100 Days of Lockdown

The COVID-19 Pandemic

May/June 2020    

Friday 1 May - Day 40

Nothing much different about today, but another month begins. The big excitement was an opportunity for Margaret to drive her car. She hadn’t driven a car for 44 days. Only a quick trip to the Doctors’ Surgery to pick up a prescription but “the Pit Pony Effect” of being let out was gratefully taken. My-o-my, haven’t our expectation levels changed!

Saturday 2 May - Day 41 (Amended to Day 48)

The day count being adjusted today as we’ve realised that before the UK Lockdown began we had been in a voluntary lockdown for a week. So +7 on our lockdown day count.

Envy of the Pit Pony took control and so I went for a walk this morning by myself. Margaret’s knee pain is so much better, but is still there and it wouldn’t be sensible to aggravate it any further. It’s been quite a while since I’ve crossed the property line so it was surprisingly liberating to see there is still a world out there.

It was early, 8am, and a beautiful morning. Sunlight cutting through the trees on the pathway in to Cosmeston Country Park was a delight.

The day also included the excitement of a grocery delivery. Almost too much excitement for one day!

Friday 8 May - Day 54 (75th Anniversary of VE-Day)

Victory in Europe, 75 years ago, and when the May-Day holiday was moved from last Monday to today, I’m sure the planners had street parties and many other commemorative celebrations in mind. The best laid plans of mice and men… 

However, in our small Close, our neighbour’s 12 year old daughter took the time to make some bunting and offer it around. Mum claimed she’d made most of it! They also offered to install it as well.

Other neighbours with children also, to use a wartime phrase, “Did their bit”. Not exactly what it might have been, but that’s life at the moment.

We went for a stroll along the lane and came across another display marking the occasion. It looks like someone is planning a socially distanced street party just for themselves.

Another major adventure today was me going out in my car. The damn thing tried its best not to start, hinting at a flat battery. I shouted at it somewhat, and it complied.

The occasion was our first ever use of a supermarket “Click & Collect” service. Asda. It worked very well, although the “out of stocks” and substitutions seemed more than for delivery orders. However, it did the job and worked well. 

It also gave me an opportunity to see what “in person” shopping looks like under social distancing. It looks awful. The queue to enter Asda was very long (OK, 2 metres being observed). My guess is that it may well have taken over an hour to get into the store. It was 11am on a Bank Holiday, but nonetheless! I’m planning to become a Slot-Hog on Click & Collect for a while at least.

Sunday 10 May - Day 56

Margaret’s knee is still not quite right, so we’re going for short gentle strolls together for a change of scene. Walking past one house, we thought we saw “granny” staring over the fence. Then we took a closer look! Wherever they bought that, I want one! Best garden ornament ever!

It’s clouded over a bit today. Perhaps this will keep the total idiots indoors (Londoners again) Or maybe this could be an opportunity for Mother Nature to take back control of the gene pool.

Boris Johnson made a “Statement to the Nation” this evening, outlining how the UK might move forward. It was sufficiently nuanced to be a little confusing, although as it was Boris, it also managed to be motivating. As both the Welsh & Scottish First Ministers seem to be on a slightly different trajectory to London, what comes next and how to behave in Wales is a bit of a mystery. Threat levels, colour codes, regional differences, what is “essential”; just a bit confusing. Clarification tomorrow in Parliament, hopefully.

We’ll get the idea in the end!

Click on Granny

Wednesday 13 May - Day 59

It’s 2 calendar months since Viking cancelled their cruise schedule to end of June and our Kiel Canal trip “bit the dust”. Pretty clear now - the end of June was more than optimistic. Matt Hancock (UK Health Secretary) suggested yesterday that getting away to foreign parts this summer was “most unlikely”.

The multi-national lockdown has become more confusing than Sunday. Various levels of government, from local councils to ministries, in all four UK nations have been making “announcements”, adjustments, “clarifications” and interpretations. Some politicians have suggested closing the Wales/England border (to peals of laughter from everywhere). A Border MP demanded shutting down the Senedd (to wails from Conservative Central Office that it’s not Party Policy). Maybe the plan is to ease the lockdown by random regional actions to find out what works. Maybe the plan is not to plan but to allow a policy to evolve organically. 

Or maybe the government is bowing to pressure from its traditional business donors and backers to get the economy moving whilst still trying to appear science and clinically guided - Wales, Scotland and Ulster don’t have Conservative Administrations - making contradictions inevitable.

We’ve started going for strolls (not walks) over the last few days, length, duration and speed being determined by Margaret’s sore, but improving, knee. We’re managing about a mile and a half over around 40 minutes each day. A bit of exercise is really positive.

It’s getting harder and harder to guess how all of this will play out;  what will become a “normal” day. After 58 days, this way of life is already routine. All we can be thankful for is the weather. It’s hard to remember when Spring has been so warm, dry and sunny. If we’d had a typical Welsh Springtime… 

Friday 15 May (Day 61)

Our stroll today took 1¼ hours. A slower pace than the original exercise walks, but we covered over 2½ miles, so plenty of steps. We walked though The Dingle, a park still open because it’s also a cycle path and saw lots of chalked tributes to the NHS (etc) including the observations of a true optimist (or realist?). Made us smile.

Apart from that, another pleasant day gardening (trimmed the laurel hedge) and sitting in the sunshine,

Monday 18 May (Day 64)

Yesterday, late evening brought good news. Margaret’s cousin Pat, 91yo with more pre-existing conditions than you’d dare to wag a stick at, returned to a General Covid Ward from a Covid Isolation Ward. This morning, Margaret spoke to her by phone and said she sounded much like her own self.

I had a go at baking bread. You can’t find par-baked or fresh French or sourdough for sale; flour & yeast have been as rare as an intelligent word from Donald Trump; however, I managed to get both so thought, “Give it a try”. After preparing the dough, I understand why pre-packed par-baked baguettes are so popular and why some French (probably bakers ending their shift) drink brandy with their breakfast. (I also know why the French for bread is “pain”).

Much to my surprise as this was a first attempt it worked out pretty well. It tasted like bread!!!!

Another glorious sunny day, so we took advantage. The afternoon stroll has become a feature of daily life. Today, we committed an almost unforgivable sin. We pretended to be English 😲 and drove to our exercise location. As part of New Stupidity (New Reality rebranded for Political Correctness) England & Wales have had, for the past week or so, divergent lockdown policies. Travel for exercise is permitted in England, but is  gwaharddedig (forbidden) in Wales. Surely it’s crowds, not locations, that spread the virus or maybe after 64 days, the bolshie old me is creeping back to the surface. We did only travel 2 miles. In England, distance is unlimited (another version of stupidity).

We drove to Penarth Head, parking at St Augustine’s Church and took a stroll around the streets. There are some great views across the Bristol Channel and Cardiff Bay from here, especially now the air is so much cleaner and clearer.

There seemed to be quite a bit more traffic and pedestrians around. Probably, the gloss is wearing off lockdown, especially with England more relaxed (and confused). My guess is that whilst most people are nervous about easing the restrictions, they’re also beginning to think that, as we’ve all had enough practice at this Social Distancing Thingy, a little bit of common sense will keep those of us with common sense safe enough. The Vale of Glamorgan Council are re-opening most parks this weekend (probably to reduce injuries caused by people climbing over locked gates!). Democracy in action!

We’re looking forward to being able to go back to walks around Cosmeston Lakes. Roll on Saturday.

Before Baking

After Baking

Wednesday 20 May (Day 66)

Yesterday and today, we continued to bend the rules, and on both days drove to Cliff Walk and then walked a circular route including “Railway Walk” which follows the long closed railway line, now a cycle path.

It’s a really pleasant route and covers around 2.5 miles in 1¼ hours at a gentle stroll.

What’s happened to the weather? The sunshine continues. Record temperatures this week - Today 23ºC here and 25ºC in London. I can’t ever remember needing to water the garden in May.

We’ve spent more time out of doors this Spring than in a typical year (maybe decade!)

Not complaining.

Thought for Today

Saturday 23 May (Day 69)

The weather’s taken a turn for the normal for today - squally heavy showers and strong gusty winds. It’s a Bank Holiday Weekend, so it’s only to be expected.

This will interrupt our daily strolls (not the brisk walks of earlier in Lockdown). These, during the last week, have covered just over 12 miles, an average of just under 2 miles a day. Not bad, really. It’s surprising when ambling along paths and streets you’ve known for decades, when they are escapes from confinement, how much more interesting and even attractive many are. To appreciate what’s on one’s doorstep could be another lesson from this experience.

Wednesday 27 May (Day 73)

After a “hiccup” at the weekend, the weather sorted itself out and we’ve been having conditions rarely experienced in the heights of Summer. Today, it’s been around 25ºC with no breeze and cloudless skies.

We spent more time in the garden, more gentle strolls; all-in-all as good as a lockdown can get.

The story of Dominic Cummings’ journey has dominated the media - it’s obvious they’re bored with reporting COVID-19, they’re not able (or willing) to report international news (Australia’s cyclone & Hong Kong riots largely ignored). You wonder, “Who cares?” We don’t. The Press Conferences’ messages were ignored in journalists’ questions. Yesterday, however, best was when Matt Hancock verbally slapped Robert Peston (ITV) with a 5 word answer and no follow-up. Hancock is really good in interviews.

There’s not that much happening, TBH. Announcements now have to be sorted (without much help from the “announcer”) into UK, England only, Wales only, etc. There’s been talk of shops reopening and small gatherings and yet, in Wales we’re not even supposed to drive 50 yards to exercise locations. 

Apparently, there will be more “clarity” at the end of the week. Chance’d be a fine thing!

Random Picture of Sunny Penarth

Local residents trimming the hedge to form a traditional Welsh Greeting ???

Friday 29 May (Day 75)

The weather: each day yet more glorious than the one before. (25ºC). Took a stroll around the Marina/Barrage Area today. Quite a few more people about, but all behaving themselves.

Took some photographs - is this really where we live or some undiscovered resort in the South of France?

Tuesday 2 June (Day 78)

Yesterday, Wales & England lifted restrictions on small family gatherings - Wales’ new slogan, “Stay Local” (instead of Stay at Home) restricts travel to 5 miles.

Today, working to appropriately 5 miles-ish, our son & daughter-in-law, Chris & Beth, came to visit. As the lockdown came quite suddenly it could be nearly 100 days since last meeting up face-to-face. That’s had to be literally avoided, but it’s as close (2m close) as it gets.

The weather’s held out just long enough (25ºC, Sunny) as the forecast is for rain tomorrow and a 10ºC temperature drop from Thursday onwards. Can’t complain as this has been the driest and hottest Springtime (March, April, May) in Wales since records began over 100 years ago.

It was simply great to be able to sit outside in warm sunshine and chat for around 1½ hours, in person, about nothing much in particular. Chris brought some cakes from a local Llandâf bakery. Called Cruffins, they were the love child of a croissant and a muffin, filled to overflowing with a tart black cherry compote and topped with thick whipped cream. Notice the word “were”? They are no more and were delicious. 

Margaret had made a batch of Welsh Cakes (hers being the definitive version) and sent a dozen home with them. Quite a few of them remained here, however. They’re good with cheese, mascarpone or cheddar especially, or simply on their own. And, of course, being homemade, have not a single calorie to worry about!

A very good day, today, indeed. 

Set up for Social Distancing

Wednesday 3 June (Day 79)

The British Summer began officially 2 days ago, and, unlike Spring, it’s starting typically. Light, persistent rain and temperatures in the high teens. A 10ºC drop on yesterday. Our sun awning repurposed itself into a rain deflector to offer some outdoor space.

Looking for something to do, as going out for a walk didn’t seem the best plan, I decided to see if I could bake sourdough-style bread rolls. They came out pretty well, so we’re planning to make a dent in the cheese supplies this evening.

In Lockdown news, Wales has made a tentative announcement about Schools’ reopening toward the end of this month. It involves lots of class size, attendance patterns and other changes, but not a lot of concrete details as yet. Seems to be a bit better planned than England’s headlong rush, however.

Sunday 7 June (Day 83)

We’re beginning to accept, and in an odd way welcome, this “New Reality”. We’re taking more gentle exercise. We’re going for walks, practically on our doorstep, and discovering things and places that have been here for years that we’ve rarely seen or taken advantage of. 

The UK figures on deaths and infections are (obviously) much improved from late March, but stubbornly seem to have plateaued. Unlike other badly hit European Countries which seem to have it, at least, under control, the UK seems to be trying to talk and spin it into submission. The aim was to “Protect the NHS”, which we did, but the government seemed to forget that “Eliminate Infections” was the critical priority. There’s too much positive spin and too little decisive strategy. Did we do better with Boris in hospital? Maybe we did. Just a thought!

Worldwide, one wonders what the impact of the Black Lives Matters protests (George Floyd’s death) will have on the virus. There are certainly good reasons for protest, especially when one sees that there are levels of brutality in how peaceful protestors are being dealt with (not the looters - it’s fine to beat them up). Given the BAME community has been cited as especially vulnerable to COVID, these mass gatherings have the potential to exact a dreadful price from that community. It will take perhaps 3-10 days before any impact on the R (Reinfection) rate is known.

For ourselves, we’ve been giving lots and lots of thought to future travel.

Will “long haul” travel be far too much hassle (if it wasn’t bad enough before)? Being stuck on aircraft for several hours, behind a face covering with much reduced “inflight service” having gone through complex security and boarding procedures could well take the shine off all but the most glittering destinations.

Better to have a couple of short hauls, an hour or two per flight. Smaller aircraft: easier to board. Shorter flights: no absolute need for food & drink (and toilets!).

All our future ocean cruises were long haul, but it is possible to change itineraries with Viking for a pretty reasonable “admin” fee (£100pp). Good negotiating can also, sometimes, preserve any other freebies acquired with original booking. We’ve already changed a trip from South America to Europe, via Africa to a repeat journey around “Viking Homelands” and are making a serious search to replace a cruise around Australia and New Zealand at Christmas 2021. Multiple flights with Qatar from Cardiff each way. (NZ - 17 hours then 7 hours, Aus - 7 hours then 13 hours). What were we thinking?!

We’re also to consider a trip around the Caribbean (Christmas 2020) and another from Barbados to NYC (on Viking’s new Expedition Ship). 

It doesn’t do any harm to have a complete reappraisal of plans. Maybe they’ve become habits that need freshening up?

Cardiff City Centre - Monday 8 June, 2020 (Day 84)

We had a legitimate reason to travel to Cardiff. It really surprised us how “deserted” it was on a Monday morning. Looked more like early on a Sunday.

Sunday 14 June (Day 90)

Life’s still going on much as before. Going for a stroll, sitting in the garden or, quite often in the past week, watching the rain drip down the windows.

Tomorrow, in England (not Wales or Scotland) all shops are opening again, provided a long set of rules are obeyed by shoppers and the shops. I can’t imagine anything more enjoyable as having some spotty, minimum wage teenager acting as a traffic warden.

The debate on the 2m rule is hotting up. To my mind it’s too much for anything approaching normal to be achieved. It’s argued that 2m is 10x safer then 1m, but 10x what? If my chances of encountering an infectious person are 100-1 at 2m, I’d be nervous about reducing the odds to 10-1. However, what are my chances of being near an infectious person? We’ve a UK population of 65million. There are around 65,000 “active cases’ if I remember the stats; that’s 1 in 1000. 

So 1m makes it 1 in 100. I’ll take those odds, especially if we reduce the transmission distance by wearing face coverings indoors.

I’m inclined to think that the Government made enough cock-ups early on, based on ‘scientific advice’ which was not cautious enough, that it’s overcompensating with over caution. Another cock-up? And inward travel isolation? Don’t let me get started on that one!

Still… onwards & upwards!

Tuesday 16 June (Day 92)

During the Prime Minister’s Press Briefing today, the Chief Scientific Officer said the ONS (Office for National Statistics) had estimated the number of active infections in the population are 6 in 10,000. That’s 0.0006%.

For goodness sake! That means there are around 18 people with COVID in Penarth. That’s 240 in the whole of Cardiff. What are the chances of being anywhere near an infectious person, let alone with 2m of one of them. Ridiculous!

For sure, if an infectious person spends a prolonged length of time in a crowded environment, a lot of people risk infection. But in a restaurant? In a “country/local” pub (not a City Centre Party Pub)? In local shops, where you can see who’s in there?

Consider 1m. How often do we invade personal space to that extent? Only where there’s no option, like rush-hour public transport or package holiday airlines.

Admittedly, as my son pointed out, there is a large section of the population who are a sandwich short of a picnic, a few trump cards short of good hand, a few fries short of a Happy Meal, but, nonetheless, it’s time for common sense to supersede scientific statistics.

Saturday 20 June (Day 96)

The last few days have seen the dawn of “Lockdown 2.0” in Wales. Monday sees “non-essential” shops opening and the rumour is that the 5 mile, Stay Local, rule to be relaxed shortly. (Probably a good plan, because most of us can’t get to the big malls & shops and obey 5 miles!) No plans yet for hospitality, like our son’s restaurant and pubs. The problem is the 2-metre rule. Should it be 1m?

The UK COVID threat level dropped form 4 to 3 (if Government statistics are acceptable anymore).

So as we approach Day 100, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. However, with figures from South America & the US not looking so good, we need to be careful that light isn’t a train rushing towards us.

Wednesday 24 June 2020

Well here we are. The first 100 days of COVID affecting our lives have passed by. More days for some, less for others, but one thing is quite certain; the first 100 days certainly aren’t going to be the last 100. The CMO (England), Chris Whitty, said yesterday that he was feeling “optimistic” that we may reach the beginning of the end by this time next year. Not certain, simply optimistic. Vaccines and therapeutics are what’s needed, but even as they are discovered, the UK will need 50 million plus doses and the logistics to administer them. We’re not that big a Nation: the USA, Mexico, China, India… the mind boggles!

However, our 100 day count seems about right. The PM brought an end to the daily press conferences, the last one being held yesterday. Perhaps he’s been following this Blog.

The difficulty in delivering “the message” is Boris’ style of oratory: always upbeat, combative and assertively positive. So easy to inhale too much euphoria. The scientists were far more “feet planted firmly”, urging caution. Boris made the England-only reduction of the 2m rule to 1m+ sound like, “Let’s all get down the pub on our way to a restaurant.” The Scientists came over as, “Keep 2 metres apart unless absolutely necessary, and if you’re closer, wear a mask, don’t face each other and move along asap.” 

The problem is that Boris thinks “the Public” are socially responsible, thoughtful and community spirited, poor misguided fool that he is! Wales, Scotland & Northern Ireland are sticking with 2m and, in Wales, we’re still limited to 5 miles travel “as a Rule of Thumb”, relaxed from an absolute maximum.

Today has been the hottest day of the year (so far) at 29ºC/86ºF. With clear blue skies and very little breeze, we spent most of it in the garden. Margaret’s best friend has been shielding, but for the first time today decided to make use of the 2-households rule, so Margaret dropped around to see her for an hour or so in their garden. They’ve spoken weekly by phone, but today was their first time, face-to-face, for 15 weeks (105 days). Normally, they go somewhere for lunch, or shopping, but today was at least a small step back to normal.

And as a footnote (groan):

Before lockdown, we, just occasionally, went for a walk. Then came Lockdown and the exercise rules allowed us to leave the house, so we forced ourselves out for exercise, mostly for a change of scenery.

Margaret’s wonky knee and a vicious cough for me pushed the pause button.

After a week or so, we decided a stroll, instead of exercise was the way forward and now we enjoy going out for an hour or so. Who’d have ever thought it!

I’ve tracked every walk with GPS and today we added up all the mileage recorded.

110½ miles!!! Home to Newbury (M’s sister’s home, around 1¾  hours by car!!)

It’s time to close this blog. Life goes on and it’s time to live with the constraints and get on with it.