Life During a Coronavirus Pandemic: Week 62 A Trip to London

Life During a Coronavirus Pandemic: Week 62 A Trip to London

I emerge from my cocoon of lockdown in Dorset this week to spend some time in London.

A hotel review of The Stafford London, a fabulous hotel in St James’s Place, is a great way to get back to work in week 62 of the coronavirus pandemic. London is buzzing again with crowds on its pavements and traffic jams on its streets. But the North West of England is experiencing a rapid increase in new cases of COVID-19 as the new Indian variant is spreading quickly. An attempt by the government to restrict travel to and from these areas is met with hostility by local health authorities. They decide to ignore government advice restricting activities in their areas. As other hotspots of the new variant emerge in other areas the lifting of all lockdown restrictions on 21 June now seems unlikely.

Monday 24 May 2021

I wake to the sound of rain thundering on the roof but, by the time I get up, the sun is shining and it looks very promising for my shift on Brownsea Island pier today. However, by the time I have made some breakfast, black clouds have rolled in and another squall starts. A fabulous rainbow paints the sky over the spit but then disappears obscured by a flurry of wind and rain. It only lasts about fifteen minutes and when it clears the roads are running with water and flooded in places. I decide to try and cycle to the National Trust jetty between showers. It suddenly goes from sun to black clouds so I fling on my waterproof jacket and cycling helmet, race down to the garage, grab the bike and cycle as fast as I can to the National Trust Jetty. I get there just before the next squall starts.

Rainbow over Poole Harbour in Dorset

The crossing to Brownsea Island is remarkably smooth but it usually takes a day for the sea to catch up with the weather on the land. As the rain has stopped when I get to the island I set off for a walk. I am joined by Alex from the Dorset Wildlife Trust and he points out the Marsh Orchids and Spotted Leaf Orchids growing in the marshy area that surrounds a boardwalk. We step down from the boardwalk to take a closer look – with me following gingerly in Alex’s footsteps afraid I may suddenly sink into the mire. We part company when we get to the visitor centre housed in The Villa. I wait by the feeding station outside The Villa. I am soon rewarded by the arrival of a very active red squirrel who performs some interesting acrobatic moves to get at the food in the feeder. I watch him until it is time to return to the pier where I spend the rest of the day welcoming visitors to the island and then saying goodbye when they leave at the end of their time-slot.

Red Squireel at the Feeder on Brownsea Island in Dorset

COVID-19 Update

Sniffer dogs trained on smelly socks can detect Covid with up to 94% accuracy which is greater accuracy than lateral flow tests, scientists say. But experts have cautioned that the findings of the study, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, would need to be replicated in the real world before sniffer dogs could be deployed. Sniffer dog pilot projects have also been tested elsewhere, including in Finland, Germany and Chile.

Government advises against travel in and out of English boroughs affected by Indian variant and adds that people should “avoid travelling in and out of affected areas unless it is essential” for their work or education. Residents in these boroughs are also encouraged to take a free Covid-19 test twice a week and get the vaccine as soon as they are offered it. The information is thought to have been published quietly on the government’s website three days ago.

Tuesday 25 May 2021

I leave Dorset just after 5 am this morning to return to Hertfordshire as I am doing a hotel review in London tomorrow. Today I am meeting up with my friend and her mother for lunch. This will be our first meeting since the third lockdown started in January and our first opportunity to enjoy a leisurely lunch around a table inside a restaurant. We have already decided to eat in the café at the Elstree Aerodrome as the food is simple but always very tasty. And there is always the added attraction of watching the planes arriving and departing.

Esltree Aerodrome in Hertfordshire

COVID-19 Update

Backlash after 'local lockdowns imposed by stealth' after Ministers slipped out coronavirus guidance urging people in Indian variant hotspot areas to restrict their socialising and travel. Health leaders in eight areas affected by the variant have now told residents they can ignore the government advice not to leave or socialise indoors.

COVID-19 Vaccinations

Three young adults have strokes after Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine with one later dying of her complications. Although safe in the vast majority of cases, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is increasingly being linked to an unusual form of blood clots. With evidence suggesting young people are more at risk of the clots, but less likely to develop COVID itself, those under 40 will be offered one of the UK's other approved jabs – Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna – if they are available.

Moderna jab effective for teens according to Moderna following successful trial results after testing its COVID vaccine on teenagers, finding that the jab can stop transmission in people aged 12 to 18. The results bring the prospect of mass vaccination of children against coronavirus one step closer.

In the News Today

Ireland to resume international travel from mid-July according to the Irish Times and is expected to adopt a COVID-19 certificate to help citizens move more freely across the European Union. It is anticipated this certificate would be handed out for free by health authorities in EU countries to people who received a vaccine, had a negative test or are immune, having recovered from the virus.

Wednesday 26 May 2021

Today I am heading into London to spend the night at The Stafford London, a five-star hotel in the historic St James’s Place. I am excited but also slightly apprehensive at the thought of travelling on the underground during lockdown. But my fears are groundless as the trains are not crowded and everyone around me is wearing a face mask. The hotel is a short walk from the Green Park underground station via an alleyway just inside Green Park. I miss this alleyway at my first attempt – Google maps can be so misleading – and have to re-trace my steps after stopping to ask for directions. I am soon walking through the imposing entrance at the front of the hotel flanked by flowers and flags and being shown to my suite – luxury personified.

Sitting Room in a Suite at The Stafford London

This afternoon I have a tour of the hotel’s Director of Marketing, Cassie. We start in the Game Bird restaurant where the centrepiece of its elegant décor is a huge arrangement of fresh flowers that is replaced every Monday. This restaurant features a British cuisine with seasonable game dishes. The most popular dish is the Chicken Kiev a throwback to the days when mum would buy them frozen and then cook them – but there was the problem of the butter escaping during this process. The hotel has resolved the problem of the butter escaping and later that day I enjoyed the theatre of being presented with an apron to protect my dress from the melted butter that gushed out after the first cut.

Chicken Kiev in the Game Bird Restaurant at The Stafford London

We move on to the wine cellar. This wine cellar is 400 years old and features old bottling machines as they used to bottle the wine for St James’ Palace here. The cellar houses a large collection of wines put together by Gino, the hotel sommelier, and his team. They have sourced and tasted all these wines from vineyards all over the world. Gino, has been here for over 40 years but he has not been the longest. This honour goes to Christina on the switchboard operator (still on furlough) who has been with the hotel for 48 years. The cellars house a small museum commemorating the time they were used as an air raid shelter during the Second World War.

Wine Ageing in the Cellars of The Stafford London

In the American Bar I meet Benoît, the manager. He has been here for 28 years although his original intention was to stay for six months to improve his English. The walls and ceilings of this famous cocktail bar are covered with gifts and photos from guests. This collection was started over forty years ago by Charles, the very popular barman who here for 42 years but sadly died soon after retiring. 

Momentoes in the American Bar at The Stafford London

Just inside the bar is a photograph of Nancy Wake, a spy heroine of World War II who worked with the French resistance. The Gestapo called her the White Mouse and there was a one million Franc ransom on her head. Her first husband was killed because he refused to divulge her whereabouts. She did marry again and she and her second husband were regular guests at The Stafford. Eventually, she moved into the hotel on her own for an indefinite period. She would drink in the American Bar every evening and entertain other guests with her stories. As she got older the hotel had a special stool built for her. She lived in the hotel for several years and by the time she moved out she had amassed a huge bill. The hotel covered some of it and the rest was covered by donations from regular guests in the hotel including Prince Charles (for her services to the country). There is also a bust of Nancy Wake at the end of the bar.

Bust of Nancy Wake in the American Bar at The Stafford London

My tour ended outside in the Courtyard. The sun is shining and the courtyard is busy with masked waiters weaving their way between the well-spaced tables. The Courtyard has been very busy since 12 April when food could be served outside. Hotel rooms overlook the courtyard on both sides. On one side there are two floors in the old stables. The rooms on the lower floor are named for race horses. The rooms on the upper floor are named for famous authors and well-known people. My suite was on the other side of the courtyard in a building of six floors. The hotel business has been slow to pick up due to the lockdown and the fact the majority of their guests come from America. There has also been a dramatic shift in the characteristics of their guests. It used to be fifty/fifty business and leisure but now there has been a big shift to leisure.

Courtyard at The Stafford London

My sister, Lizzie, lives in London and she joins me for dinner in the hotel this evening. We have not seen each other since January 2020 due to lockdowns. We begin the evening with a glass of rosé champagne, a Bauchet from a small vineyard in France and one of Gino’s gems. We dine in the Game Bird restaurant where we are well looked after by very attentive staff. We choose different starters and main courses and then swap half-way through. Very un-COVID but great fun. And we have both had our two jabs. We have the dressed crab and the lobster scotch egg to start and then the Chicken Kiev and the pigeon dish for our main. We agree on the same choice for dessert, the lemon meringue parfait with basil sorbet. The sorbet is amazing it zings on the palette. I am glad I do not have to share it. It was the perfect venue for our reunion and a memorable evening.

Lemon Meringue Parfait and Basil Sorbet Dessert at The Stafford London

COVID-19 Update

Super mutant coronavirus variants may emerge, expert warns adding this virus is

unpredictable and we should not be overconfident at any stage. He went on to say the virus is going to find ways of becoming more infectious and it has already been seen that under pressure it will try and be more efficient in transmission so that it can achieve the job with fewer virus particles.

In the News Today

‘Disastrous’ mistakes caused tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths from Covid, says Dominic Cummings who also claims Boris Johnson is not a “fit and proper person” to lead Britain through the coronavirus pandemic. In a seven-hour evidence session before a parliamentary inquiry, Mr Cummings said the prime minister had dismissed Covid-19 as a “scare story” in the early months of the outbreak, ordering the first English lockdown at least three weeks too late in March 2020 and then resisting scientists’ pleas to re-impose restrictions in the autumn.

Thursday 27 May 2021

My day starts well with a lovely leisurely breakfast – coffee, fresh fruit salad, poached eggs with smoked salmon and mashed avocado – in the Game Bird restaurant. It is a very relaxed atmosphere and the staff are attentive and friendly without being obtrusive.

Breakfast at The Stafford London

Gino Nardella, the hotel sommelier, is on duty this morning and we meet for a chat. It was fate that brought Gino to London from his country of birth, Italy. When he was studying at catering college he applied for a job in London to improve his English. He intended to move on to Paris to improve his French but fate intervened once again. At the time Keith Dougherty, a renowned sommelier was also working at The Stafford and invited Gino to work with him. Gino had been training to be a manager but his passion has always been wine. He just needed a push in that direction and once he started working with Keith Dougherty the rest is history – over forty years of history at The Stafford. On 12 October 1981 Gino became a master sommelier. He is constantly scouring the world for gems – nothing is off the shelf, everything is tasted. His passion for wine is tangible and I learnt a lot during our conversation and was comforted by his conclusion that ultimately we should drink what we like. He loves to chat with guests in the hotel to help them make the right choice of wine to accompany their meal but “without shocking their palette”.

Gino, Sommelier at The Stafford London

Lunch today is at Norma, a small Sicilian restaurant in Fitzrovia, a district of London. I decided to take the bus. This was a mistake as London traffic is moving as slowly as it ever did before the lockdowns. The weather is much warmer today and I am dressed for yesterday. I am warmly greeted by a friendly waitress who laughs when I apologise for being late and points out that Londoners never apologise for being late as it is inevitable. I follow here to a table inside. Norma is a small restaurant on three floors with outside seating. The cosy ambience is sprinkled with Moorish touches.

Norma a Restaurant in Fitzrovia, London

I choose the fish of the day - a whole grilled sea bass with a salad – as my main course. I add some fried potatoes with sheep cheese shavings and truffles on a bed of parmesan cheese sauce - the recommendation of my waitress. I also follow her recommendation regarding an accompanying wine – a glass of Greco di Tufo Cutizzi, an Italian white wine. The fish was lovely and fresh and the potatoes were scrumptious. The refreshing salad comprised tomatoes of different shapes and colours plus some radishes and radish tops. When I finished my main course Ben Tish (Culinary Director of The Stafford Collection and creator of the much-acclaimed Norma) joined me for a chat. A lover of Mediterranean food and a fascination for the Moorish influence in food, culture and architecture has enabled Ben to carve out his own niche in the world of cuisine and cookery. Noma was his dream and his appointment as Culinary Director of The Stafford London enabled him to realise that dream.

Lunch at Norma in Fitzrovia, London

COVID-19 Update

'We're on the cusp': Indian COVID variant warning after cases double in a week according to new data. The continued spread of this new variant is raising fresh doubts over the government's plans to lift all lockdown restrictions in England on 21 June.

The North West of England is seeing the sharpest rise in COVID infections new data has revealed, amid fears the growth of the Indian variant could derail the roadmap out of lockdown.

COVID-19 Vaccinations

BBC radio presenter died after suffering blood clots following jab – 44-year old Lisa Shaw, who worked for BBC Newcastle, developed “severe” headaches a week after having the jab and fell seriously ill a few days later and died in hospital.

Friday 28 May 2021

I decide to spend the day doing some writing at the Hertfordshire flat and then drive back to Dorset this early this evening. This is a mistake. I have forgotten it is a bank holiday weekend and everyone will be heading for the coast this evening. However, I do get a lot of work done before joining the traffic jam on the M25. It takes me an hour to cover the first twenty miles of my journey and it is not much better on the M3. It is a great relief when I finally get to Sandbanks, unpack the car, have some supper and crawl into bed.

Bank Holiday Traffic on the M25

COVID-19 Update

Spain, Italy and France to miss out on green list a new analysis has revealed. Two experts who correctly predicted the last round of green list countries, have suggested just a small handful of Mediterranean, Atlantic and Caribbean islands could make it onto the list at the next update – expected next week – including the Canary Islands, Greek islands, Malta, Barbados and Jamaica.

France: Ban on non-essential travel France has clarified that non-essential travel from the UK will be banned from Monday, due to the spread of the Indian coronavirus variant. French officials have said travel to the country should only be allowed, for example, for bereavement or childcare. Arrivals from the UK face seven days in isolation and are required to take several tests.

UK travellers may not need PCR test on return from green list countries as Ministers consider lifting the requirement for “expensive” PCR tests for fully vaccinated holidaymakers returning from green list countries. But the decision will hinge on Porton Down tests on transmissibility. A “vaccination dividend” for jabbed travellers but ministers would need to be reassured by scientists that there was no serious risk of transmission from those who had been inoculated.

In the News Today

Welsh beauty spot plagued by irresponsible visitors in search of the perfect selfie. Some have been fined by police. Local authorities and villagers are worried by bloggers and Instagrammers flooding the edge of the stunning turquoise hues of the privately-owned reservoir. Once a little-known hideaway valley lake known as the ‘Blue Lagoon’ it is now being blighted by mass crowds travelling more than 200 miles for a picture.

Saturday 29 May 2021

Today I am doing a shift as volunteer COVID vaccination marshal in Parkstone. As usual I make a flask of coffee before cycling up three hills to the vaccination hub. It is hard work as the gears on my bike go up when they should go down and vice versa. But I get there in plenty of time to enjoy a coffee in the garden before the clinic starts. Another volunteer arrives early and we enjoy some down time before the rush starts. And it is not long before the rush begins and I deal with a steady flow of patients. Saturday is a busy day with shoppers, cyclists and mobility scooters as well as patients for the clinic all vie with space on the pavement. I regularly have to jump out of the way of speeding bikes. I am exhausted when it is time to whizz back down the hills to a quiet evening in the flat.

Bikes on Parkstone Pavement in Dorset

In the News Today

Holidaymakers 'poured into' the south west at midnight to beat Bank Holiday rush according to police and road traffic experts.Drivers heading for the country faced two-hour delays in a surge of traffic ahead of the long weekend as temperatures are set to reach 25C. The level of congestion was "purely because of the volume of traffic" according to Highways England.

Boris Johnson falls out of favour with public as Tory poll lead is slashed in the wake of the testimony by Dominic Cummings. Johnson’s former special adviser told MPs Mr Johnson was not fit to lead the country.

Downing Street confirms Boris Johnson married Carrie Symonds in secret the small ceremony took place at Westminster Cathedral.

Sunday 30 May 2021

I am outside the vaccination hub again this morning. By 9 am this morning, the official start of the clinic, I have checked in 45 patients many of whom had arrived early as they did not know how long it would take to get here/find somewhere to park. Really? Early on a Sunday morning in the suburbs of Bournemouth? There are one or two grumbles that we are not sticking to appointment times but with up to eleven appointments for every five-minute slot we are running behind before we start. It is another busy day but we are finished by mid-afternoon and I cycle back to the flat. As it is Bank Holiday Sunday today the residential streets are lined with parked cars and I have to slalom through crowds staggering back from the beach loaded with paraphernalia essential for a day by the sea.

Bank Holiday Sunday on Kite Beach by Poole Harbour in Dorset

COVID-19 Update

Decision on lifting England's lockdown will be driven by data according to Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi. He said the decision will be made after data on infection, hospitalisation, vaccination and new variants have been assessed and the evidence will be shared with the country on the 14th of June.

Third wave of Covid may already be under way in the UK, scientists say casting doubt on plans in England to lift all lockdown restrictions in three weeks’ time. Experts cautioned that any rise in coronavirus hospital admissions could leave the NHS struggling to cope as it battles to clear the huge backlog in non-Covid cases.

In the News Today

Ambulance service declares ‘critical incident’ due to surge demand over Bank Holiday warning that patients may face longer ambulance times due to “extreme pressures”. The public have been asked only to call 999 in a genuine, life-threatening emergency in order to help those most in need.

Some Government Statistics

By 5 pm on 24 May, a total of 4,464,900 (total that day 2,439) positive COVID-19 tests have been recorded and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 127,724 including a daily total of 3. By the end of the week on 30 May, the total of positive cases had risen to 4,484,056 (total that day 3,240) positive tests, and the cumulative total of deaths within 28 days of a positive test is 127,781 including a daily total of 5. Total deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate is now 152,068, an increase this week of 164 (this statistic lags behind the daily statistics as it is updated on a weekly basis).

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