'I think everybody's going to behave': Mancunians cautious as lockdown eases

Amid sporadic drizzle, Mancunians in the city centre welcomed the easing of lockdown with some trepidation.

While residents flocked to Manchester’s hairdressers for much-needed trims and root touch-ups, many of the physically distanced tables at its restaurants and bars were empty at lunchtime.

At Nicky Oliver Hairdressing in the city’s Northern Quarter, eager customers wearing face masks were tended to by stylists without drinks or magazines, which have been surrendered to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The salon’s 10 hairdressers are fully booked for the next fortnight doing everything except hair extensions – “you need your roots done before you can get extensions”, the salon’s eponymous owner explained.

Jayne Shannon, 38, had been among the first customers to visit the salon. “I’d been desperate for a haircut. I had a baby in October and I’d been putting it off before lockdown,” said the data and funding manager. “I’m getting straight out of town after this though. I don’t want to get caught up in any of the craziness.”

Retiree Maureen Ward, who preferred to give her age only as “in the vulnerable category” and had just had a cut, dye and blow dry, also said she would be giving venues a wide berth. “I think I’ll probably give it a couple of weeks until it’s died down a bit,” she added.

James Micklethwaite and Jason Jeffrey

James Micklethwaite and Jason Jeffrey. Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

Still, the atmosphere in the Northern Quarter’s newly pedestrianised streets seemed to be far less raucous than many had anticipated. While the city council has waived fees for businesses to place tables and chairs outside, many stood deserted in the rain.

Sitting under an awning outside Flok in Stevenson Square, James Micklethwaite, 28, who lives in Didsbury, and his friend Jason Jeffrey, 34, an Australian living in Salford, said they were planning to hit the area’s pubs but to make it “a short-lived affair”.

“I’m anxious about how other people are going to be around us and if they’re going to be adhering to everything,” said Micklethwaite, who added the caveat that he couldn’t resist getting out. “I’ve been counting down the minutes until pubs reopen.”

On nearby Thomas Street, the Bay Horse Tavern’s owner, Lyndon Higginson, said he believed the day would be a toned-down affair for venues. “People are going to go out and have a great time, but they’re not going to be dancing on tables,” he said. “I think everybody’s going to behave themselves.”

Along with the weather, Alan Hood, manager at the city’s landmark Britons Protection pub on Bridgewater Street, felt there was little to attract anxious Mancunians back to the city this weekend. “There’s no concerts, there’s no football. Anything that really draws people into town isn’t happening at the minute,” he said.

Nicky Oliver’s hair salon.

Nicky Oliver’s hair salon. Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

Perhaps most surprising, was the distinct lack of young people hitting Manchester’s streets. Ruth Hemmingfield, the co-director of music venue turned bar and diner YES, close to the city’s universities, said while they were fully booked, most of their customers were aware it would not be like it was before the crisis.

“I know it’s been dubbed ‘Super Saturday’, but I don’t think it’s being seen as that,” she said, adding that instead young people were seeking a bit of “normality” and to see their friends casually.

On Tib Street, a group of young Instagram influencers waiting for coffee outside Just Between Friends, seemed blase about being able to drink in town again. “We’re all going for a meal later at Menagerie,” said Joe Hall, 24. “It’s not that we’re opposed to going to bars, but we’ll probably only go if we can book a table beforehand.”


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