Judith Hayman: What great community spirit

THERE was a vibrant resort atmosphere one sunny Sunday in lockdown Whitefield. The families promenaded up and down Stand Lane in their hordes admiring the brilliant displays of lilacs and azaleas.

The legions of cyclists zipped past in their day-glo glory. Just on cue Adil’s lime green ice-cream van tinkled along touting for holiday custom.

At Stand Golf Club, a group of picnickers lounging insouciantly on a grassy hillock were like a modern take on Édouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe.

Elsewhere on the links, there was a grey heron and a moorhen nesting on a reed-fringed pond. Later, I glimpsed a deer sprinting across the course with a dog in hot pursuit.

Meanwhile, children played happily in the sandpits, sorry bunkers! Other children rode their bikes over the neatly-manicured greens while their parents looked on with nonchalant disregard.

The government has now moved tentatively on to the next stage of lockdown, but the people had already spoken. I have seen large groups of young cyclists and dog walkers.

It stretches credulity to imagine they are all from the same household. It seems that many people are interpreting the rules to suit themselves.

I was angry with the government for being so slow in quarantining people from abroad. They saw what was happening in China and Italy. Why not here? Similarly the casual attitude of some people means the all-important R level will be threatened.

Dr Mark Forrest, an intensive care doctor in the region, has said he was ‘seriously worried’ that ignoring the lockdown would put increased pressure on ICUs like his.

He tweeted: “Our ICU already has more Covid cases than two weeks ago as more people go out. Ignoring the lockdown has us seriously worried for the next few weeks.”

The fact that this country has one of the highest death rate per million from Covid-19 in the world is nothing to boast about.

Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham notes that Covid-19 cases in the north-west are the highest in the UK. In particular, Salford has one of the highest rates of coronavirus deaths, centred on Higher Broughton and Broughton Park with a combined 28 deaths.

Even allowing for social deprivation should this not sound warning bells? A friend of mine, who stressed that he had just finished davening at home, told me he had seen Charedi men with tallesim coming out of a house in Waterpark Road chatting in Yiddish.

Yes, I know it is a mitzva to pray, but it is a chillul hashem to endanger your life and the lives of others. Each day another bereavement announcement pops up on my phone. As Peter, Paul and Mary sang in their anti-war lament: “Oh when will they ever learn?”

This pandemic has often been referred to as a war. And so it was apt that the 75th anniversary of VE Day took place during lockdown.

The Queen, the figurehead who spans both the War and Covid times, has urged us to adopt the Dunkirk spirit and to “never give up and never despair”.

An elderly friend of mine, who fled Nazi-occupied Austria for London, was nearly 16 when she heard the King’s speech on the radio.

She recalled: “My eldest cousin went into town to celebrate. We said, ‘What are they going to write in the papers now the war is over?’”

Because of her age she has not left home for seven weeks. Reflecting on then and now, she said: “When there were air raids we ran to the shelters. We had an Anderson shelter in the garage. But we went to school as normal, we went shopping and we went to town for concerts and theatres.”

Like the war years, the pandemic period has engendered a great community spirit. This was manifest in the bunting-festooned streets of Ashbourne Grove, Whitefield. Here the locals had set up stalls in their front gardens. People socialised from a distance.

It was a distinct case of carpe diem for former King David Junior School headteacher Eric Wilson and his wife Muriel. They had donned Tommy helmets, decorated their house with Union flags, and were playing Vera Lynn through loudspeakers.

People were even invited to bring their own glass and share some champagne!

For Eric, growing up in wartime Liverpool was like a boys’ own adventure. There was a mobile gun, barrage balloon and searchlights at the bottom of his road. The RAF base was nearby at Burtonwood and there was ample opportunity to plane spot. He enjoyed being evacuated to a farm near Chester where he learned how to milk cows and accompanied the farmer to the cattle market in Beeston.

He was 11 on VE Day and remembers all the neighbours bringing their tables and chairs into the street for a party. There was a communal singalong of There will always be an England.

The children, equipped with tin helmets and wooden rifles, marched up and down the road. Everyone threw in their ration coupons and feasted on jelly, blancmange, Lord Woolton Pie and chocolate spread made from margarine and cocoa. Tizer was the drink of the day.

On Ringley Close, Michelle Shaffer was sporting a Vera Lynn hairstyle and vintage dress. Bury and Whitefield Jewish Primary School headteacher Claire Simon had a welcoming array of cakes on her drive and her dutiful husband Mike had been busily colouring in war-themed bunting.

Well, I hope we will all be meeting again one sunny day. I would particularly like to meet my hairdresser again. I know a Shirley Temple look can be intensely cute, but not when you’re in your 60s. My shaggy-haired husband bought clippers on Amazon. I baulked at the prospect of applying the whirring blades to his head.

I warned: “Unless you want to adopt a Van Gogh look and lose your left ear do it yourself.”

He did it himself and now he looks like Little Lord Snooty from the Beano!

Shortage of toilet rolls and hand gel is so yesterday. The new must-have items are flour and yeast. Everyone is baking cakes and bread because it is so therapeutic and it tastes good too.

In fact, because of difficulty getting shopping deliveries, people are cooking more, too. Bowdon Reiki practitioner Penny Parkes told me: “Make your own food is my message. So many of my clients are saying their weight and their blood pressure is down. This is because they have cut out processed food.”

The old joke about ‘Two Jews equals three opinions’ is funny but true. The Jewish Telegraph is one of the few things that unites us. We should support it now rather than have to mourn its loss in the future.


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