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Not even marvellous Max can lift the gloom

By Peter Madeley | Wolverhampton | Music | Published:

Max Kane is doing his very best to lift the spirits, belting out ‘Sex Bomb’ while he bops and grooves his way around Queen Square.

It's the middle of the day in Wolverhampton but there is nobody around

Sadly for the old crooner he’s entertaining a crowd of precisely two, one of whom is a sozzled beggar sprawled out across the pavement in the glorious afternoon sun.

Clearly, the lack of spirits around to lift has nothing to do with the quality of Kane’s performance.

It's still a few hours before Boris Johnson announces a nationwide lockdown, but already footfall is light.

There's a small group of workmen digging up part of Dudley Street.

An occasional customer hurries in and out of Lloyds Bank.

An entertainer struts his stuff in Queen Square, but there are no crowds to see his perform

From a distance, a lone police officer gazes over in Kane's direction, a look of bewilderment etched across her face.

At the entrance to the Mander Centre the last few shoppers are beginning to leave, pushing doors open with their forearms on their way out.

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It's a scene you would expect to see on a Sunday afternoon, rather than at the start of a busy shopping week.

As coronavirus takes hold, Wolverhampton city centre has emptied out.

Every event has been canned; the council buildings, including art galleries, have shut.

The pubs closed their doors for the final time for a while on Friday night – prompting a slew of gurning imbeciles to flood social media with pictures of themselves enjoying one last bevvy.

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The weekend saw some of the city’s independent stores shut their doors, with ‘closed until further notice’ signs popping up everywhere as traders realised they were fighting a losing battle.

The big boys quickly followed suit.

WOLVERHAMPTON PIC MNA PIC DAVID HAMILTON PIC EXPRESS AND STAR 23/3/2020 Pete Madeley feature.... Coronavirus affecting Wolverhampton, McDonald's open for takeaway orders only, at Dudley Street, Wolverhampton..

By Monday afternoon McDonald’s on Dudley Street – usually the busiest place in a city centre that doesn’t really do ‘busy’ – had the shutters down and a big sign in the window informing customers that the restaurant was now doing takeaway deliveries only.

It was all too much for some, including the two gentlemen who stand staring through the front doors for too many minutes, as if hoping to summon up a couple of Big Macs.

Nando’s on Queen Street has also shut up shop, as has Primark at the entrance to the Wulfrun Centre.

Close down a few shops in a city where one in five stores are already empty, and you’re not left with much.

It’s hit the taxi drivers hard around Market Street and Castle Street, with trade down to a trickle.

“We knew the night trade would be hard when they shut the pubs, but it has all gone now,” one of them tells me.

“Just look around, there’s nobody here. A couple more days and that’s me finished.” He’s right. Greggs, which usually does a healthy trade from workers getting their lunch, is completely empty.

At the usually busy junction at Lichfield Street and Princess Street there is virtually no traffic

There’s nobody waiting for the bus around the back of M&S and no one relaxing on the famous £20,000 granite benches.

Even the bookies, a regular hive of activity, are closed.

Down by the impressive new railway station work has ground to a halt for the time being, while the number of people making their way to catch trains is dwindling by the day as more and more services are reduced or cancelled.

A large number of the people who are out and about are wearing masks, or at least have a scarf pulled up over their faces – a bizarre sight when you consider the warm weather that has arrived in the city after weeks of heavy rain storms.

We’re in the first month of Spring but nobody is thinking about revival or growth.

It’s noticeable that people cross the road to avoid getting too close to each other.

Even the gates of city parks including the ever splendid West Park are closed – although they have since re-opened following a change of heart by council bosses.

Naturally, there are strict guidelines in place. No gatherings of more than two people; stay off the climbing frames.

Down by Molineux it’s equally quiet.

The famous old ground has not hosted a first team game since the dreary draw against Brighton at the start of the month, and the usually busy car parks that surround it are nearly empty, with ticket sales suspended and the Megastore closed.

There will be no action there for a long time to come and many fans are concerned that a promising season may yet amount to nothing.

“It’s not ideal, but really, who cares about the football at the moment?” says Wolves fan Adrian Ryder, who says he’s been getting his football fix watching Belarusian matches on the internet.

“There’s more important things to worry about.”

That there is.

Peter Madeley

By Peter Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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