Here's to the Glorious 12th, a day Preston began to feel normal again
It is being called the Glorious 12th - the Monday in April when England's third lockdown was lifted and some sense of normality finally returned to our lives.
Non-essential shops reopened yesterday, tempting thousands out of hibernation and into town and city centres to splash the cash.
Pubs were allowed to serve customers seated outdoors, meaning almost four months of drought for drinkers was partially lifted.
Hairdressers began the lengthy task of sorting out the nation's overgrown locks.
And gyms were able to open their doors again to begin the job of getting the country fit again.
Brian Ellis was in Preston to see the city come back to life.
It may be simpler online . . . but thousands turned out in Preston city centre yesterday to show there is nothing quite like the real thing when it comes to retail therapy.
While the first day back began slowly, the expected queues formed outside stores by mid-morning as shoppers emerged from an enforced 14-week winter hibernation to splash the cash.
As expected, the longest lines were outside Primark in Fishergate which opened at 8am and, because its discount clothes are not available on the internet, had to erect crowd barriers and adopt an airport-style queuing system.
Next door there were similar scenes outside the doomed Debenhams store which, ironically, only opened its doors to have a closing down sale and had to limit admission to 800 shoppers at any one time.
Even the small independents like the iconic Novello ladieswear shop on Fishergate were busy as customers headed into town for their first taste of live shopping since at least the New Year.
"We're just hoping that's been our last lockdown," said Hannah Deuchars, the fifth generation of the family which has run Novello in Preston for 107 years.
"It's been tough. We've been closed for seven months in all. The first lockdown was three months long, then we had to close for a second which, was a month, and then another three months. It's been an awfully long year.
"We have waited so long to open again and it's great. I'm just looking forward to things, hopefully, getting back to normal."
Amongst the first to hit the bargain rails at Primark were University of Central Lancashire students Anna Varvedo and Grace Griffin. They were in the queue before 8am and emerged with bags full of "small essentials" like socks, underwear, T-shirts and pyjamas.
"There was quite a queue when we got there and, by the time the store opened there were lots more," said Anna, 20, who is a chemistry student.
"We've both been shopping online throughout lockdown, but it's nice when you can see things in person. I like shopping online, but I don't like not being able to see what I'm buying."
Grace, 21, who is studying social work, added: "I've missed shopping to be honest. Online is OK, but it's not the same as being able to see and touch the stuff.
"A flatmate ordered 13 dresses online and ended up sending 12 of them back. That's what happens."
Yvonne Dillon has been running her Essentials lingerie and swimwear business in Lune Street for more than 25 years and should have celebrated the silver anniversary of the shop in November.
"I had planned a big celebration, but it couldn't happen because of lockdown," she said. "We've missed seven months in total over three lockdowns and that's a big chunk of the last year.
"But although it hasn't been easy, I'm a fighter and I don't quit that easily. You have to look forward, not back and hopefully things will return to normal soon.
"I'm hoping Preston are going to do some big changes to the high street, encouraging people to shop local and not be put off by the fact that stores like Debenhams are no longer here. There is still plenty for people to come into town for."
It was the heady moment many beer drinkers had been waiting for with parched lips since before Christmas.
After putting up with bottles and cans as poor substitutes for almost four months, ale lovers were able to slake their thirst with a "proper" pint at the local pub.
Customers were at the Market Tavern at 10am as glasses of foaming ale were delivered to the earlybirds at a scattering of tables outside the Victorian hostelry.
It has to be like this for the next five weeks at least before drinkers can move indoors on the next step towards some kind of normality.
Landlord Gavin Corless was buzzing. "It's been tough, but we've come through it," he said.
"I think we were one of the earliest to open. It felt great pulling those first pints. It's like we're bringing a bit of happiness back to the city centre.
"If this weather holds up and everyone is as happy as they are today then it's going to be brilliant."
Customers Catherine and David Scarfe had been out shopping at the nearby market hall when they spotted activity at the pub opposite and decided on an impromptu pit stop.
"It was the end of October when I last had a drink at a pub," said David. "I've been looking forward to this day very much, but I didn't realise they'd be open so early.
"Drinking at home isn't the same. The pub is about socialising and having a bit of banter. It's the social interaction you miss and I'm sure a lot of people have been affected badly."
Three months of bad hair days will take weeks to clear as Preston's hair salons started clipping again.
One barber in Longridge opened just after midnight as desperate customers refused to wait any longer to have post lockdown surgery on their dishevelled locks.
And the Toni and Guy salon in Fishergate the appointment book is already crammed full for the foreseeable future.
"We're extending our opening hours and working Sundays to get through it all," said James Leigh, who owns the salon with his wife Joanne.
"We are booked up for weeks and all our staff are working extra hours to cope with the demand. We've been shut for the last three-and-a-half months and it will take some time to catch up.
"Overall we have missed seven-and-a-half months in the last 12 and it has been incredibly frustrating. But we're back and everyone is thrilled.
"It's Monday, but when you look outside it's just like a Saturday with the amount of people in the town centre. It's a real feel-good feeling."
Regular customer Diane Byrom travels all the way from Lytham to have her hair styled by Joanne. She was one of the first in the chair yesterday.
"The last time I had my hair done was at the beginning of December," she said. "I should have had an appointment in January, but then lockdown came in.
"So I've managed more than four months and I have to say it has lasted very well. It was obviously a very good cut."
Personal trainer Lee Hayward opened his new gym at last yesterday, 14 weeks after the official launch had to be cancelled due to lockdown.
The fitness expert from Penwortham was finally able to welcome clients as gyms across England were given the thumbs up to resume indoor sessions for the first time since the New Year.
Lee, a former PT with Virgin Active and Nuffield Health, has spent the past three months unable to earn a living after the third Covid lockdown on January 5 coincided with the planned opening of his business.
"I'm delighted to be finally up and running," he said as he began one-to-one fitness sessions early yesterday at his gym in Liverpool Road. "The third lockdown couldn't have happened at a worse time for me - the same day that I was starting out as self employed.
"I've not been able to earn anything for the past three months, apart from doing a few chilly outdoor sessions over the past two weeks, so it's very welcome.
"My wife has been doing extra shifts on the NHS frontline to pay the bills. So now, maybe, she can get a bit more rest - she deserves it."
Gyms have been badly-affected by Covid restrictions, unable to operate normally since before March last year. Now open again, they must observe strict measures to allow members to train safely.
Lee, who provides exclusive one-to-one tuition, explained: "Safety must come first and so everything is sanitised before and after each session. That's how it has to be from now on."