Cycling round Manchester Airport the world sounds like when I was a kid, just field-noise, birdsong, empty blue sky.

We called the airport Ringway then, I’d ride out here, wait all morning and if I was lucky see one jet land. This morning no planes land and one takes-off, the shuttle to Heathrow.

The only other time so quiet was during the Ash Cloud that grounded all flights after the volcano erupted in Iceland. We were on holiday and Paris was busy, but being someone who always has to look up at every plane, I was in my own silent bubble of wide blue sky, not a single contrail.

After a few days, we gave up with the airline and decided to make our own way home. On the cross-channel ferry we met a woman who had spent a week hitch-hiking from Moscow, guys who had commandeered a North African minibus to drive their families up through Spain. They asked, How about you? and we felt frauds, non-participants in this national emergency, saying, Actually we left this morning, got a train, then a bus, stopped in Rouen for lunch.

The night before we left Paris, we read in the newspaper that the government was going to send up a test flight to see if the invisible cloud was safe to fly through. That evening we went up the Eiffel Tower at sunset. A single jet trail cut from the dark red horizon into the luminous blue sky. People pointed and shouted out, It’s the test plane, it’s the test plane, like it was a the first flight ever. A wonder.

Whatever the test plane discovered kept flights grounded.

Cycling home I wonder what the first total feeling will be when lockdown is over. Maybe the sound of a vehicle drawing up outside the house that’s my Dad not a DPD delivery van. Walking into the smell and clatter of a bar. Planes going over again, one after another. Or getting off a train and seeing you, waiting, the other side of the barrier.




Also by Steve,