19th April 2020
Life in a Coronavirus Pandemic: Locked Down in Dorset
It is not often I am in the right place at the right time but when the UK went into lock down I just happened to be in Dorset nearing the end of a period of self-isolation. It was no hardship to stay where I was.
I am now in the habit of watching the news every morning. This morning there are images of dustbins over-flowing with food that has been thrown out because it has passed the use-by date. Not just a terrible waste but it had depleted stocks to the extent many people had been struggling to buy the food they needed. At least limits are now being imposed on the number of each items that could be bought by each customer and the shelves were filling up again. We are being told to stay at home and practice social distancing as we are all in it together.
Monday 30 March 2020
Now that I no longer have to scuttle to the local Tesco under cover of darkness I am ready to undertake a proper shopping expedition, to Poole. The buses are still running on an hourly service but very few people are using them so I feel quite safe regarding the need to keep a social distance from other passengers. The bus is empty when it arrives. It is driven by a very cheerful young lady who immediately confesses that this is the first time she has driven this route. I am slightly unnerved as she is referring to written instructions while driving so I move closer to the front and start giving her directions. It is going well until we get to a tricky bit and we miss a turning and cut out two stops. Once we are back on the right road I can see one of the stops behind us and report that there was no-one there anyway. We pick up two more passengers one of whom knows the route better than me. But between the three of us we manage to miss out two more stops. The driver, who is driving quite fast, ignored an instruction to turn right as she had spotted a bus stop but had not realised it was one we had passed earlier. We are now going back the way we came. A few more stops are sacrificed as the second passenger, clearly in a hurry, takes us on the shortest route to the bus station. A completely deserted bus station. And a desolate High Street as most of the shops have now closed. Retail therapy is now on hold. I take my daily exercise by walking through the old town of Poole and along the sea front before returning to the shopping centre. I queue to get into Boots to replenish my stock of hand sanitizer but I am only allowed one small bottle. It is time for my bus back to Sandbanks. This time the driver knows the route and is also meticulous about keeping to the timetable so he drives very slowly and we have several timing stops. I feel a lot better after my little adventure.
Tuesday 31 March 2020
It is dark when I wake up at 6 o’clock this morning. I had forgotten that the clocks went forward last Saturday. My laptop and iPhone had done it automatically so I changed my watch and now we are all working at the correct time. I wait until it gets light and then set off for my daily exercise starting with a bit of jogging around the harbour. Each day I jog a bit further than the day before. But it is not easy jogging in jeans, trainers and several assorted tops to combat cold weather and a stiff see breeze. When I cross the road and head for the beach I notice some changes – the car parks are now closed, the barriers are down at the entrance and the ticket machines taped up. The exit is fenced off. This is part of the effort to prevent people driving long distances to spend a day by the seaside. It is very cold again but the sun is out and the sky is blue so it is very invigorating. It is also low tide and the rocks off the sea defences are above the water line. It is many years since I have scrambled on rocks but I have been doing a little each day and getting braver every time. I am surprised how much my balance and agility has improved as I ascend and descend the large mounds of rocks and boulders – some encrusted with barnacles. I am reluctant to return to the flat as I know I will be there for the next twenty-four hours – on my own.
In fact, the day passes quite pleasantly emailing friends and posting and sharing comments on social media. As I rarely have time to do more than the minimum I am enjoying having the time to indulge in online chats. This evening it is announced on the news that a thirteen-year old boy has died from COVID19. He is the first child to die and he died alone as his parents could not be with him. This is shocking news and disproves the theory that children have immunity to the virus. A nineteen-year old Italian chef working in London has also died. It is thought that neither victim had any underlying health conditions. This is a real wake-up call for everyone especially those not taking the situation as seriously as they should. As I am finding, it is easy to become cocooned in one’s own little bubble. Especially in such a beautiful location.
Wednesday 01 April 2020
I wake up to another glorious morning. The sky above the harbour is streaked with pink and blue and the weather is getting warmer each day. It is the first day of April and I celebrate by deleting all trips and appointments in my diary as it is now clear none of these are going to happen. On the news the government is being heavily criticised for their slow reaction to the spread of the coronavirus. We are behind all the other European countries particularly in relating to testing people for the virus especially those on the front line. It is also difficult to buy testing equipment and ventilators as the demand is so high. There is nothing I can do as an individual except obey the rules. I am trying very hard to do so but on such a lovely day it is hard to contemplate being inside the whole day so I decide to get the bus to Studland Bay and take my daily exercise there. Studland is famous for its long stretches of natural and naturist sandy beaches and limestone cliffs of its Jurassic Coast that features the famous Old Harry Rocks - my objective.
My plan to walk on Studland nearly fails at the first hurdle – getting the bus that goes across there on the chain ferry. As the bus driver pointed out, I should not have admitted to my true intentions but used the necessity of shopping as my reason for taking the bus to Studland village. However, he still allowed me to get on his empty double decker bus. Once on board he proved to be very helpful and told me the best place to start my walk and also suggested I buy something at the village shop in case I had problems getting on the bus back to Sandbanks. We chatted (from a distance) throughout the journey. He told me that there was so little traffic on Studland now that in the evenings he often encounters a herd of deer on the road.
It is wonderful walking on the coastal path. The cliff top is sprinkled with wild flowers, the air is crisp and clear and it is deserted. I walk for two and only pass about twelve people in total. A police car passes me as I approach Old Harry Rocks. At the time I am passing another solitary walker and we pause to wonder why the police are patrolling the cliff top. We converse for a while and I learn another of the complexities of lock down for some people. He has just got divorced and they were selling the family home but that is now on hold. So, rather than be separated from his children throughout the lockdown he moved in to the house with his ex-wife, her partner and his two children. He said his wife strongly objected to this move. And who can blame her. but I could see his point. I sense a sad tale is about to be told so I wish him a nice walk and move on. But I would love to know how long that arrangement lasts. Reluctantly I leave the cliff top and start walking back towards Studland Village.
On my way I pass the Bankes Arms m a traditional sixteenth century pub but currently closed. Wooden tables and benches are stacked up on the empty lawn that is usually crowded with happy customers. My bus arrives and the driver asks me if my journey is necessary. I am prepared for this and tell him I am going to Tesco to do some shopping. There is a Tesco in Sandbanks very close to my flat and so I will be getting off his empty double decker right by this store. He lets me get on. It is really weird travelling around on empty double decker buses. I am expecting them to reduce the service any time soon but determined to take advantage while they are still running - if only to keep the lonely bus drivers company.
When I check my emails this evening I discover my application to become an NHS Volunteer Responder has been accepted and I can now download the app and await requests for assistance.
Thursday 02 April 2020
I need to solve the problem of no summer clothes. I moved down here two weeks ago with a minimum of warm clothes and medication. I expected to be here for two weeks but now we are in lock down for at least three weeks. I decide that the need to collect medication waiting for me at Boots in Radlett will justify the journey there and back. I will be travelling on my own, collecting clothes from an empty flat and then returning to Sandbanks. I leave early in the morning. There is very little traffic and no hold-ups on the motorways. I leave the car at the flat and walk into Radlett. It is the scariest thing I have done for a long time. The High Street is so crowded with people and parked cars it is impossible to practice social distancing and no-one seems to care anyway. The notice on the door of Boots limits the number of customers to three at any one time. There are two other customers inside when I enter but six more when I leave. No one suggests some of them leave and the harassed pharmacists barely have time to raise their heads to see what is happening around them. I can’t wait to get out of there. Errands run and clothes packed I set off again. I stop at a Sainsbury’s superstore on the way. It was worth the 30-minute wait to get inside as the shelves are well-stocked – it is the first time I have seen toilet rolls for sale for a long time. I also fill up with petrol the price of which has come down a lot with reduced demand for oil worldwide. It does not take me long to get back to Sandbanks and relative safety.
Friday 03 April 2020
Today I pass a milestone on my early morning jog. I manage a distance of 1200 metres from the Tesco Express on Sandbanks around the harbour to the North Haven Yacht Club. This would not represent anything special to the hardened joggers but for someone who has had a total replacement of both knees (during the same operation) and has never jogged in her life it is an achievement. I started by jogging twenty paces and walking twenty paces and gradually increasing the number of paces of jogging and then the distance I jogged. It was also a lot easier today as, finally, I have the right clothes to wear for jogging. This little triumph sets me up for the day and when I get back to the flat I continue my quest for work. I write a test piece for the website Travel Radar that has shown some interest in taking me on as a travel writer.
Saturday 04 April 2020
A cold, misty morning today but this does not deter me from setting off early for my jog around the harbour. I went a bit further this morning than yesterday so I will soon be doing 1500 metres in one go. There are not many people on the beach. Today, for the first time, Metal Detector Man looms out of the mist. Apart from one frantic episode of digging in the sand he does not find anything. I turn to carry on and see a jogger making a beeline for me. I step aside but she is still on track to knock me over. I turn away as my only other option is to walk into the sea. She keeps coming and passes so close to me the air around me is displaced. We are the only two people on that stretch of the beach so I find this behaviour bizarre. I wonder if I should arm myself with a stick two metres long and sharpened at one end. Just to make the point should I meet her again. I spend the rest of the day in the flat writing the next instalment of my diary – I am enjoying this project as it is making me more aware of my surroundings.
h3. Sunday 05 April 2020
I started my walk later this morning allowing myself the luxury of some breakfast first. A walk is my only option today as the buses are now on a new timetable. There are fewer buses on weekdays and none at all on to and from Sandbanks on Sundays and Bank Holidays. The route to Swanage across the chain ferry has also been suspended. The beach was busier than usual today even though people are constantly being told to stay at home this weekend. The weather is so good glorious so one can understand why many people are ignoring this order even though the increase in confirmed cases and deaths is rising alarmingly. I found not one but three cuttlefish bones on the beach. The first I have seen here. As I try to take an artistic photograph of one of them a puppy bounds up, grabs it and runs away. He ignored my pleas to bring it back. As I found two more further down the beach I still got my photographs.
This afternoon it is announced that the Prime Minster, Boris Johnson has been admitted to Saint Thomas’s Hospital in London. He tested positive for COVID19 ten days ago but his condition has worsened and it has been announced he has been taken to hospital as a precaution. A sobering thought that no-one, whoever they are, is immune from this virus.
This evening the Queen addressed the nation from Windsor Castle regarding the present crisis. It was a pre-recorded message filmed by one cameraman wearing protective clothing. She has only given five such speeches during her reign of sixty-eight years. She said the UK would succeed in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. She concluded with the phrase we will meet again – echoing the words of Vera Lyn’s Second World War anthem We’ll Meet Again. Let's hope she is right.
h3. Some Statistics
As of 9am on 30 March 2020 the total of confirmed cases had risen to 22,14. Of those who were confirmed as positive 1,408 patients have died. By 9am on 6 April the number of confirmed cases had risen to 51,608 and 5,373 of those have died in hospital. It has now been made clear that these figures do not include deaths in the home or in care homes.
More next week.