Life in a Coronavirus Pandemic: Week 26 of Lockdown - An Urban Experience

Life in a Coronavirus Pandemic: Week 26 of Lockdown - An Urban Experience

It is still very strange being in Hertfordshire - waking up to the sound of heavy traffic on the main road outside after two glorious weeks enjoying peace and quiet in the Italian Dolomites.

I find it hard to believe we are at the start of week 26 of lockdown in the UK. I will be spending most of this week in Hertfordshire as I have some appointments to keep. I am already counting the days before I can escape to the Dorset coast once again. But, for now, I have to accustom myself to crowded pavements and bare faces. It will be challenging to find a daily adventure or experience here.

Monday 14 September 2020

I wake at 6 am when my alarm goes off. I have to get up to switch the alarm off as my iPhone is on the window sill. It lives on window sills while I am in Hertfordshire as I have a very weak signal in the flat. This inconvenience often results in me going out without it. Last winter I set off for Italy without it and had to buy the latest version on my way through Gatwick Airport. After a lazy morning over-indulging in percolated coffee and recorded television programmes I head for Watford on a very empty bus. The large shopping centre, Intu, has only recently been completely renovated. Now its heart has been ripped out by the recent closure of John Lewis. Another victim of the coronavirus pandemic. It has been boarded up and the history of John Lewis in Watford is narrated on the boards. I am surprised to read that the company’s association with Watford began as early as 1880. The last time I visited the store I was returning a plastic coffee percolator that had fallen apart. The young assistant immediately offered me a refund and was surprised when I said I would prefer a replacement. He very kindly replaced it with a more robust chrome version at no extra charge. I would shop there again – if I could.

Curtain Comes Down on John Lewis in Watford

COVID-19 Update

The rule of 6 became effective in the UK today as the number of positive tests for COVID-19 is still increasing at an alarming rate particularly in Northern England. This has led to local lockdowns in the areas recording the highest number of cases. This has made social gatherings of more than six, illegal in England both indoors and outside. Different versions are in place for the other three nations of the UK. The new rule was announced last Thursday which inevitably resulted in large social gatherings prior to the new restriction coming into force. There is confusion, unhappiness, and a sense of defiance.

A rule of six was introduced as the R number in the UK has risen to between 1 and 1.2 for the first time since March. The epidemic is growing again. Worldwide daily records of infections are being set. More than 307, 000 new cases over 24 hours were reported by the World Health Organisation. The biggest rises are in India, the United States and Brazil.

Tuesday 15 September 2020

I leap out of bed when my alarm goes off at 6 am as I have to write an article to be published on the Travel Radar website this evening. It is called Destination Nowhere – an account of the latest trend for taking a sightseeing flight the departs from and arrives back at the same airport. Bizarrely some of these flights are selling out in minutes. An interesting COVID-19 craze. I am ready for some fresh air when I finish a few hours later as it is a very hot, muggy day. I had noticed a signpost to Phillimore Recreation Ground when waiting at the bus stop yesterday. I set off to investigate. It is only a ten-minute walk from the flat. I am impressed when I get there. There is a children’s playground that leads into an adventure playground. A large grassy area with an adult exercise area, a tennis court, a basketball court, and a bowling green. On the far side, beyond some fencing are some allotments. There is also a wooded area and I spend some time wandering in the shade of the trees. It is only the second day of the rule of 6 but there is a group of adults and children well over that number sitting on the grass. Of course, if we were in Scotland or Wales that would be fine as children don’t count there.

Phillimore Recreation Ground in Radlett, Herts

Wednesday 16 September 2020

Today I decide to investigate a walled garden in the nearby village of Shenley. I have been past it a few times on the local bus but never ventured inside. When I get off at the first stop in the village and find a footpath that appears to go in the right direction. I follow it and it takes me into an old orchard, the Stanley Lord Orchard. It is named after the Head Gardener who served from 1935 to 1970. The twisted, knarled old trees are laden with apples and bathed in golden rays from the sun. There is a pervading scent of cider emanating from windfalls scattered on the grass. It is very peaceful wandering amongst the trees until I emerge on the far side and take a path through a wood to the Walled Garden.

The Stanley Lord Orchard in Shenley, Herts

The Walled Garden dates back to the sixteenth century when it supplied the Mansion with fruit and vegetables. It was enlarged sometime during the eighteenth century. During the time of the Shenley Hospital (1934-1980), which is now a huge housing estate, the garden was utilised to provide produce. Thirty-five gardeners were employed assisted by patients from the hospital. They grew vegetables and exotic fruits in a Victorian-style kitchen garden. In those days, apple tree cordons surrounded the entire garden. Only sections of these cordons remain today. After falling into disrepair when the hospital closed the garden was restored in the early 1990s. I enjoy exploring the two levels of the garden which is now laid out as a natural amphitheatre. I would love to attend one of the events that are held here. When I leave the garden I find a path that goes into another wooded area.

The Walled Garden in Shenley, Herts

This path takes me past some beehives and a treehouse before emerging by the Shenley Cricket Ground. When the Porter Family owned the Shenley estate during the 19th century they asked W G Grace to design a cricket ground to the dimensions of The Oval. This ground, known as the Denis Compton Oval, is one of the most attractive cricket venues in England. No play today so I can wander around the perimeter to get a good view of the clubhouse. I am tempted to slip through a hole in the fence and work my way through the undergrowth to the main road and a bus stop. But, with my recent record for falling over and off things I decide to play it safe and go back the way I came. Besides, I had noticed the Café in the Orchard in passing and decided to treat myself to a cream tea.

The Denis Compton Cricket Ground in Shenley, Herts

When I get to the café there is a queue for a table. I put on my face mask and join the queue. I can hear a lot of grumbling behind me about having to wait for a table. I want to point out that that they are lucky not to be in a hospital bed. However, I am aware that there is an element of doubt amongst the English population regarding the existence of a pandemic. Why anyone would think a government would lockdown a whole country on a whim is beyond me. I do not have to wait long for a table and I am soon seated under a sun umbrella in the garden that surrounds the café. After perusing the menu, I go inside to order – at a social distance. A family of three are sitting at the table next to me. Mum is struggling to get a conversation going between Grand Dad and Grand Son. Grand Dad is looking away from them – generally in my direction. Mum is trying to drag information out of him and Grand Son mutters occasionally. Mum’s questions increase in volume and she proclaims, to the whole café, imagine being married to the same person for fifty years. Grand Dad mouths at me – imagine. I nearly fall off my bench with suppressed laughter.

The Café in the Orchard in Shenley, Herts

Thursday 17 September 2020

Today I have an appointment at a local NHS Orthotics Department. This appointment has been cancelled three times due to the pandemic and the insoles I am currently using are now almost worn out. After parking the car, I follow the instructions to call the number posted on the door to say I am here. I am told to wait outside. I am wearing my face mask, as instructed and find a patch of sun to stand in. Other people arrive and fail to follow instructions presuming the people inside will somehow divine that they are there. I am the only one wearing a mask so keep my distance. One of the three patients waiting outside the Physiotherapy Department bangs on the door. The member of staff who comes to the door is surprised to find three people waiting outside – one of them starts shouting he has to get back to work. I don’t hear the end of this saga as I am called inside for my appointment. I sanitise my hands, pass the temperature test, have a mould taken for my new insoles and I am soon on my way home. As I have now finished my appointments here I drive back to Sandbanks this evening.

A COVID 19 Hospital Experience

Friday 18 September 2020

It is cold and dark when I wake at 6 am this morning. I have to wait until it gets light around 7 am before going out on my bike. I am very pleased to discover I have not lost any fitness since I was last here and can still get up the little hill on my circuit in a relatively high gear. There is more traffic around as the chain ferry starts operating at 7 am. When I finish my circuits, I chain the bike up and walk along the beach. It was a surprise to see several people swimming in the sea even though it is rough and there is a strong wind. Little boats emerging from Poole Harbour are tossed about on swelling waves. Rosmarie has some health issues and cannot come walking on the beach so we catch up later on the phone. It is so good to be back enjoying the seaside and working in a light, airy sitting room overlooking Poole Harbour.

Early Morning on Sandbanks Beach in Dorset

Saturday 19 September 2020

I am off to Swanage this morning and get the first bus of the day. It is not very busy so there is room for social distancing. I avoid the passengers who are not wearing face masks. There are no markings on these buses just little notices with a request to sit by the window. When the bus arrives in Swanage I get off on the sea front. It is very windy and the waves are crashing over the sea wall. The pavement is running with water in places. I manage to take a selfie without soaking myself and my camera. I spend some time taking photos of the waves playing with a small boat that has been thrown up onto the sea front. A passer-by suggests I would do better if I move closer to the breaking waves. I tell him I have already tried that and turn around to show him my wet jacket, the result of being swamped by a wave. He roars with laughter before moving on. I had planned to do my weekly shop at the Co-op in Swanage which is next to the bus station and make my way there. This supermarket has an automated system for letting people in so I have to queue outside until the light turns green. Then, when I finally get inside they don’t have any bananas. Crisis - what to do? I decide to get the 40 bus to Poole.

Swanage Seafront in Dorset

This bus is surprisingly busy. But, as I am first to board I go upstairs and sit at the front. Ths bus follows a very scenic route passing through several small villages including Corfe Castle village. Two teenage girls get on and sit in the seat next to me. The one nearest to me keeps pulling her mask down off her nose and sometimes her mouth as well. I raise my iPhone as if I am going to take a photo. The mask goes back over nose and mouth and stays there. I do a quick food shop at Sainsbury’s in Pool then get the bus back to the flat and a late lunch.

Corfe Castle above Corfe Castle Village in Dorset

Sunday 20 September 2020

Today is the day I finally go walking on Brownsea Island again. Not as a volunteer but as a visitor. Very few volunteers have been working on the island since it re-opened. The number of visitors are limited and timed slots have to be pre-booked so the permanent staff are currently filling all the necessary roles. However, some timed visits have been made available to volunteers who want to visit the island. I cycle to the Sandbanks pier and go across to the island on the National Trust boat, the Enterprise. As soon as I get there I set off to explore the South Shore. It is a lovely sunny day and the views from the cliff top are amazing. I sit for a while to take in the stunning landscape around me. I hear a rustling in the undergrowth. A red squirrel pops up, gives me a quizzical look and then scampers along a fallen tree trunk and disappears. I follow the path to the Pottery Quay and the ruins of Maryland Village. I take my time but then I realise I need to get a move on to get back in time for my boat back to the mainland. I am hoping I will have time to sit in the woods behind the church for a while in the hope of seeing some red squirrels.

The South Shore in Brownsea Island in Dorset

When I get near the church I walk up the bank into the woods and sit down on a large log. I sense from sudden movements in the undergrowth that there are some squirrels around. After sitting quietly for a while the show begins. Six red squirrels appear. Two of them chase each other up a nearby tree. The rest are searching for food. One jumps onto the log next to me surprising us both. I don’t have time to focus my camera before he has gone again. Then he appears on the other side of me – once again I miss the shot. I stand up and just as I think I am getting some good shots a family erupts into the woods and thee cry goes up ‘squirrels’. I move on. It is time to head back to the boat. I head home with some more lovely memories of Brownsea Island.

Red Squirrel on Brownsea Island in Dorset

Some Government Statistics

By 5 pm on Monday, September 14 there have been a total of 371,125 positive tests for COVID-19 and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test has reached 41,637 including a daily total of 9. As of 5 pm on Sunday, September 20 a total number of 394,257 positive tests have been recorded and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 41,777 including a daily total of 18

More next week

Valery Collins is the Experienced Traveller
Valery Collins 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 and regularly contributes guided city walks to