A pint, a meal, shopping and a trip to the zoo - What is a day out like in the ‘new normal’?
- Credit: Denise Bradley
Over the past few months, we have been starved of many of life’s simple pleasures.
The coronavirus crisis has prevented us from enjoying what we might consider to be ‘normal’ days.
But with measures steadily being eased in recent weeks, a sense of normality has begun to return as retailers reopen their doors and pubs welcome familiar faces.
In an attempt to get to grips with the ‘new normal’, reporter Tom Chapman spent a day trying out some of the activities we have missed most.
Time for tea
I arrived in Norwich on a miserable July morning and, no sooner had the day started, I decided it was time for a tea break.
At Biddy’s Tea Room, on quaint Lower Goat Lane, I was greeted by a sanitising station and signs telling me which of the two doors to enter through.
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I was welcomed by Natasha and Erik, before coming over all English and ordering a breakfast tea.
For now, Biddy’s has adopted an outside-only seating policy and, thankfully, the rain had relented by the time I took my seat.
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Sipping my tea and watching the world go by seemed perfectly normal, almost as if a global pandemic had never even happened.
The only clue was shoppers noticeably keeping their distance from each other on the street.
Natasha and Erik told me business had been slow since reopening, although they hoped it was something to do with a soggy summer.
Shop ‘til you drop
A day shopping - whether in Norwich or our nearest town - is something we wouldn’t typically think twice about.
But these are not ‘typical’ times and, admittedly, it felt slightly tense in the city centre.
Norwich is littered with ‘respect others’ and ‘keep your distance’ signs, and one wonders whether they are here to stay.
I donned a face mask (my choice) before heading into department store, Jarrold, where a security guard was monitoring the number of customers coming in.
Having browsed the menswear section, I tried on a pair of shoes and team leader Jeanne was happy to help.
She gave me the option of either sanitising my hands or wearing a protective sock, and I opted for the latter which was to be worn over my own sock and disposed of after use.
I was soon at the till, where Jeanne served me from behind a protective screen.
Shopping was hungry work and where better to eat than Gonzo’s Tea Room.
Co-owner Brad Baxter and his team welcomed me and I sat in one of the bar-cum-restaurant-cum-nightclub’s booths, enclosed by newly-installed protective screens.
Hand sanitiser is on every table and work is under way to ensure the brilliant rooftop garden is safe.
You can’t go to Gonzo’s without ordering a burger, and I went for a new creation, the ‘Aaaaaaaadrian’, named after the immortal line in Sylvester Stallone’s boxing classic, Rocky.
As a I tucked in, one of the waitresses took down diners’ names and numbers for contact tracing.
Despite seeming like a distant memory, it felt perfectly natural to be eating out again. When the food is that good, it’s a distraction from anything.
Mine’s a pint
Watering holes reopened on July 4.
The key question was what pubs should look like and how drinkers are going to be kept safe.
I walked a few hundred yards from Gonzo’s to the Walnut Tree Shades at Old Post Office Court, best known for its live music.
But, while social distancing guidelines remain in place, there won’t be any bands playing and the pub is operating at just 15pc of its usual capacity.
A sign told me to wait at the door to be seated and I was met by landlady Claire Brooks, who has been in charge for almost a decade.
Claire told me the pub’s future was “touch and go”.
She said: “I’ve been through the emotional wringer, but I’m actually calmer now that we’re open again.
“It’s nice to be back and I feel we’ve made the place a safe environment, but if people aren’t ready to come back we completely understand.
“When we were told we could reopen, we had to ask ourselves ‘are we going to cover the bills with limited custom?’ It’s not about profit - I just want to cover my bills.”
Leaving the city, I drove out to Congo Rapids in Easton for a spot of crazy golf.
On a damp day I was surprised to see so many people on the course.
In actual fact, the set-up was perfect for maintaining social distancing, with golfers seldom in close proximity with other groups.
Visitors are asked to use hand sanitiser when they arrive and putters must be left in a basket at the end of your game, ready for staff to collect and wipe down.
On the course, a battle with my arch nemesis - the cauldron on hole number two - left me playing catch up on the front nine, although some pride was restored with a tidy finish on the back nine.
Heading down the A11, I turned off near Snetterton towards one of Norfolk’s favourite attractions: Banham Zoo.
With income drying up and costly overheads, wildlife parks across the country have been left fighting for survival.
The story at Banham is no different.
Fortunately the zoo was permitted to open on July 4 and has enjoyed a strong start as animal-lovers flock to see its array of majestic creatures.
On entry I was greeted by several sanitising stations and clear signage which instructed visiting groups to stick together.
A one-way system in the narrowest parts of the zoo made social distancing an easy task, while staff were on hand to ensure measures were being adhered to in the toilet and canteen facilities.
Meanwhile, in La Hacienda barn, which usually offers an opportunity to interact with domestic livestock, visitors are being asked to refrain from touching any of the animals.
Walking around Banham in the open air made for a comfortable and stress-free experience, and a reminder that the ‘new normal’ doesn’t have to be all that bad.