock of my apparently giant monitor. After working from my laptop screen for four months, the full size monitor on my desk seemed huge and ultra high definition. I took a photograph of it and in the picture it looks normal. The way our eyes see and the way a camera ‘sees’ is very different, I guess. Sitting in front of it, it still seemed really large.
The desk opposite is in darkness because the lighting tubes are forever going out. Something that has gone unchecked while I haven’t been on site. Other things that are frustrating about the attempted conversion of a building designed for storing cotton bales and not for storing archives have also continued unchecked in my absence. I haven’t missed that part of work, I admit. The frustrating part.
The reason I was on site is because I’m trying to plan for reopening to researchers. We’ll be allowing staff and our hosted PhD students back first. External researchers will have to wait. I’d gone on site because, although I have a floorplan of the reading room, it doesn’t have our desks and research tables on it. Because I’m used to the space having people in it, and because there are iron pillars cutting through the room and interrupting sight lines, I have a distorted perception of the size of the room.
I needed to measure research tables and distances between tables, desks, doors, each other. In my head, the space is smaller than in reality. All of my plans have been on the basis that, even with the reduction in social distancing to the immeasurable “1 metre plus”, we don’t have enough space for more than one member of staff supporting one researcher. In fact, even if we stick to a 2 metre social distance, we can safely accommodate two researchers at once.
My planned routes for researchers to access the archive were approved during my visit. I can crack on, now, with finalising the plan. It was a good visit in that sense.
I decided to cycle back along the canal towpath. Cycling in via road, I’d had to stop at all but one of the many, many sets of traffic lights along the dual carriageway into the city centre. I thought the towpath would be easier, even though it’s a less direct route. First, though, I had to navigate the tangle of streets and bridges that girdle and lace Castlefield Basin before I could find the correct towpath. That took me an unnecessary 10 minutes. Castlefield Basin is a complicated group of junctions and wharves where the Bridgewater Canal and the Rochdale Canal meet the River Medlock, and goods from across the north made their way into Manchester for storage in the warehouses that ring the basin.
I’d also not accounted for how narrow the towpath is in places, particularly on blind curves under road bridges and over the many, many hump back bridges around the basin. It took longer than I expected to get onto the main stretch. Cycling into the wind didn’t help. Nor did my poor fitness levels! It took the same amount of time to cycle home as it does catching the bus. And I couldn’t read a book.
But I did it. I cycled to and from work and it was fine. This potentially could be a change in my commute. Whenever a commute might be a regular thing again.