Cycling through Belfast city centre on a Black Friday weekend would normally have been nothing short of chaos. Scenes of eager shoppers packing Pandora and Zara like compressed sardines. Cheek to cheek, bag to bag, as the Kendal Jenner poster whispers “consume, consume, consume”.

Instead, pandemonium has been replaced with ‘pandemic’. This is 2020, the time of Covid-19. What’s left is the remnants and the reality of a high-street savaged by lockdowns.

A baron city centre, that can only be compared to a sobering comedown on a New Year’s Day. Accompanied by the bad decisions and foggy memory of not just one night, but the entire year. Questions like “How did we get here?” burning inside. The ‘Do they know it’s Christmas time’ song inappropriately coming to mind, as I ride through the deserted streets.

Christmas tree decorations pressed up against the glass of the shop windows, untouched, waiting for eager little hands to grab at them with joy. Slight reflections of the nostalgic tinsel displays try to break through on the damp brick floor. My bike tyres squeaking as I glide over them. The lights are on but no one’s home in Victoria Square. Except the dozen homeless, and the odd millennial photographer seeking out his next Instagram shot. A tale of two lives in one city.

The dimly lit cobbled streets of Cathedral Quarter are a little more populated. But not with the flashes of cash from brash, young professionals, on their third round of Christmas themed Gin & Tonics (Hendricks naturally). No, not in these days. Only the flashes of lighters, lighting soggy roll ups can be made out. Three greying men murmuring. Grey in the hair and grey in the face, peeking at me with paranoia from under their even greyer caps as I pass. They stand gauntly, seemingly with no warm home to be at on this sombre winter day. Or as the Northern Irish say, ‘Baltic’.

Topshop, the gateway to Victoria Square shopping mall and beyond. Once the glistening embodiment of the boy called ‘Ignorance’ and the girl called ‘Want’ in ‘A Christmas Carol’, is now boarded up for perhaps the last time.

As an empty sleeping bag lies flat against the concrete, uninhabited, and only a stone’s throw away. It’s a stark reminder that the road from ‘the haves’ to the ‘have-nots’ is a short trip and a bout of bad tidings away.