December 2020

Coronavirus Chronicles Part 1: March 2020 April 2020 | May 2020 In March, the pause button was pressed on normality. In little over a fortnight, we saw supermarket queues & stockpiling, a run on lavatory paper and on sanitising hand gel—even before some of us knew we actually needed it. We witnessed schools close, then cafés & pubs. Many people are now working from home and older & vulnerable people are self- isolating. Sporting fixtures were all cancelled.  Then, all non-essential shops closed. Council offices shut. And, even now, there are unwelcome gaps on supermarket shelves. We were initially restricted in terms of one daily exercise and we could not associate outside the family in groups of more than two, always provided we keep a socially safe distance. Packages of financial support were progressively available to companies, firms, employees and self-employed people. Here, then, we chronicle lockdown in Ruthin… Wednesday March 4th As film crews finish up, nothing suggests normality than Netflix shooting in and around the Old Gaol. They say that this may put Ruthin on the map. Ruthin Castle begins to display posters for Mothering Sunday—which later will be aborted. Meanwhile, for the past few days, just one thing dominates the news. By the middle of the week, we find ourselves out of sanitising hand gel. The sun brings out quite a number of early visitors and this morning is particularly encouraging. But attitudes change by the end of the week… Saturday March 7th The delight that is ‘Gwahoddiad’ rings out at 9a.m. over Ruthin from St Peter’s. Only there are few in town to hear it. It’s Saturday and it’s even quieter than usual. By the bank on the Square are the usual two optimistic Jehovah’s Witnesses and there’s a 20-something with ear-pods who callously coughs into the open air. That’s it. And, Clwyd Street is quite literally devoid of pedestrians—empty doesn’t come close. Try desolate. Calls for self-enforced isolation and working from home become inexorable. This is social history in the making—but for all the wrong reasons. Even before coronavirus, the Myddelton is irregular. The artist next to Harris Toys on Clwyd Street is gone. J’s Barber Shop is a victim of a saturation of barbers. The Conservative Club has its back against the wall. Costa Coffee now closes daily at 5.p.m. Jan’s Cards remains empty. Tesco, Co-op and B & M have high stock levels but there are signs of strain. You can still get liquid soaps in Tesco but supplies in the Co-op or B & M are like hand gel and are all snatched away. Long-life milk’s evaporated. In a sense, it’s a bit like the rush of Christmas... but without the promise of turkey or any of the joy. Or, perhaps it’s more like the days after Boxing Day, when those people around in Ruthin are out not because they want to be but because they have to be. In such an environment, even Gwahoddiad struggles to lift our morale. Wednesday March 11th Italy announces lockdown. It’s the first country in Europe to do so. As Wales holds it breath, it surely couldn’t happen here. Could it? Friday March 13th Toilet Roll Armageddon as stockpiling intensifies. Is it the news from Ruthin Town FC of a suspected covid-19 case that sparks today’s Tesco rush? Is this enough to engender if not alarm a mass wave of customers? Or is it the prime minister’s statement yesterday? No one seems panicked, rushed or ill-mannered but there is also a steely resolve about shopping in what is a very busy store. There’s an underlying tension. Certainly today seems to escalate the importance and significance of the outbreak. Overnight, it is suddenly more real, more undeniable, more immediate. Ironic, really, that this is Friday 13th (for those who set store by such superstitions). Ruthin FC cancels its game owing to the ill player. Then, Football Association of Wales suspends all matches. Later, we hear that there is virtually no sport anywhere tomorrow. And so our world begins to shrink. Sunday March 15th Town is quiet today—till you reached B & M, the Co-op and Tesco. B & M’s car park is full (but that doesn’t take much) and there is a buzz of customer movement outside and within. Tesco’s car park is not quite at its peak but business is brisk. The usual high profile commodities people thus far are hoarding continue in short supply, as the number of empty boxes on shelves increases. Tesco sees few baskets and mainly customer trolleys stacked high. Tins, pasta, rice, medicines, caster sugar, flour, the usual and less usual are all in short supply. Shelves remain devoid of lavatory paper. There seems to be a heightened number of older people out, perhaps as a result of media speculation that those over 70 would shortly need to reduce dramatically their contact with others. One wears what looks akin to a pair of medical gloves. Everyone is congenial & affable yet at the same time purposeful and, unlike in some places in the media, there is no hint of carnage, chaos or anarchy. Anxiety levels rise. By 3p.m., everything is quieter to something like a normal Sunday. A number of far eastern students from Ruthin School take advantage of the last hour of Tesco’s availability, wearing face masks, the first seen locally. There were plenty of people who claim never to have deployed panic buying tactics. Given the state of some supermarket supplies, I wonder who these are. Monday March 16th Unofficial lockdown in all but name begins. The County Council clears its calendar of meetings for the ensuing week. Some County Hall departments leave to work from home. Meanwhile, both our governments advise us that we should avoid pubs, cafés and restaurants. Tuesday March 17th More staff leave County Hall to work from home. Ysgol Brynhyfryd becomes the first school in Wales to close. It cites 23 vulnerable staff and a further five who have vulnerable family members. The supermarket situation is slowly deteriorating. Perhaps retailers are concentrating on larger settlements and bigger stores. Now, there’s no paper products in the Co-op or Tesco at all, with kitchen roll and paper handkerchiefs joining lavatory paper. Bananas and other fresh foods are in short supply—if people are indeed stock- piling, let’s hope they eat everything before fresh food rots. There are just three lonely people on the Square. Wednesday March 18th Brynhyfryd may be closed but the town is absolutely devoid of children. County Hall car park is busier than expected but still more than half empty. More and more County Hall staff begin to work from home. This will impact the town greatly. But, it’s necessary. Many adhere to government advice: at lunchtime, Chatwin’s has eight café patrons, Costa five and Bar Llaeth three. The Coffee Cabin is closed. The two sat at a table in W & G Jones’s café are slightly forlorn-looking staff. Early evening and I spot one head at Wetherspoon’s window facing the Square, a handful in the Boar’s, three in the Star and a similar number in the Feathers. How long before these close for the duration? Thursday March 19th More and more signs appear on business doorways and in windows. They inform patrons of revised hours, expected changes in customer behaviour or complete closures, thanks to coronavirus or the school situation, as proprietors and staff struggle with a new reality. The oddest is at the entrance to the HSBC. It tells us that, from the weekend, all HSBC branches will close at weekends. The Ruthin branch does not open then. HSBC is using the epidemic to encourage laggards to bank online. “Stay safe. Bank at home”. Where is this likely to leave the branch & building when we emerge out of the current crisis? W & G Jones café has two patrons at lunchtime; Chatwin’s three; Gail’s six; and there is no one in Bar Llaeth. The Coffee Cabin is again closed. And, from today, Costa effectively becomes a takeaway, with shrunken opening hours, plastic crockery, takeaway cups and no seating available. There is one person within. Friday March 20th The Craft Centre closes to the public from today. Tonight, the town is shutting down. Distancing has just got more distant. As some seem hitherto to disregard the advice, we now have no more restaurants, pubs, clubs, gyms, cafés and leisure centres. They’re all to close. Our Prime Minister makes it very clear that people should not be going out tonight and pubs should close as soon as possible. Yes, tonight. Every pub is open this evening as those inside enjoying their last orders. Patrons  are nevertheless few, certainly at 8p.m. There is about half a dozen in the Star; about a dozen in the Boar’s; a similar number in the Vaults; and I’d put it at about two dozen in the Feathers. Tomorrow, Saturday, will be a very different Ruthin. A number of local restaurants announce permissible takeaway services, such as On the Hill, Ocean Pearl, The Myddelton Grill, the White Horse Hendrerwydd and the Nant y Felin. Sunday March 22nd The first of Ruthin’s rainbows begin to appear in windows. A chalked Mothering Sunday greeting appears in Bryn Eryl alongside various chalked rainbows elsewhere. Long may the rain stay away, so that these can brighten our lives for days to come. And, for the first time ever, there are no services in any of our town or village chapels or churches. Last Sunday, they are defiant—though the number of those coughing is suddenly apparent and noticeable. Today, they are shut.  Monday March 23rd This morning, this man opens Costa so he can close it up completely. It is as if Costa knows what is afoot. Today in Ruthin, although there are previous changes among the hospitality sector, shops remain open. How many feel or even know that this is for the last time? Trefor Jones puts it well in its window notice that appears yesterday: ‘Open as usual (until told otherwise)’. Well, this evening, they are told. Not that there are many customers about today. At lunchtime, I see four people on Clwyd Street, two on the Square and absolutely no one on Well Street. Car parks are largely empty, with 39 cars parked in total. A further 28 are parked on-street. There are 16 drivers parking at the Co-op and there are fewer than 40 staff in County Hall. In fact, two scallywags are taking advantage of a mostly deserted County Hall car park to kick a ball around. We expect County Hall to close to the public tomorrow—this is due even before the Prime Minister’s announcement. This evening, we hear from our governments that full lockdown is official—with immediate effect. We can shop for essentials as long as it’s infrequently; exercise once a day on our own or as a family group; travel only for work where there’s no alternative; and otherwise stay at and work from home. That is the stark message and it is no doubt not helped by the shameful scenes over the weekend of people queuing at beauty spots. The message means that all shops other than pharmacies and groceries are now shut; the library, too. Tonight’s with-immediate-effect lockdown ratchets up this emergency. In a sense, however, we are still in a phony war. As yet, we remain very worried but we try to carry on as normal. So far, we are all fit and healthy. With pubs now closed, the latest grocery shortages are alcoholic beverages. Wiped clean are the Tesco alcohol aisles. I guess even those who don’t frequent pubs are stocking up in case those who do take the lot. Tuesday March 24th Lockdown Day One. Our Chief Constable reports at lunchtime that traffic is down in North Wales yet the morning commute is as busy as ever. What I can say is that outside my house it’s been very quiet all day. Yesterday’s groups of children, sometimes with groups of adults, are all vanished. County Hall is now officially closed to the public. It’s still available for such staff as required. And, Ysgol Brynhyfryd closes (again) this afternoon. It has previously opened on Monday to receive its share of children of key workers or those deemed as vulnerable. I’m not sure anyone actually turned up. Loggerheads, Moel Famau and the leisure centre all close today, with locked gates across car park entrances. The country park’s closure is no doubt hastened by reports over the weekend of crowds in rural honeypots. There are now a significant number of local businesses laying staff off or placing staff on furlough, as our American cousins might say. Construction can continue but Taylor Wimpey announces with immediate effect it is closing its Glasdir site and sales centre. This is the second interruption there, the first following the November 2012 floods. Builders’ merchants Richard Williams and Huws Gray also close today. Wednesday 25th March What strikes me this morning is the change in commuter traffic volumes. Today, there are far fewer cars on the road. Workers no longer need to bring stuff back home, perhaps, after yesterday. What a cruel twist, today, though. Throughout the day, blue skies, sunshine, no breeze, temperatures nearing 20°c—and time on our hands. Yet, here we are, confined to barracks. Three cyclists pedal by. The occasional single walker enjoying their single shot at exercise. A mother and young children. A few cars all pass by. And, this afternoon, at once, the air is filled with the fetor of the season’s first barbecues come early. The broadcast news is compelling but also disturbing and disheartening. Thursdays March 26th Virtually no shops open and a solitary person this lunchtime on Well Street, three people on Clwyd Street and one person on the Square retrieving money from the HSBC cash machine to use, well, we aren’t sure where. Such businesses as still able to trade far prefer contactless payments, to minimise risks. And those open were Chatwin’s (not its café); Well Street Pharmacy; Ruthin Wholefoods; Boot’s the Chemist; the Post Office; and the HSBC. Plus B & M, Co-op and Tesco. Chatwin’s is open for bread, confectionery and a takeaway service and now accepts contactless payments only. At lunchtime, there is a solitary car parked in Well Street plus one between Boot’s the Chemist and the Old Courthouse. Eight were parked on Clwyd Street. Four cars and a motorcycle on Wynnstay Road. The main car parks collect 18 cars between them. County Hall car park holds 15 cars which indicates that there were likely just 15 people inside the building. The rest of the staff work from home. Tesco introduces a queuing and entry/exit system to its Ruthin store, with a combination of on-their- side trolleys, barriers from Taylor Wimpey and cones & tape from Hunter & Lewis. You grab a trolley from a shelter, queue outside, enter by the left and staff limit the numbers in the store at any one time. You then leave on the right, go to your vehicle and return your trolley for disinfecting. The Co- op has started something similar, in a smaller way, by disinfecting basket handles on entry. HSBC changes its opening hours to 10a.m. to 2p.m. The bank isn’t able to open today, owing to coronavirus-related staff shortages. Just after lunchtime, Ruthin’s sub-postmaster announces new hours from next week. Friday March 27th This week’s weather is exceptional for late March but none of us has been able to take full advantage of it. One phrase sums this up: unprecedented. We live in truly unprecedented times. Or, “unpresidented”, as one shop notice in Ruthin put it. Another closed business asked us to phone if we have an urgent inquiry (we assume they meant “enquiry”). No names, of course. And yet, in spite of all this, it’s still the calm before the storm in Ruthin… how fast the storm is approaching we do not yet know. Tesco replaces the row of on-their-sides trolleys with more barriers. Saturday March 28th Here’s a new phenomenon. A couple of closed shops are clearing out their windows, in some cases for a paint-up. You cannot blame them, even though, we trust, the likelihood of a smash ’n grab is limited. Each of the empties nevertheless leaves a temporary chasm in town. And a small number continue with blinds down. Not only is Mococo heeding government instructions in closing its shop, it is longer fulfilling orders on line: it’s website is also closed for a period. Meanwhile, mayor Cllr Gavin Harris begins his weekly video broadcasts. To assist queuing and physical distancing, Chatwin’s introduces hazard tape. Sunday March 29th The Eagle’s Bakery joins the long, long list of closed businesses in town. They cite government guidance as the reason for the closure but suggest they’ll be back on April 14th—and they do. In the meantime, bread is still available at Lôn Parcwr’s Bakehouse, W & G Jones, Duke’s Stores, as well as supermarkets. The empty Montecito window is transformed into a joyous, boisterous pandemonium of colour. We very much hope that the sentiment as expressed in the lower panes will prove to be prescient and foresighted. Monday March 30th During these astonishing, bewildering and bizarre times, Ruthin town centre is now usually almost always devoid of people. You barely need one hand on which to count those on the streets. So, what’s going on here at Monday lunchtime? It’s for the post office. As of today, it opens on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only, between 10a.m. and 1p.m. This shot is at 12.32p.m. and there remains a fair number of customers still to serve. Most people obey the call to stand 6′ 6″ apart. The post office has done well to maintain a service, often solely relying on the sub-postmaster himself. Bus services to Mold; to Denbigh via Llandyrnog; to Clawddnewydd & Cyffylliog; and to Graigfechan are all slimmed down from today.
Archive from 2013 Historic Interest