100 Days of Lockdown

The COVID-19 Pandemic

March & April 2020

At the start of this “pandemic” (late January) it seemed just like another bird-flu or SARS scare; something about which too much fuss was being made and would blow over in a few weeks. By mid-February, things seemed a little more serious, but still “no big deal”. And then things went downhill fast, but so many people (including governments) didn’t grasp the “difference” that quickly. By mid-March, it seemed clear to us life was going to change. We never imagined the scale.

12 March 2020: 

The changes began to affect us personally when Viking Cruises cancelled all sailings and so we’re staying home and following UK “Social Distancing” guidelines. Makes sense really. Lots of cruise ships have had all manner of difficulties.

22 March 2020: 

Just 10 days later and the World is in the grip of this Pandemic. It looks to me as if the whole year is a travel write-off. Let’s hope it’s no worse than that. As one politician said, ”If your life feels normal today, you’re not listening.”

This is looking like a long, difficult time. I’ve decided to record how our thoughts & experiences during this unimaginable period in our live plays out. We’ll document our comments at the time but not change them as time passes.

And so it began. Lockdown, a word until now associated only with US action movies entered everyday parlance, and would gain in meaning and nuance in the weeks to come. 

It’s said that 100 days is a magic number in politics. So here are “100 Days of Lockdown”. Beyond 100 days… Another story?

Monday 23 March -  Day 1 - Lockdown Eve

The weekend showed up what has become of Britain. Despite all the warnings and advice, open spaces, beaches and parks were crowded with people showing not the slightest hint of social distancing. Traffic jams on roads into Brecon, Snowdonia and seaside towns like Porthcawl.

Will the Government act and place enforceable restrictions on movement? We’ll see.

We spent the morning emptying out and deep cleaning our summerhouse - there’s more than a good chance it’s going to have a lot of use - and giving some fresh air and “brush down” of the various bits of garden furniture tucked away in boxes and sheds. The garden, we think, is going to provide a link to sanity during the next three months.

The afternoon? Reap the benefits. The sun was out. None too warm, but it is so much better having blue sky overhead and fresh air for the lungs (got to look after those!).

The evening spent in a typical way. Food and TV. The first day of many to come.

Tuesday 24 March - Day 2

He had to do it. The country is now in lockdown, but the London Tubes were crowded again. Legislation comes into force in a few days time. What’s become of British Values remains a mystery. Why must this selfish few need to be ordered to do the right thing or face a £30 - £1000 fine?

Fortunately, the weather’s decided to be kind: clear skies, no wind and warm sunshine. Time for a bit more gardening - pruning and trimming - the plan is for the place to rival the Chelsea Flower Show. And who’d have thought we’d be sitting outdoors for lunch in March. Vitamin D and UV rays won’t do any harm either!

A resourceful local shop quickly set up a new online order and delivery service (under 24 hours to delivery). Well, they nearly got the order right, but it’s brand new to them so they still deserve a round of applause. Who’d have thought it. The thrill of getting a 4 pint carton of milk, a pack of beer and some ice-cream!

All in all, it’s no so bad… yet!

Wednesday 25 March - Day 3

It feels like spring today. No wind, totally cloudless sky and the temperature by midday around 16ºC (61ºF). Another opportunity to do some of those outdoor jobs you somehow never get around to. Today was tidying up our shed and raking the large gravel area.

We heard Chris is to totally close his restaurant today - they’d tried providing home deliveries (which had gone well) but as his partner’s wife is pregnant and Beth has asthma, they wisely thought, “Too much of a risk”.

All this sunshine, sitting outside, feeling warm and relaxed, I thought, “Well, if I can’t go to the Caribbean, it might as well come to me.” Peaking too early???

Air quality is interesting. It is definitely different. I can smell coffee being made indoors maybe 15ft away in the garden. And it’s so much quieter, if only those damn birds would calm down.

The Lockdown has created another difficult detail. Supermarket Home Delivery Services are swamped. Most of their websites crashed not long after the PM’s broadcast Monday night. It’s not stock levels that are the problem; it’s finding a delivery slot. One reporter in London said the earliest he could find was JULY. All of the local to us stores have no slots available in the coming 4 weeks.

We did a little “thinking ahead” late last week and set up amendable small orders over the next 3 weeks to reserve some slots (I’d noticed they were getting rare when I placed an order with Tesco). The most exciting thing we’re anticipating is not a couple of weeks in Scandinavia (we would have been in Hamburg today) but the arrival tomorrow of that Tesco van with some fresh foods on board. A new reality.

We’re not sure if it will last, but at least for the moment, we’re quite enjoying the time at home in the sunshine.

Thursday 26 March - Day 4

An opportunity to remember what a child feels like on Christmas Eve. This time, not Santa and his sleigh, but the Tesco’s Home Delivery van. Boo! No reindeer.

And, of course, as you can’t be sure what was out of stock and what substitutions they may have made, unpacking is almost as exciting. Our order was 99% as requested (milk is still a tricky thing to find) and so we’ve some items on the menu that don’t have to come from the freezer.

The weather’s still being kind, sunny if a little colder. Thicker woollens provide the solution. I think we’ve spent more time in the fresh air in the last few days than in a very long time.

Still smiling, except when watching the news on TV.

Saturday, 28 March - Day 6

Late yesterday, our neighbour and her son managed to return home from Japan. Quite a relief for them (and us). They’re self-isolating although they feel Japan had been pretty safe and well controlled.

The weather’s given up on being pleasant. It’s overcast and with a brisk wind from the north it feels around 5ºC. Unable to sit outside we took the opportunity for our permitted exercise walk of around an hour. My GPS tracker said we covered around 3 miles. You begin to appreciate little things taken for granted. Living in a semi-rural location, we could set off on to a road with no housing and within ¼ mile entered an almost deserted country park. Just a few joggers and dog-walkers all of whom mutually respected distancing rules. 

The news continues to depress. The US, based on spread in the UK & Europe, seems to have very deep trouble ahead. It’s clear that their (so-called) leader is still in denial. With hindsight, our government were slow to react, although if they had just a few weeks ago, the protest marches would have been transmission vectors. However, Nation by Nation, the world still ignores the experience of others. Sad but true.

We’re still smiling and adapting to the situation. In truth, it’s a little easier for us retired people, as we’re more used to being at home without “important” work agendas to complete.

It occurred to me today why supermarkets, etc, are under so much pressure. Whilst production remains high and has been increased, think how many people at work buy their lunch (and often breakfast) from sandwich shops, restaurants, staff canteens and many other outlets. That’s not to mention the army of children not using school canteens. All this now has to be done at home and I doubt distribution systems have had time to adapt to new delivery and warehousing to satisfy supermarkets - not to mention the supermarkets coping with so much more needing to be put through check-outs.

Everyday a new and “unprecedented” challenge for government and industry to solve with no time to plan.

Monday 30 March - Day 8

Yesterday was the simplified version of “new normal” -  a walk and TV.

Today, we altered our exercise route and walked down to the main road and around some quieter streets. We’ll be fitter at the end of this than ever before, all else being equal.

We were really surprised how much traffic was moving about. Surely there still can’t be that number of “essential” journeys? After all, it is supposed to be only shopping and travelling to essential workplaces. If people don’t get behind the advice, this is going to become more serious than it already is.

I completed the installation of a temporary electricity supply to our summerhouse for heating, so that we could use it even though it’s turned chilly. Sounds impressive? Well, it’s actually a long extension cable dragged across the garden with a convector heater attached. Worked though!

Apart from that, books and TV passed the time and all in all: not so bad, so far.

Tuesday 31 March - Day 9

The Sun’s out again and the wind’s calmed down a little, so this morning’s exercise walk was very pleasant. We’re continuing to set off as early as we can (usually around 9am) as there seems to be very few others out and about.

We had another Supermarket Home Delivery today - you know you’re living in a parallel universe when having eggs, milk and butter delivered feels as if it’s your birthday. A few bottles of wine and a pack of beer may have added just a little bit to the experience.

It’s fascinating to see how some people are filling their time. A neighbour of ours has taken on the task of clearing all the weeds growing in the kerbside paving, not just in front of her property, but everywhere. Win-win. She’s enjoying the task (I presume) and the local environment is becoming even more spick & span.

We’re still in positive mood, but there’s still a very long way to go.

Thursday 2 April - Day 11

Yesterday went pretty well. It was what most days are likely to become - a walk, some food, reading and TV.

As of this morning we’ve clocked up around 15 miles in exercise walks. We’re trying to find a reason as to why we haven’t been doing this for years. Haven’t come up with a good excuse yet!

It’s a little warmer today - not a lot, but it is - and we’ve had very light showers of rain. Improvement promised for the weekend; fingers crossed.

We had a news-email from a friend which started me thinking about so many things we take for granted, that were “just there”, that we’re all now realising how important they are. And, of course, how unimportant are so many of the things that often stressed us out.

Hang on a minute I’m just going to find my soap-box.

OK. Got it!

Most obvious is the NHS. It was there and all we did was complain. People filled A & E departments with sore throats and cut fingers and complained about waiting a few hours to be seen. GP surgeries unable to provide appointments as they’d all been taken by people with a mild headache or “the sniffles”. Ambulances were unavailable as they were on call to “frequent flyers” or drunks fallen over in the street. We didn’t have to pay, so we gave it no respect and undervalued the staff. Boy-o-boy. That’s changed quickly. With a little luck, it’ll stay changed. It has to.

And how about those low paid, low status jobs like bin collectors, hospital cleaners, delivery drivers, postal workers et. al? We couldn’t survive without them now, could we?

As a retired teacher I had to smile at another message Margaret received. My prediction proved correct. Parents would (a) find out what little monsters their kids can be when told to do something they don’t quite fancy doing, (b) it’s not that easy to explain something to children in a way they’ll understand and (c) they’re not as smart as you thought they were.

Soap-box away

America’s worrying. We have friends in Baltimore and in Louisiana. The news-email mentioned North Carolina. All we hear is of mixed messages, competing, uncoordinated agencies and dis-information on what the pandemic is going to mean. Did you see the vast crowds (including Rudi Giuliani) lining the New York waterfront to greet the navy’s hospital ship? What were they thinking? I hope they sort out the messaging soon. It seemed (with hindsight) a bit slow getting through here. By comparison, we rushed to lockdown.

We’ve been working through the “Harry Potter Movie Set” via Virgin/Sky Cinema; two to go. Still trying to think of some movies and box sets that are a bit “lighter”. Mood management is critical.

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock implied that this lockdown is going to be “as long as it takes”; verbal inoculation for it to be extended well beyond Easter. Whatever it takes makes sense to me.

Still smiling and planning to stay that way.

Friday 3 April - Day 12 - 19.114 miles 30.58km

We’ve been tracking our exercise walks for the last 7 days with GPS. Today we decided to add them up and keep a record. We’ve nearly walked to Barry Town Centre and back so far!

Something new today. A vehicle announcing (I presume) the restrictions on movement travelled past at least twice. I’ve no knowledge of what was actually said as the announcement is being made bi-lingually. It was out of hearing range when the English version was played, on both occasions.

Now, I’m a keen supporter of the use of Welsh in all aspects of everyday life. Language is the bedrock of culture, our culture and traditions are ancient and well worth preserving. However, there are times, and this is one, where political correctness is anything but correct. In this part of Wales, the proportion of the population who speak Welsh is relatively small. Everyone speaks English (except, maybe, a very few recent immigrants, but they don’t speak Welsh, either).

When will the “officials” who run local councils wake up to what’s important - this is just another example of the brainless bureaucracy we have to put up with.

Apart from that, on this day in history, not a lot else happened. Go for a walk, have some food, read a bit, sit in the garden, watch TV. Not complaining. It’s really not that bad.

Made us smile

Sunday 5 April - Day 14 - 24.306 miles, 38.89km

London’s at it again. A little bit of sunshine and the parks fill up. Lots of arrogant millennials decided it would be OK from them to have picnics with friends. The Government’s response: If this carries on we’ll have to ban leaving home for exercise.

When will they get it? It’s not all about them.

Personally, I’d introduce wartime style conscription and draft them into the NHS as porters for a few days. Maybe they’d see reality and understand how their selfish actions insult doctors and nurses.

Goodness. My soapbox is getting quite an airing these days.

As for ourselves, we fitted in another exercise walk (whilst we can!!!). I found a navigation app that shows footpaths/rights of way as well as roads. We had no idea how many of these criss-crossed the parks, woods, fields and side streets near us. It felt quite adventurous exploring new ways to go from A to A (A to B not allowed). At least, around here, the few people encountered are committed to the 2 metre rule and also exchange friendly greetings as you pass. Not a picnicker in sight.

The weather is getting warmer, but today there was a stiff breeze, so it didn’t feel that warm if the sun disappeared behind a passing cloud. There’s also a bit of overnight rain in the forecast - I’m hoping it’ll clear through as there’s a bit of gardening as part of tomorrow’s exciting agenda.

We’re still happy enough and getting on with it. Has anyone else noticed, however, even with 200+ TV channels, there’s nothing much worth watching!

Monday 6 April @ 19:15hrs - Day 15

And when it couldn’t get worse…

PM Boris Johnson is admitted to Intensive Care as “his condition worsens”. The political lines are clear; he has a Deputy and has passed the reins to Dominic Raab,

Raab is capable but boring. What Boris brings to the table is essential; that “can do”, “get it done now”, “never mind the data, feel the optimism” spin on events,  plus his energetic skilful oratory is vital. We don’t need facts; we need motivation.

Good luck, Boris.

Wednesday 8 April - Day 17 - 33.634 miles, 53.81km

Out for our walk this morning, there seemed far fewer people and vehicles about. Maybe the PM’s situation has finally knocked sense into the thicker skulls: everyone must take instructions seriously.

We’re also a little concerned the exercise police might come knocking. It was so quiet and peaceful, we were just strolling with little intent and thereby exceeded “the exercise limit” by 11 minutes AND we’d taken a few minutes resting on a bench enjoying the view across one of the small lakes in Cosmeston Country Park.

When we returned there was a message from Leger Holidays, our go-to coach tour company. Margaret phoned them back and had the best possible experience. 

We were booked to go to Austria with them early this July but, logically, they’re cancelling that. What they’d done was to identify those travelling on each of their tours, sorted out a schedule for next year, offered a transfer of the booking to an identical tour with no fees and at the same price, and with no requirement to pay for the trip (other than the deposit already paid) until their usual number of days before departure. All offered, no need to request or demand. Now that’s customer service! We’re going now at the end of August 2021.

I spent an hour or so in the afternoon painting some of the garden ornaments which had become tatty and dirty over the winter. Staying indoors meant no shopping, so they had to be painted with whatever suitable leftovers were in the shed. A cream coloured elephant isn’t that unusual, is it?

Late afternoon the sun came back out and it’s quite a bit warmer than last week. With the Easter Weekend just ahead, let’s hope people behave. It’s a bit of a vain hope: London police had to break up a cricket game today!

Maybe it’s a good idea to let them do what they want to do and clean up the gene pool.

NHS Heroes (via Twitter)

Thursday 8 April - Day 18  - 35.424 miles, 56.68km

I knew that exercise wasn’t good for you. We’ve just been conning ourselves.

Margaret has had a weakness in one of her knees for a while and it’s decided that enough’s enough. She’s hobbling around in a fair amount of pain. We’ll be sitting out our exercise time for a few days until it clears up. Still, the sun’s out and the garden’s starting to look a little more like springtime.

Did you read about the cloth-heads in Manchester? The police had to break up 660 parties over the weekend! BBC News Link What the hell are they thinking? And what can a civilised society do about it? Become a bit less civilised, maybe.

Third “Applaud the NHS” today. Looked like a 100% turnout in our small close. As each week goes by they’re deserving it more and more.

With the sunshine and the garden looking more springlike it’s really not that bad. The only thing darkening the horizon is the problem of booking home delivery shopping. We’re “in business” to cover the next 2 weeks but I suspect lockdown’s going quite a ways past that.

Easter Sunday 12 April - Day 21

Margaret’s knee is still being troublesome and a cough I’ve had for a few days is also being a nuisance (not in the slightest bit “dry”, BTW). Exercise remains on hold.

Boris is out of hospital and going to Chequers to rest and recuperate. Good news. However, the natives are getting restless; the British penchant for moaning about anything is coming to the fore (mostly in print & e-print media). If we all had as much foresight as hindsight the press would go out of business.

We’ve had a couple of Easter cards including an e-Card from friends in Maryland. Strange, really. In this situation a card seems to mean so much more than in the past.

Looks like the weather’s going to turn cooler for a few days, but still not a lot of rain in the forecast. Possibly the best weather for the Easter season in decades and we’re under lockdown. Funny old world!

Secured a Forward Delivery Slot (capital letters now) last night, just after midnight. It’s in MAY. Still feels better than a lottery win! We now have one in 9 days and then another 12 days after that. Riches beyond Man’s wildest dreams.

Thursday 16 April - Day 25

It’s been quite a few days with little to say, and, TBH, there’s still not a lot going on. The weather’s remained fairly kind, there are fewer weeds in the garden than ever before in history and we’re still fairly content within ourselves.

Unfortunately, Margaret’s knee pain has remained bad despite being attacked with all sorts of pain killers etc. We’ve found a gel pack buried at the bottom of our first aid box and that’s the next treatment to be applied - a heat pad. My cough’s a little better (that’s being damned by feint praise!) but this is without doubt one of those times when you know there are lots of folk in much worse straits than you.

Everyone must know by now of Captain Tom, the approaching 100 year old, who wanted to raise £1,000 for the NHS. As I write, at 10:30am today the total was north of £12,750,000. One hasn’t been able to donate for quite a while, unless lucky, as the JustGiving server donation page can’t handle the number of accesses being attempted. A bit like supermarket sites, you have to keep trying until you get a connection. 

Bloody marvellous to see this worldwide response to one man’s simple act of defiance against an invisible enemy, echoing his defiance against another more visible threat to our way of life 80 years ago, when he was just 20 years old. Takes your mind off the Prats in the Parks who have no sense of honour and duty.

He is the story of the day. As I post this page, 1 hour before his 100th birthday, the total has just passed £16million. Amazing!

Sorry if any of my friends in the US are offended

but I thought this was funny (and true).

Sunday 19 April - Day 28

Today was very interactive.

We had a great video chat with some friends from near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Being able to see friends and swap updates of each other’s news is so rewarding when person-to-person is limited. 

Just as the call ended, an email arrived from other friends near Baltimore, Maryland. We hadn’t heard from them for a while - again so good to be back in touch.

We took some lunch into the garden and our neighbour heard our voices and popped her head over the fence. Another chance for an extended chat.

As this saga moves on, more and more we reappraise what’s important and what is less so. I’m sure it’s the same for everyone. People and friendships matter so much more than we ever fully understood. As this lockdown goes on, value systems will change. The UK and many other countries will be very different to just 3 months ago.

Apart from that, the sun’s back out and the garden’s become our living room once again. I’m not at my most positive at the moment, perhaps as my cough and Margaret’s bad leg are tying us down and reducing our choices. I expect we’ll get over it and get on with it. 

Thursday 23 April - Day 32

It’s become much clearer that some form of “lockdown” is going to be in place for a very long time. 

Just one month ago, the optimistic commentary suggested a few weeks would get the job done. Back then the questions were: Would schools stay closed after Easter; would the Tokyo Olympics (and myriad other sporting events) go on as planned, were police over-reaching by telling sunbathers in parks and on beaches to go home. It all seemed like a strange game we were playing, so that as soon as it became boring, we’d stop playing.

It’s taken just one month for the World to change so much, one doubts it will ever be exactly the same.

It is clear this is not a game. We are not in control; the virus sets the pace and timetable. All “people” can do is react to its next move. Governments everywhere (except Washington) acknowledge that vaccines and therapeutics are a long way down the track. We’ve all, to some degree, become virologists, accepting and understanding the very lengthy timetables for drug development although these have been massively compressed from “normal” times.

The media are becoming increasingly restless. They can’t find anyone on whom to pin the blame, so they’re starting to blame anyone for anything just to write headlines. For example, the last few days they’ve been ranting on about the government’s inability to supply PPE and/or delays in its delivery. They can’t grasp that if you order it (from Turkey is the big story), a dispatch date is promised and the supplier doesn’t produce the goods on time, you can’t do anything (apart from, perhaps, declaring War on Turkey, invading and taking over the factory). Interestingly, in a YouGov poll published today (Sky News), the print media had the lowest trust index of any “player” - a score of minus 55. The Chief Medical Officer (Chris Whitty scored +20, the NHS +75).

So my best guess is that anything vaguely resembling “normal” is unlikely until perhaps September, when schools might reopen and some variation on social gatherings (e.g. pubs & restaurants) will be allowed (not sure about large sporting events). Unrestricted travel seems unlikely this year. Lockdown zones, “hotspots”, closed borders (either keeping people in, or out), not to mention public uncertainty over transmission and quarantines, all will put the brakes on tourism.

In any case, do we want “normal” back exactly the same. As one Italian politician said recently, “We all enjoyed rush-hour so much, it must return.”

I’ve come to like the fresher air, the quietness without a background hum of traffic, and the improving feel and sense of community responsibility. There has been the subtle but welcome shift in “populist politics”.  Answering the question, “Should people work for the economy or the economy work for people?” has become a lot more subtly biased towards the public rather than corporations and global markets. Electors (via opinion polls) seem slightly less “it’s all about me.”

Apart from all of that, life here is still routine - a very simple routine. We’re told it’s having a good effect on controlling the spread, so it’s worth it.

Sunday 26 April - Day 35

We’ve re-discovered the old fashioned pleasure of radio this weekend. These days it comes labelled “BBC Sounds”. A mobile phone app, played through a bluetooth speaker.

Radio drama proved to be as interesting, and maybe more exciting, than their tele-visual versions. Admittedly, it takes a while to re-adapt to BBC English where received pronunciation is paramount, especially as the plays we tried were set in the 1930’s. We listened to Agatha Christie’s Poirot and “The Pale Horse” whilst sitting in the garden, enjoying sunny skies and clean fresh air.

Thursday 30 April - Day 39

Here we are at the end of April with very little more idea of where this is all going than at the start.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. At the start, it seemed that this was going to be really bad - several weeks of lockdown followed by a gradual return to a sort of normal.

Now all that’s certain is uncertainty - and the “really bad” of a month ago wouldn’t be that bad an outcome. For example, Germany (Europe’s beacon of light) lifted it’s restrictions and the virus bit back. Travel seems to be threatened for years ahead. Massive companies and corporations appearing to be about to go belly-up. The only hope of normality seems to be a vaccine and that’s a long way off. 

There’s a sense of a rudderless drift towards nowhere in particular, both here in the UK and Worldwide. My feeling is that, in the end, there will be a need to let the virus do whatever viruses do and simply try to keep the deaths under control. They’re just waiting for that to become politically acceptable.

Maybe we’d actually be happier “just getting on with it”?