Just as I was looking forward to freedom to do as I wanted – to walk and wander freely – the UK went into lockdown. And I slid straight into lock down from self-isolation.
On Monday 23 March 2020 restrictions were imposed by the UK government putting the country into lockdown. These will last for at least three weeks depending on how successful it is in stopping the spread of coronavirus. It will force people to stay at home apart from a small number of exceptions. These are to shop for necessities (as infrequently as possible) one form of exercise a day such as jogging, walking or cycling. This exercise to be done alone or with members of the household. Medical or care needs such as helping a vulnerable person are also accepted as a reason to leave home. As is travelling to and from work if it is not possible to work from. Meeting friends, shopping for items other than essentials and gathering in crowds is now banned. The police have the power to enforce these rules as well as social distancing and to impose fines if they are ignored. So, I will be able to go out shopping soon - only problem, only food shops and pharmacies will be open.
Monday 23 March 2020
It is a lovely, sunny morning and after an early breakfast I set off to do my jogging and walking circuit. Children have been added to the mix exercising on the beach today. All schools closed early for Easter last Friday. In essence, my life was going to change very little once my period of self-isolation was over. Apart from my daily exercise I could now go shopping for necessities but that would be all. I did still have an appointment at a hospital in Hertfordshire so I called the and was informed they were still operating normally. That was a relief as it would give me an excuse to go back to my flat there to collect clothes more suitable for the warmer weather. Jogging in jeans and a ski jacket was not easy or practical.
Tuesday 24 March 2020
I wake at six to another sunny morning. Despite not using an alarm I still wake up at the same time I have been waking up for work for the past twenty-four years. I jog a little bit further this morning on my way to the beach. I am managing to increase the distance every day before I have to stop due to not being able to breathe. I recognise some regulars and we exchange greetings from a social distance. There is a man on the beach who looks as though he is going in for a swim but he is procrastinating by doing a series of rather strange exercises. I stop and watch for a while wondering how he is managing not to fall over.
I move on. I have the impression Darth Vader has just landed as a tall figure in a long, black hooded cloak sweeps past me. Further along the beach Darth Vader has stripped off and is wading into the sea – singing. I stop to listen. I find it uplifting and oddly comforting to hear such joy. As I retrace my steps the Singing Swimmer is sitting on a rock and shouts a greeting. I respond and compliment her on her singing – not Darth Vader at all but a statuesque black woman. She tells me she was praising the Lord and then everything is in His hands and we should not worry. I take this thought home with me. Today is the AGM of the British Guild of Travel Writers. I belong to this guild but the WiFi signal in the flat is not strong enough for me to log on and take part so I have to give it a miss. We should have held this meeting in Malta. Another casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.
Wednesday 25 March 2020
I wake up feeling very troubled today. I had watched the late-night news before going to bed last night and did not sleep well. The number of deaths from coronavirus has increased a lot in the past twenty-four hours and some hospitals have been overwhelmed. It was really upsetting watching NHS doctors talking on television – they are on the front line and have never experienced anything like it. It was also announced Excel is to be turned into a temporary hospital with four thousand beds. Only a few months ago it had hosted the World Travel Market and I had been there. Hard to imagine after being there in November. Found it hard to get to sleep as it is all so awful.
I get up and have some breakfast while listening to the local news. An announcement is made that the Sandbanks chain ferry will no longer be carrying foot passengers, cycles or motorbikes. This is a personal blow as I had been planning to take my bicycle across to Studland next week as my one form of exercise allowed each day. My world is getting smaller. Globally, the Tokyo summer Olympics have been cancelled and will be held next year.
Today is my last day of self-isolation. It is so cold there has been a ground frost but as the drops of ice are already glistening in the sun I get dressed and go straight out for a walk. I jog first, twice the distance I covered the first time day I indulged in this activity. The beach is busier than usual with a steady stream of people strolling past the empty windows of deserted hotels. I notice that building work has been suspended on some new penthouses close to my flat. There has been some controversy regarding whether or not building work should be allowed to continue. The answer seems to be yes where the builders can retain the 2-meter social distancing. But in London, it is not the distance on the worksite that is the issue but over-crowding on a restricted underground service. I am worried that this means the work on my London flat will have been abandoned. I make enquires and discover it has. When I get back to the flat I register my interest in volunteering to assist the NHS. Yesterday evening it was announced that 250,000 volunteers are needed to offer help to the vulnerable and the over 70’s who have been told to stay at home for twelve weeks. 170,000 people have already signed up.
Thursday 26 March 2020
After my early morning walk along the beach, I set off for my first legitimate shopping trip as I have served my time in self-isolation. As the buses are still running I take advantage of the hourly service into Poole. When the bus arrives it is a small, single-decker, and completely empty. Only one other person boards the bus during its journey from Sandbanks to Poole. When I arrive at the bus station it is deserted.
The Dolphin Shopping Centre is open but opening hours are now limited. It is eerie walking along a mall of closed shops. Only Superdrug, Holland and Barrett, Boots and the food hall of Marks and Spencer’s are open. There are queues outside the last two – everyone standing a good two metres apart. I head for Sainsbury’s. There is also a long queue here so I get a trolley and find the end of it. All shops are operating a one out one in policy. The queue is moving quite quickly so I am soon inside. All items are limited to 3 per person with the exception of pasta which is 2 per person. The queues at the checkouts are being monitored and there are markings on the floor. While I am waiting on my allocated mark a man nips in between me and the customer in front of me. He is immediately told to get in line behind me. On my way back to the bus I repeat the process in Boots to buy one small bottle of hand sanitizer – that is all I am allowed. It is so quiet in the shopping centre I can hear my own shoes slapping on the floor. I have a whole bus to myself again on the way home.
This evening is the first time we salute the NHS workers who are battling against the coronavirus, putting themselves at risk every day. I go out onto my balcony at eight o’clock. Although there are not many people outside their homes it is surprising how much noise they can make. It is very emotional.
Friday 27 March 2020
Today I am expecting the delivery of my new sofa. The old one did not take kindly to my new occupation as a couch potato and imploded inwards. As all non-essential retail outlets are now closed I am denied the luxury of bouncing around on possible replacements but at least I was able to buy one on-line. Since I made my purchase the rules of delivery have changed. I receive a phone call, the new rules are explained and the question posed – can they just leave it outside the front door. It is a two-seater sofa, the flat is on the second floor and there is no lift. I suggest that maybe they can carry it up to the front door of the flat and just push it inside. They are not sure. I promise they need not come inside and that I will keep well away from them. Agreement reached I watch from a safe distance as the cushions are thrown through my front door followed by the frame that slides easily across the wooden floor. Once I have put the sofa together and screwed the legs on it is time for lunch. I am lucky – I can enjoy a nice view of Poole Harbour from the flat while I eat.
Three swans have drifted into the harbour. There are hundreds of them down the road in the lake in Poole Park and I guess they are getting hungry with the lack of visitors to feed them. These three struck lucky as a mother and her young child were on the beach so they homed in on them. I watched in amazement as the mother allowed the child to approach the swans when they came out of the water. Didn't she know how much damage a swan could do with one swipe of its wing? Mum then spreads a rug on the sand and gets out a picnic. There have been constant warnings on the news forbidding people doing this - we have been advised to keep moving on beaches and in parks otherwise it cannot be classified as exercise.
Saturday 28 March 2020
This morning I wake very early feeling very positive with ideas for articles to write tumbling around in my head. One of them is to keep a diary of life during the coronavirus and to share it on social media. This will fill the gap left by articles that could not be written due to travels that could not take place. But first I need to do a food shop. I decide to combine my daily exercise with a visit to the shops in Bournemouth. I start by jogging along the promenade that fringes the Bournemouth beaches. I then take a path to the top of the cliffs and follow another path to Branksome Chine beach. While waiting at the bus stop I notice the beautiful Branksome Gardens I have not noticed them before even though I regularly drive along this road. These gardens were originally created as a Conservation Area during the late nineteenth century. I don’t have time to linger as my bus, an empty double-decker, arrives a few minutes later.
Bournemouth town centre is deserted and there are no queues outside Tesco Express, my objective. I am over-joyed to find my favourite muesli in stock and grab three bags. The self-service till objects to the third one but the supervisor works her magic and it goes through. I am so quick I am in time to get the next bus back to Sandbanks. The buses are still running on an hourly service so shopping trips are easy to organise.
Sunday 29 March 2020
As I eat an early breakfast (muesli and banana) I watch the news. Images of capitals across the world are being shown. All devoid of people, in particular Paris where, just six weeks ago I was battling through the crowds around the Eiffel Tower. Today, there is no-one there. There is no-one on the bus either when I set off for Poole later that morning. I get off at the entrance to Poole Park where I will jog and walk before doing some shopping. Strong bitterly cold winds sweep inland across the Boating Lake. I linger here for a while. Some forlorn gulls and ducks are lined up on the bank. A flotilla of swans is approaching fast. I don’t have a crumb for offer them and quickly move on as the swans start to peck each other in desperation. It is too cold to stay out long so I complete a circuit of the park and head for the bus stop. I have abandoned the idea of shopping and just want to get back to my cosy flat, for the first time since we went into lock down I am happy at the thought of spending the rest of the day inside.
Some Government Statistics
By 23 March 2020 there were 5,837 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK and 335 had died from COVID19. By 29 March 2020 there were 19,522 confirmed cases and the death toll had risen to 1,408 patients in the UK. The government is warning that the lock down could last as long as six months.
More next week.
Valery Collins is the Experienced Traveller
An excellent raconteur, Valery has been writing about her experiences on the road since she started travelling 25 years ago. After publishing 4 books she turned to online travel writing and photography. Today she is editor, features’ writer and reviewer for ExperiencedTraveller.com and regularly contributes guided city walks to GPSmyCity.com