Coronavirus - The Calm before the Storm
Sunday, 15th March
My sister on holiday in Spain texts me to say that lockdown has been imposed and that she is confined to her hotel room until she can get a plane home next Tuesday (hopefully?). She’s OK: the hotel is giving them food to eat, they deliver lovely toiletries to the room each day, she has a sunny balcony to sit on and the wine has not yet run out. It’s obviously a bit hard to relax though when the streets are full of policemen, there are helicopters flying overhead, you’re not sure whether your plane will fly or not and – pretty disastrously for her husband – they have cancelled the football. And when they cancel football, you know that things must be getting really serious. OK – so now we know. Well we don’t, actually – all we know is that we are all now living in an increasingly very uncertain world…
Monday, 16th March
A sunny day is forecast and we decide to drive to the nearest beach we can reach. Weston super Mare isn’t exactly a destination at the top of everyone’s bucket list, but right now, it is easily accessible for us in a day and it feels great to walk along by the sea in the Spring sunshine watching true Brit bathers brave the freezing cold waves and eat fish and chips for lunch. Our GP calls mid walk and advises that a three month supply of my husband’s prescriptions will be delivered to our chemist this afternoon and that we need to go and pick them up – so we are well prepared for “the future”. I open the door to the chip shop with my elbows, dispense soap from a very grubby dispenser in the ladies, wash my hands furiously and stave off the onset of Alzheimers by singing Happy Birthday to myself loudly whilst simultaneously counting up to 21 Mississippis in my head. My sleeve ends are now uncomfortably wet and I am worrying that I may well have caught something from the soap dispenser….
I sleep very lightly, listening to the pattering feet of some animal that has managed to find its way into our loft space and making a mental to do list: Check how many toilet rolls I have left, turn out my grocery cupboard, ring my sister, ring my daughter, make a list of everything that might have to be cancelled, make a list of people I need to keep in touch with if things get really bad, check my bank account, replace my broken computer, go shopping and then – go to sleep ??!!
Wednesday, 18th March
The anniversary of the day we met. I celebrate by cleaning the house furiously from top to bottom, paying particular attention to all the door handles, the taps and the doorbell. The rat man promptly ruins it all by ringing the doorbell and touching every door handle in the house as he stomps upstairs into the loft to lay traps and trays of poison. As I follow him upstairs, I check the cupboard and am horrified to find that I have just one toilet roll left. My daughter rings to ask me if I have any toilet rolls I could let her have please? Her house was broken into last week and her poor traumatised little Scottie dog is unable to contain herself. We spend an anxious hour queuing in the chemist to pick up prescriptions for the next three months. The space around the prescriptions counter is just too small to allow people to social distance and the poor pharmacists there are under real and visible pressure. I leave my husband in the queue and stand in a quieter part of the shop and notice that my usual moisturiser is on a special two for one offer and that there are just two left. Yes, I could manage without this. Yes of course, it is not essential. Yes, I buy both of them – and resolve to use it very, very sparingly from now on. We decide to cancel the restaurant reservation we made for our anniversary and stay in, cook and drink some wine instead. Note to self – do NOT drink more than two glasses of wine because it makes you forget to use just one sheet of toilet paper…. I sleep lightly again, mentally working through the list of twenty five things we need to do to improve our home security that I made last week after my daughter got broken into and our neighbour’s car was pinched off their drive, but haven’t actually got around to actioning yet.
Thursday, 19th March
The gym emails to say it is shutting. Up to now, I have really frowned on all the panic buying that everyone has been indulging in and been resolute in not having any part of it myself. This morning, I feel a rising sense of panic and realise that I just have to get to the shops – NOW!
I make a careful list of essential items I need to last through the coming week and remember gratefully that I took up alpine gardening last year and bought a box of surgical gloves for sowing seeds. I dash out to the garage to repurpose them and psych myself up to brave a trip to the shops Many of the shelves are bare. There are no toilet rolls – anywhere. There is no soap either. OK – so now, I am panicking and I begin to really understand the impulse and the fear. If I can’t buy what I need, then maybe I should just buy what I can? I come back with 12 bottles of strong beer, a packet of dry roasted peanuts, a gooey looking piece of flapjack, a Terry’s orange and a bottle of disinfectant. I lost my shopping list en route somewhere, but at this point, that doesn’t really seem to matter too much?! My husband is starting to see the positive side of this epidemic – he loves beer – and nuts – and I don’t think that Terrys orange will go to waste either.
The announcement is made that the schools are now going to shut.
Friday 20th March
I spend the day trying to secure as many refunds as I can for future trips that now look very unlikely to go ahead. At first, I am intent on recovering as much cash as possible, but as I work through the calls, I find myself increasingly allowing future credits and accepting no refunds at all from people whose businesses are in danger of collapsing. We never make big purchases lightly and in these troubled times, you need to be even more careful than usual to spend money wisely – right? We debate the pros and cons of buying a big freezer to put in the garage. The thought of it filled with frozen food that we can access if/when we run out makes me feel so much better. We go through all the arguments about being able to bulk buy when special offers are on etc. Yes, they are expensive – but we eventually decide to go for it. We drive down to the local electrical shop and they laugh gently as they tell us that they sold out two days ago and have no idea when they are likely to get another delivery. I need to go shopping again – NOW! I do better this time, I really do. I start thinking hard about what I can do without and what really is essential. This time, I come back with two tins of carrot soup, 1 tin of French onion soup, 2 tins of tomatoes and tea bags (thanks be to God especially for those!) . I would have bought another tin of French onion soup (we like to have the same soup when we have lunch together), but it was limited to three per customer and I know I have a tin of that in my store cupboard. For once, I know everything in my store cupboard – intimately. I have rather a lot of nuts, lentils and dried fruit that I need to use up somehow. I know the contents of the freezer in my kitchen pretty well too – but not quite as well as I know my store cupboard. Note to self – really must label plastic freezer boxes more efficiently in future …. That tin of French Onion soup I had in my store cupboard had a sell by date of 2/3/19. Second note to self – must be MUCH more rigorous about keeping track of sell by dates on things. Must remember to add to tomorrow’s To Do list to check on how safe it is to eat tins which are past their sell by date.
Saturday 23rd March
At times like this, you really need your hobbies. I turn my attention to the garden, which I have always loved, but now begins to take on a monumental role as the only place I may be allowed to wander and get out of the house for maybe weeks/months. I have been dreaming about turning a raised bed at the bottom of my garden into an ambitiously large alpine bed for some time and spend the morning thinking through a design for it. I talk it through with my husband – we never spend money without careful discussion. Ever sensible and practical, he calmly states that, in the current circumstances, it would probably be a good idea to turn it into a vegetable bed instead. The disappointment I feel at this is indescribably and disproportionately massive. Cancelling dates with friends, holidays, and trips out is depressing, but now, even the plans for my own back garden have to fall apart? I have been doing well at keeping calm and carrying on up until now, but this threatens to tip me over the edge. Of course, it is totally irrational in the context of what the world is facing and I know that, so I get over my upset very quickly and waste only one sheet of toilet paper wiping up my tears.
I go for a walk down to the High Street and spot someone with a 4 pack of toilet rolls from Waitrose. I like shopping in Waitrose, but I would never normally buy toilet paper there – it’s way too expensive. I feel my pace start to quicken now though as the store comes into sight. I am so focussed on getting there in time that I nearly forget that I am walking on a narrow pavement and someone is coming the other way and if I don’t do something soon, they are going to be closer than two metres away from me. I swerve off the footpath, head resolutely down the middle of an empty road that is usually packed with cars and try to resist the urge to let my furious power walking pace quicken to an undignified sprint. I get there just in time – I buy four toilet rolls and I feel so very pleased with myself and fortunate. Then, I realise that I didn’t put any surgical gloves on and it’s warm and sunny, so I don’t have any ordinary gloves either and I’m going to have to pay for these toilet rolls somehow …. ? I force myself to touch the self checkout screens with my bare hands and use my credit card contactless. I come home and wash my hands more thoroughly than I have ever washed them in my life before and then I wash them again, just to be sure. Then I wash my face. Then I think – what about my ears? I decide that showering is the only solution and I as I wash, I think how grateful I am that we live in a country where it rains a lot, because at least we won’t run out of water. I feel much better now and then I realise that I am now running short of soap and I start to think about what on earth will happen in countries where they don’t get a lot of rain. I reassure myself that the best way to get through tough times is to practise mindfulness, positive thinking and focus on the moment. I survived my shopping trip and am now back safe inside my own front door again and I am very grateful for that ( as long as I didn’t get infected while I was out, which I won’t know for another 7 days?).
I sleep very lightly indeed, again. Next door’s dog barks incessantly day and night and the rat is still running up and down in the loft, despite the poison. I make a mental to do list of urgent jobs that I need to do when the morning eventually comes and remember that we have an appointment with a nice man from the Co-Op next Wednesday to rewrite our wills (Item number 10 on the 25 things to do to improve our home security checklist after the break-in) and we need to give some thought to what we need to ask him. I resolve to try to think of something nice to do tomorrow to cheer myself up a bit and fall asleep thinking that I must remember to add rat poison to my shopping list, in case the rat man can’t attend for his two follow-up visits.
Sunday 22nd March
We drive to the largest garden centre we can reasonably access and nervously draw into the car park. If it is packed with people, we won’t risk doing this – we’ll just turn around and drive home. There is hardly anyone there in fact. It is warm and sunny and I spend a very happy couple of hours walking through the plants outside coming no nearer than 4 metres to anyone. The trouble is, I really can’t decide what to buy here. I made a long list of things I would really like to brighten the garden up, given that it will soon become even more of a sanctuary than ever, but now I am actually here, I don’t really want to spend any money on them. I look at pots of pretty pink daisies and try to think how many I would need to fill up my garden pots. They are £9.99 each though – I do the Maths and I walk away. I buy a lot of compost and soil improver for the raised bed and the usual Spring essential garden chemicals and no plants or seeds at all. With the wonderful benefit of hindsight that no doubt everyone in the very difficult jobs of government and public service right now wishes they were equipped with, this was a big mistake. It’s bin day tomorrow. I look enviously at the wheelie bin as I shove it outside because it is going out more than I am right now. I am ultra careful as I chuck the empty tomato tins in – if you cut yourself badly now, would there be anyone available at the hospital to treat you?
Today is Mother’s Day and – like so many Mums all round the world – I can’t give my lovely daughter a hug even though she lives just around the corner from me. I might not see her again for a very long time. I feel sadder than I can ever remember.
Monday 23rd March
The National Trust opens all its gardens free of charge – what a lovely thing to do! Only now, they risk not being able to observe the social distancing regulations. There is overcrowding on the trails in Snowdonia too, so they are thinking they might have to close those. I have been keeping up with the news pretty avidly over the last few days, but the headlines are now getting increasingly difficult to stomach and I spend the day escaping by listening to classical music and sewing. There is a constant stream of “funnies” coming in on my ‘phone from various sources and they do make me chuckle and help lighten the mood a bit. Laughing is infectious too – in a really good way!
We brace ourselves for the 5pm broadcast and are unsurprised to find that the UK is now in lockdown. I reflect that if I had listened to this announcement just a week ago, it would have had much more of an impact on me. The events of the last few days have acted rather like an anaesthetic, gradually preparing me for the inevitable and now the bad news has finally arrived, it feels strangely more bearable than if it had been totally unexpected. I sleep deeply, finally, waking briefly at 3am to see if there are any on line shopping slots going anywhere. I laugh at myself for even trying and then reflect that to even try to get a slot was pretty selfish and that I won’t be trying any more.
Wednesday 25th March
The weather really is on our side right now. The Spring sunshine is wonderful. It probably won’t last, but for now, I am really appreciating it and feeling glad to be alive. As many other people are doing right now, I am re-evaluating what is really important in life and feeling very grateful for it. One of the “funnies” pings in and makes me laugh – “my teacher told me I would never amount to much and now, I am sitting on my sofa saving the world!”. I don’t want to sit on my sofa any longer though – the need to DO something overwhelms me. I sign up for the NHS Volunteer Corps (which takes me half an hour) and start to think hard how I can best be of help to the community.
The two hour meeting with the nice man from the Co-Op to re-write our wills takes place on the ‘phone because the Skype technology fails. This sort of chore is never pleasant at the best of times, but in the current environment, it feels even more unpleasant, because you might actually need to make use of it sooner than you think. Added to that, I have to make a list of everything we own and in doing so, realise that our pension pot has now halved in value. Stock markets will eventually bounce back of course – just like people do – but watching everything you have worked for disappear in front of your eyes is very sobering. It is only money though. Right now, keeping as many people as healthy as possible is really all that matters.
When it’s all done, we drink a couple of glasses of gin and tonic to celebrate and scoff all the dry roasted peanuts we can find in the house. My daughter rings to give us the good news that she has secured an online shopping slot and asks if there is anything we need? The G&T has taken hold by now and we giggle as we add peanuts, gin and Terry’s oranges to the list…
Thursday 26th March
The morning after the night before. We transfer the cash to my daughter’s bank account to cover the cost of last night’s impromptu shopping spree and hide the gin bottle at the back of the cupboard. I set up a series of virtual coffee breaks with my girlfriends and enjoy the novelty and comradery. The compost I bought at the weekend finds its way into the empty pots that were sitting waiting for it and I now realise that I actually have nothing to plant in them. A pleasant morning spent with my gardening books and catalogues results in another list.
When I log on to make my purchase though, I find that the panic buying that started with toilet rolls and soap has now spread through the booze aisles and reached as far as the on line nurseries. It takes me two hours to scramble enough orders together to make the garden a somewhat more bearable place than it would be with just empty pots full of soil and to find sufficient packets of seed to set up a vegetable bed.
Is on line shopping for anything non essential ethical ion the current climate though? I weigh up the pros and cons in my own head and decide that it is good to keep the economy going as best we can over the next few weeks/months but resolve to check that the companies I am ordering from are all observing all the guidelines and keeping their employees safe.
Friday 27th March
I brace myself to drive to Morrisons and shop for the coming week. We agree (after lengthy discussion!) that my husband (who has chronic asthma) stays in the car while I do the actual shopping. We live right in the centre of a big city and Morrisons is a large and usually very busy place. At 10 am, it was eerily quiet there. There was no queue, everyone was observing social distancing very responsibly and the shelves were relatively well stocked. Armed with a carefully made list of real essentials, I shopped with military precision not needing to retrace my steps at all. Morrisons was impeccably well organised. I never had to get more than 3 metres from anyone and I found everything I needed except some couscous. There were no toilet rolls – but I have a pack now, so that’s OK. There was no soap either. Well there was actually. There were bars of soap rather than the squidgy stuff I usually like to buy – but that hardly matters does it? I left it for now – I’ll see if the squidgy stuff arrives next week. I smiled to myself as I listened to Brotherhood of Man playing Save all your Kisses for Me and thought it would be good if they maybe played a bit of Police (Don’t Stand so Close to Me) next time?
Our favourite checkout girl, Angela, was on duty and I was so pleased to have the chance to chat to her as she zapped my careful purchases and sent them on their way down the long 3 metres stretch of conveyer belt that opened up between her and me. “Where is your hoozband?” she asked me. “Sitting in the car, miserable” I replied. Her eyes widened as her face fell and showed genuine sadness. “Is he sick?” God bless you Angela. “No – just bored and lonely sitting in the car when he could be talking to his favourite checkout girl!. We had a good laugh and a bit of a chat and both thanked each other for being there. I peeled off my surgical gloves, dumped them safely in the store bin and drove home.
I unpacked my shopping feeling grateful that I had been able to find it and to pay for it and that I had, again made it home safely. I know that strictly speaking, I will have to wait for 7 days to see if I have really made it home safely or not or whether my trip to the shops has left me infected and I am one of the unlucky ones who is not able to fight off the infection. For now though, I am alive, I am well, I am at home with the person I love most in all the world and all the friends and family that are dear to me are safe – which is really all that ever matters isn’t it?
Saturday 28th March
You always feel so much better after a good night’s sleep don’t you? I have a set of 6 blue mugs in my kitchen that all have a slightly different design. My favourite was always the one with splashy blue splodges all over it and I always try to use that one if I can whenever I make the tea. I looked at it this morning and decided I hated it now. It looks a bit like a coronavirus. I pushed it gently to the back of the cupboard behind all the other five.
I noticed happily that we hadn’t heard the rat for a couple of days, so I think maybe, just maybe, that poison actually worked? The nice man from the Co-Op sent through our draft wills for review and I was pleased that we had worked through those on that very difficult day. It was long overdue and it felt good to have put our affairs properly in order.
My magnolia is in full bloom, all the daffodils are out, the neighbours are planning an on the doorstep “Cheers” moment this evening (which is a first) and the Photography group teacher has set up an on line virtual session we can all log into next week. Two magpies have settled into the large poplar tree I can see from my bedroom window. There may be trouble ahead (there undoubtedly is) and the world is in the process of a seismic change the scale of which has not been seen since wartime. All we really need to do though is to Keep Calm and Carry On – enjoying each day as it comes, being grateful for what we have and being as kind as we can to all those around us. If you put it like that, it feels very doable really?
Must add to To Do List: Research on line how best to support lonely people over the ‘phone for when my volunteering role starts; Find nice recipes with lentils and nuts; Try never to run out of tea.
If the worst happens though, I feel that in the new world – on the other side of all this chaos – there will always be someone who would lend me a tea bag and maybe – when social distancing is just a horrid memory – take the time for a chat and give me a hug too, if I needed it? If nothing else, this crisis should unite people, generate a sense of community spirit on a scale that would previously have been unimaginable and make better people of all those who are lucky enough to survive. Sleep well. Stay safe. See you on the other side.
Keep Calm and Carry On
For a lengthy and undefined period of time, loving to wander is going to be all about memories rather than future plans. So the conundrum: Let it all pass – as it surely will – and then eventually just pick up my travel blog where I left off as though nothing had happened? No. This is a journey like no other and everyone in the world is travelling on it together. It is a wake-up call and a complete game changer. For a conscientious blogger, chronicling our journey through the most momentous piece of history in most of our living memories is clearly essential. But how best to achieve it? Keeping a sense of humour always helps to keep everyone cheerful in tough and stressful times. By the time you finish reading my posts, I sincerely hope that you have had a good laugh – or at least a smile and feel a bit better about the changing world we all now occupy. We are all in this together, no-one is untouched by this and in the brave new world, none of us should ever have to fear being alone.