AS Saddleworth entered lockdown for a second time on November 5, 10,000 miles away in Melbourne life was already feeling refreshingly different.
Australia’s second largest city had recently emerged from a 111-day lockdown in time for the arrival of Spring.
But as Helen Cooper, her family and friends began to enjoy extra freedom, the exiled Oldhamer’s thoughts turned to home.
Her mum – Norah Barlow (nee Lees) – was born on Huddersfield Road at Scouthead; Helen grew up in Thornham, worked at Barclays Bank in Oldham but has lived in Australia for almost 30 years.
However, she maintains links with the area and with her husband and two boys had hoped to return in late September.
Still unable to travel beyond a 15-mile radius of home (it had been three metres until last month), an Oldham home coming remains off the agenda.
In this article for the Independent Helen describes what life is like Down Under:
“As we watch anxiously as Europe and the UK are plunged into lockdown – again, we’re almost out of our second lockdown – as if the first wasn’t enough. Hopefully, it won’t be so long for the UK.
“Like everyone, we’ve watched more TV and loved Last Tango in Halifax. In a recent episode Derek Jacobi picked his brother up from the airport.
“The brother had flown halfway round the world from New Zealand and as they drove over the tops he said he wanted to go straight to the pub to enjoy ‘a Yorkshire pint, in a Yorkshire pub on a Yorkshire hillside’.
“My dear Mum, born and bred in Saddleworth, then part of the West Riding, was a proud Yorkshirewoman. She always considered the area part of Yorkshire.
“I’ve had time too, to browse her Ammon Wrigley’s books, passed down through generations.
“I was completely unprepared for the catch in my throat, the ache of homesickness, when I read: ‘You will feel something too, among those silent mystical moors – a sense of loneliness that it not loneliness but the most exquisite companionship. See it, and you will know why the dales folk hope to find the Saddleworth hills in heaven.’
“So, what’s it like here coming out of isolation? The shops are open again.
“In a city that claims to be the foodie capital of Australia, and the heart of coffee culture, our pubs, cafes and restaurants are open, but with limited seating. Picnics seem to be the new social gathering.
“That’s all well and good if you aren’t the food source of pesky mozzies!
“Masks are still compulsory when outside your property – most unpleasant now it’s warming up. We can now stay out for as long as we like.
“There was a curfew – between 8pm and 5am – like war time. Except, as our friend’s parents from Serbia commented dryly, ‘There are no bombs dropping’.
“But in a year like no other, the Melbourne Cup – the race that stops the nation – went ahead with empty grandstands.
“It wouldn’t be so bad if we couldn’t see the rest of the country having, sort of, fun. Victoria, is the pariah of Oz.
“Slogans such as ‘Kick a Vic’ and ‘Sicktoria’ are ubiquitous. Clearly, we are not all in this together!
“What a year: starting with catastrophic bush fires, the survivors of these now largely forgotten amid this pernicious pandemic, and two lockdowns; the second harsher than the first.
“The kids have done it tough. As our school year goes from the end of January to early December, my daughter – in her penultimate year – has missed lots of school. My son, in his second year at uni only went for two weeks of lectures.
“Nature has been kind. It was a mild winter. Now it’s spring, a time of hope, when Melbourne is at its finest.
“The air is filled with the fragrance of blossoms. There is a constant cacophony of birdsong and with fewer people about the birds have ventured further into suburbia.
“Whether in Greater Manchester or Yorkshire – when all this over and we can fly internationally again – I’m looking forward to driving over the moors to enjoy a glass of bubbly in a Saddleworth pub on a Saddleworth hillside… heaven.”