14th June 2020
Life in a Coronavirus Pandemic: Dorset Under Siege in Week Ten of Lockdown
It is lovely to feel the warmth of the sun on my face this week, the tenth week of lockdown. But the consequences of the hot weather are not so easy to deal with – crowds and rubbish.
Crowds and rubbish are the theme for this week. It feels as though lockdown is over as people flock from all over England to spend a day on the beaches of Dorset. The local police and councils cannot deal with the huge surge from the towns to the seaside. Rubbish bins overflow and streets are blocked by illegally parked cars. In Sandbanks, it takes thirty minutes to drive one kilometre as cars crawl up and down the sand spit looking for somewhere to park. It is impossible to maintain a social distance in these circumstances. The police don't have time to enforce lockdown restrictions as they are too busy dealing with the drunk and disorderly. I retreat to the flat, too concerned to do more than my usual early morning exercise.
Monday 25 May 2020
I am out on my bike early this morning and shocked to see 6 camper vans parked in the car park. Clearly they have been here overnight which is a breach of lockdown restrictions. People can travel any distance they want to for a day out but cannot stay overnight. There are several people wandering around the car park already even though it is only 6 in the morning. I think they may be travellers. As I do not want to leave my bike in the usual place, which is close to the vans, I take it to a bike rack behind some of the beach huts. There is a group of people there as well – sitting on chairs, drinking coffee, and watching the sun rise. I am not too happy about leaving my bike there either but decide to risk it. I take a photo of my bike and the group – just in case. I head off along the beach. I meet Rosmarie and George further along the beach than is usual but she has parked in a different place to avoid having to walk past the barbecue area which is surrounded by litter including several used portable barbecues. I only have a small plastic carrier bag with me so decide to start collecting litter nearer the water’s edge – in particular plastic bottles and containers so they do not get into the sea.
We walk along the beach and back. I collect litter on the way. As the weather is warm George is happy to chase his ball into the sea to cool down. I walk back to Rosmarie’s car with them. It is only 7.30 in the morning but already nearly all the parking spaces have been filled and there is a steady procession of people making their way to the beach laden with all the paraphernalia of a day out. I am pleased to find my bike where I left it. It is later confirmed that the vans did belong to travellers and they were persuaded to move on later this morning. Today is a bank holiday but it is no different from any other day in the present situation. When I get back to the flat I hear an announcement on the television advising residents near beaches and beauty spots to stay at home due to the crowds converging on these areas. I am happy to do so. I can see long queues forming outside the local Tesco store, just along the road. It is blocking the pavement and spilling on to the road. Cars and bikes are grinding to a halt as no-one can get through. A police patrol car appears and a policeman gets out and attempts to regulate the queue but it is a losing battle. There is no social distancing. Some blame Dominic Cummings for the total disregard of the rules relating to lockdown - if he can disregard the rules so can they.
During his update today the Prime Minister announces shops will be able to open next month provided they meet coronavirus guidelines to protect shoppers and workers. Outdoor markets and car showrooms will be able to open from June 1 if they are safe to do so. All other non-essential retailers – such as those selling clothes and books – will be allowed to open from June 15, provided the guidelines are met along with the Government’s five tests for easing the lockdown. At last we are being eased out of lockdown. Although my favourite shop, the ironmonger’s on Poole High Street, has remained open throughout and restricted to two customers at a time.
Tuesday 26 May 2020
I am awake just after 5 am and I am soon ready to set off on my bike. I do my two circuit bike ride around the spit and then chain my bike to a bike stand near the sea pavilion. As I walk across the large public car park I am pleased to see that the six gypsy camper vans have moved on and just a few cars are parked there. The rubbish bins by the beach are overflowing again and there is a mountain of rubbish piled up beside them. At least most people are taking their rubbish to the bins. And then dropping it on the ground in front of empty bins. BCP Council are doing their best to empty bins and clear up rubbish but with a reduced workforce due to lockdown they are fighting a losing battle. Today, the tide is a long way out and there is a man with a metal detector wading through the shallows. I soon spot Rosmarie and George. To avoid the litter around the bins and the barbecue site Rosmarie now parks in a different place and joins the beach further along.
George is in a playful mood today and romps around us. As we walk down the beach we come across lots of rubbish. I have remembered to put a plastic bag in my pocket and it is soon full. Mainly with another plastic bag full of rubbish that had been tied to the railings at the end of one of the groynes. George finds the burial site of a barbecue and starts to dig it up. When I investigate I find about twenty scorched cans, a broken bottle and the barbecue itself. While George gorges himself on very burnt beef burgers I cram as much of the rubbish as I can into my plastic bag. George and I then walk down to the chain ferry terminal. I climb up the iron ladder and cross the car park to put all the rubbish I have collected into the bins there. George is bored and races of to find Rosmarie who is waiting for us back on the beach. George decides he wants to play and Rosmarie produces a ball for him. He only likes to fetch it from the sea so I throw it into the sea for him. He does bring it back but not always to me. Sometimes he takes it up the beach, drops it and rolls on it. Or he puts it down and starts digging a hole around. Whatever he does it involves spraying water and a coating of sand. A young golden retriever decides to join our game and starts to chase the ball as well. At first George is quick off the mark and first to get there. But, the golden retriever is a quick learner and is soon winning the race. He carries his trophy back to his owners. They inform us that this is the first time their dog has actually retrieved anything and to date most of the toys they have bought for him have floated out to sea.
Wednesday 27 May 2020
I am awake just after 5 am and get up and get ready to go out on my bike. It is another lovely morning, and, as yesterday there is no need for a jacket – just a fleece. As I am doing my double circuit of the spit a fox rushes across the road in front of me. This is not an unusual occurrence in the early morning. I did my usual circuit before joining Rosmarie and George on the beach. I had taken a plastic carrier bag with me today. Crowds of people have been coming here every day as there is no limit on the distance people can travel to spend a day out. More people means more litter. I had a bag full by the time I walked to the chain ferry with George and I emptied it in the bins in the car park there. There was a mountain of rubbish by the bins near the sea pavilion and I took a photo and posted in on Twitter. It started a discussion that became very personal - as they do on Twitter. But I did receive a Tweet from the BBC asking if they could use my Tweet in their daily round up.
Thursday 28 May 2020
I am up at 5.10 am and get dressed and then go straight out on the bike. After doing my usual circuit, as I am locking my bike up I noticed a coke can that has been carefully balanced on top of a railing – just three feet from a litter bin. The perpetrator could have stretched out and dropped the can in the bin. I do it for him. I walk along the beach towards the Haven Hotel until I come across Rosmarie who is throwing a ball into the sea for George. She is using a ball-throwing device which means she can send it a good distance and George has to swim to retrieve it. As I have already filled a plastic carrier bag with litter I have found strewn along the beach – including two soggy bath towels – I make a detour to the rubbish bin at the top of Midway to empty it. The bin is overflowing as usual but I manage to find room for it. When we got to the Haven Hotel George and I continue to the chain ferry terminal. By then I have another bag full of rubbish so I empty it in the bins there. By the time we have walked back to Rosmarie’s car I have filled a third bag with litter which I empty into the bins outside the houses there.
The Test and Trace system starts today. It uses an app to find people who have been in close contact with those infected with the coronavirus. Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, says it "will change people's lives". The aim is to move from lockdown for all towards more targeted measures. However, scientists are warning it will only prevent a small percentage of infections. People with symptoms (and their households) will still have to self-isolate and from today everyone with symptoms should ask for a test. Where tests are positive, the NHS Test and Trace team will trace those who have been in contact with the person concerned. Day One is an epic failure and the government announces it will not become effective until September. I also have some news today. My Latvia trip, due to depart 30 June is postponed to August 12. It is hoped by then a reciprocal arrangement will have been established between the UK and Latvia. As the Balkan countries were not too badly affected by the coronavirus they will be amongst the first countries to re-open their borders.
Friday 29 May 2020
After some early morning exercise, I am back at the flat for 8 this morning and ready to start my shift on breaking news for the TravelRadar website. This is something new for me and I will be on duty until 6 this evening. The boss has set up a news feed and alerts are pouring in like an incoming tide. Many of the items are irrelevant but I still have to read them – just in case. I am passing them on to the editorial team when I realise that the editor has scheduled me to write something. I had forgotten that breaking news duty includes writing about it as well. At 10.10 I discover I am scheduled to post an article (yet to be written) at 11 this morning. I turn my attention to air bridges. I have nearly finished my article when I receive an untimely reminder from the editor that I am supposed to be alerting the team regarding breaking news. I pause to break some news and miss my deadline by 7 minutes. I agree to fill another gap in the schedule even though I have other things to do. It is no wonder my days are going quickly. At the end of my shift, I flop on the sofa to watch the news. I am amused by an item advising dog owners to prepare their pets for separation when they go back to work. So my comment about dogs needing counselling a few weeks ago was bang on the nose.
Saturday 30 May 2020
I am wide awake at 5 this morning with ideas for articles buzzing in my head. I get up and make some notes. I have some breakfast by the open the patio door to enjoy the cool breeze off the harbour. Oyster Catchers are paddling in the shallow waters of low tide and I can hear their distinctive chirping. Very few people are around and the occasional car goes by. Sandbanks is waking up refreshed after its battering from the crowds that were down here yesterday. I am getting ready to go out when I the refuse lorry come and go. It is much noisier than usual and when I look out I can see that he has reversed up the drive without taking the chain off first. The hook for the chain has been ripped out of the wall. This is a matter of some concern for me as it is not unusual for frustrated visitors to park on private drives as a last resort. But there is nothing I can do now except report the damage. My exercise this morning is some brisk Nordic walking up Evening Hill to Lilliput. Despite the name this little village only has very loose connections with the author Jonathon Swift but it is famous for Mark Bennet’s Bakery.
Mark Bennet has kept his five bakeries open throughout lockdown. It is a mark of the quality of his bread and pastries that there is always a queue outside five bakeries. I know I will have to queue and when I arrive at the bakery there are thirteen people in front of me. Soon after I get there a man arrives with three young children. The children run riot amongst those queuing and we all instinctively skip out of their way. Sad times for young children. I chat with the lady behind me and she assures me my coffee and cake will be worth the wait. It is forty minutes before I get inside. I am greeted by a very friendly Manager, Adam Philips. As there is no sense of rush I chat with him while I wait for my coffee and cake. Mark Bennet has inherited the traditions of three generations of bakers. He only uses natural ingredients. They have a wide range of bread and cakes but during the lockdown, they have been concentrating on the more popular products and avoiding breads that contain allergens. I sit on a bench in the sun to drink my cappuccino and eat my almond slice. The almond slice is the best I have ever tasted. I have plenty of time before the bus to Poole and my weekly food shopping trip. While I am waiting Harry Redknapp wanders by playing to the queue outside Martin Bennett’s. I blame his documentary for the arrival of large crowds in Sandbanks which portrayed it as a playground of the wealthy. In fact, it is a very special natural sand spit and a haven for wildlife.
The double-decker bus into Poole is empty but the bus station is a hive of activity as they prepare for more passengers from Monday when people start going back to work. I do my shopping and get the bus back to Sandbanks. I will not venture out again as crowds continue to swarm along the seafront. This goes on until late into the night and I am kept awake by skateboarders practising on the drive up to the flats.
Sunday 31 May 2020
I am up early this morning intending to start working straightaway but, when I open the balcony door and see the rubbish-strewn beach below me I decide to go down there and take some photos. It is awful. Spent portable barbecues have been half-buried in the sand. There are bottles and litter everywhere and a mountain of rubbish-filled plastic carrier bags by one solitary bin. As I am walking back to the flat the kite-boarding people arrive and start clearing up some of the litter in front of their vans. The refuse lorries arrive around 8.30 and the clean-up begins in earnest. By then the day-trippers have bagged all the parking spaces around the harbour and a long queue of shoppers has already formed outside the local Tesco. Another day of mayhem at Sandbanks has begun. A new bus timetable starts today and we have Sunday buses again. But I am not going anywhere today as I am too concerned about the impossibility of social distancing. There are constant requests on the television and radio that people do not drive hundreds of miles for a day out but no-one takes any notice. It is worse at Durdle Door also on the Dorset coast, where three cliff jumpers were seriously injured yesterday. Visitors are flocking there today, defying attempts to close the beach and continuing to jump off the rocks. It is hard to believe that we are still in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic.
As of 9 am on 25 May, there have been 3,532,634 tests, 261,184 people have tested positive and 36,914 have died in all settings – an increase of 121 in the past 24 hours. A week later, by 9 am on 31 May, 274,762 people have tested positive and of these 38,489 have sadly died - 113 in the past 24 hours.
More next week