Life in the time of Coronavirus – Lockdown Diaries

On March 23rd 2020, the UK went into lockdown, following many other countries across the world in their battle against Covid-19. I’ve been keeping notes of our experience at home here in Cumbria, and whilst this post is most certainly self-indulgence over substance, I’m sure many of you will relate.

Week 1 – Disbelief

Is this really happening?

Week 2 – Fear

It’s early in the morning but the sun’s rays are already peeping through the cracks in the curtains, which are billowing gently in the cool breeze floating through the open window. The light is mellow and pure, bringing with it promises of bees and buttercups, and I know that Spring has finally arrived. Untangling a foot from the cosy depths of the duvet, I stretch out so my toes can dance indulgently with the fresh air. Outside the birds are heralding the dawn of a new day, cheerfully calling to one another from the bushes as they flit around looking for a spot of breakfast. My own stomach rumbles and I contemplate fluffy yellow eggs on toast before snuggling back under the covers for a few more deliciously cosy minutes. These are my favourite moments of the day, lingering in that delightful sweet spot between slumber and consciousness, when all is well with the world and nothing can burst that bubble.

And then I remember.

This isn’t just a normal Spring day. Outside a silent and invisible foe is stretching its deadly tentacles around the world, on a rampant mission to squeeze the life out of its prey, both physically and mentally. My heart skips a beat as this knowledge sinks in once more, just like it does every morning. It’s a sick feeling, one that is difficult to really comprehend.

I want to resist looking at my phone.

Usually I start the day by checking emails and then scrolling through the news before I get up. But today there’s really no point. Freelance work has all but dried up, and I already know what the headlines will say. Gone are the amusing local stories of ‘Man rescues cat stuck up tree’ and instead the screen is filled with alarmist updates on the current state of the world. I want to resist looking at my phone but I can’t, so it’s my own fault that the joys of a Spring morning are rudely shoved aside to make room for the doom and despair of reality.

The birds are still tweeting, and I envy their innocence. They say knowledge is power, yet I’ve never felt more helpless.

Week 3 – Foraging

Today is shopping day, a weekly task I’ve taken on since I have nothing better to do whilst Hubbie is out at work. Despite the worry and unknown, there’s also an element of secret excitement attached to the mission. Spontaneity has never been our forte, but with routines now a thing of the past we’re learning fast. Will there be any pak choi? How many bags of tagliatelle will be left? And why is all the vodka gone?

The wheels make an absolute racket as I try to stealthily push the trolley across the tarmac.

Normally the supermarket car park would be full at this time of day, but now it’s a ghost town and I feel like an intruder. Even though it’s early there’s a queue to get in, with everyone standing the required distance apart. Yet there’s no chatting or even acknowledging the existence of fellow shoppers. I feign interest in a couple of quarrelling sparrows in the hedge, anything to avoid making eye contact with people from the ‘outside world’. I don’t know why I do this, but no-one seems inclined to engage in conversation and so who am I to buck the trend.

Once inside I pretend that I’m not interested in flour, rice or tins of chopped tomatoes, but just like everyone else I’m there in aisle K, desperately seeking the last lonely packet or tin, retreating dejectedly when the shelves offer up nothing.

I pick up extra chocolate in compensation.

La Maison Arabe Marrakech Express Cooking School
Gone are the days of planning meals

Week 3 – Routine

Each weekday morning I haul myself out of bed, pull my hair into a pony tail that would pass muster should the postman come knocking, and pad across the landing in my fluffy slipper boots to our home gym (which is actually a spare room full of all the stuff that hasn’t found a home after nearly 3 years living here). Most people are going to emerge from lockdown either fitter than they’ve ever been before, or having to go shopping for larger-sized clothes. I haven’t yet decided which category I’ll fall into.

Some days I’m super motivated, on others the biscuit tin wins.

There’s something about routine and exercise that really lifts the spirits, and it always sets me up for a positive day ahead. As I clock up the miles on my squeaky cross-trainer I gaze out of the window to the snow-capped hills of the Lake District and everything looks eerily normal.

For a short while I forget once again, and daydream about adventures in far-flung places.

We should’ve been in Barbados this summer

Week 4 – Exploration

Daffodils. Birdsong. The sun glinting off red sandstone walls that line country lanes. Hares. Secret doorways. Lambs gambolling innocently in the fields. Our first ever woodpecker sighting. And the discovery that the initial owner of Alcatraz Island grew up in our village!

As we can’t travel right now we’re enjoying exploring our home patch instead. We’re often so fixated on discovering places that are 100’s of miles away that we forget we have some wonderful opportunities right here on our doorstep in the stunning Eden Valley. Each weekend Hubbie has been choosing different routes for our local walks, right from our front door, and we’re finally getting to fill our souls with a little Spring and appreciate the reason we moved up here in the first place. We’ve seen castles, ancient churches and rickety bridges, whilst tiptoeing through bluebell-carpeted woods, crossing babbling brooks and even traversing an abandoned forestry logging site.

It’s been fun, and we’re so thankful to have all this as our back yard.

Brougham Castle
Brougham Castle in the Eden Valley

Week 4 – Thrift

There’s something about loosing nearly all your monthly income that really opens your eyes to the value of money.

I’ve never been particularly stringent when it comes to spending. So long as the credit card bills are paid each month and we can afford to go on holiday, then I’m happy.

Yet I’ve not spent a single penny on myself since January, and it feels good. Instead of augmenting my already bulging wardrobe with more clothes that I’ll never wear, I’m treating myself in different ways. A free trial of Amazon Prime meant I’ve been able to binge-watch Outlander (based on one of my favourite book series about time travel back to the Jacobite Rebellion), and Vikings (so good if you like blood, guts and boobs).

And I’m not missing all the little parcels that used to arrive on the doorstep with alarming regularity. Not really.

Things to do in Paraty, cute shops, Brazil
I bought one of these bags made out of old truck straps in Brazil, and haven’t used it once!

Week 5 – Desperation

It’s time to knuckle down and do some work.

And by work I mean messaging friends, video calling the parents, and cleaning the house for the tenth time this week. By mid-morning I’ve also finished one of my last contract assignments, painted my nails and refreshed my emails at least 50 times. Work is slow and the motivation to go and pitch for jobs I know won’t be available is incongruous with the necessity.

I’m feeling so frustrated that I’m one of those unlucky people who has fallen through all the cracks when it comes to financial assistance from the Government. Not being eligible for furlough, self-employed support (because I’ve only been a full-time freelancer since Christmas) or even universal credit, I’m sitting here tearing my hair out whilst so many others are getting paid for doing nothing. Yet I know, grudgingly, that I’m still one of the lucky ones. The virus hasn’t yet touched our family or friends, and Hubbie is a key worker so his income is secure at least. But I don’t want to get to the stage where I can’t pay my way, so it’s time to think outside the box.

In a moment of pure desperation I applied for work on a farm today.

Apparently there’s a huge shortage of labour as borders are closed and foreign workers are no longer picking fruit and veg in the fields. I never did a gap year, so missed out on the back-breaking hours in the sun, earning a few pennies to keep travelling. Maybe now is my time.

I’m sure I won’t get the position. I’ve no experience, don’t like bugs, and I’m not even sure there are any fruit farms up here in the Lake District. Knowing my luck I’ll end up milking cows, not great considering I’m scared of anything with more than two legs.

Especially if they go moo.

Yeah, that’s so not going to be me!

A few days later…having not heard about the farm job, I’ve now started working as an ‘online assistant’ at the local supermarket, which takes a huge weight off my mind, at least financially. Yep, I’m one of those people wheeling a cumbersome trolley about, getting in your way and clogging the aisles as I pick orders for customers who have booked deliveries.

It’s just three mornings a week, and I find I don’t mind getting up at 5 am when the world is still asleep and the store is quiet. The work isn’t difficult and my fellow colleagues – many of whom are in the same situation as me – are super friendly and unsurprised to see yet another new face. Funnily enough the element I most enjoy about the new job is the human contact! The first customers tend to be the elderly gentlemen, sent in by their wives to shop for things they’ve never even heard of. It makes my day when I successfully locate (and explain) hummus for one bewildered chap, and I soon develop an intimate relationship with the prune aisle, which I didn’t even realise existed before.

The methodical nature of the role is strangely therapeutic, but the impossibility of adequate social distancing for staff makes the whole experience quite stressful. I’m going to have to decide what is most important. Money, or sanity.

5am is not my best look!

Week 6 – Boredom

I finally get my scrambled eggs – the supermarket now has them in stock again, whoop.

They’re not quite as fluffy as I’d hoped, and one was a double-yoker which is either a sign of good luck, or a premonition of death, depending on your beliefs. Being the biggest cynic in the village I completely ignored the signs and scoffed the lot, sprinkled with a generous helping of chives from our herb tray. If you believe some of the articles flying around Facebook, apparently growing plants on your kitchen windowsill will solve all your problems.

We should be all set then!

As a freelancer I’m used to isolation, but now it’s not by choice I’m feeling trapped and detached from the world, and thoroughly bored. I hate not being in control of my life, even though the reality of my day isn’t much different to normal. So, much like the rest of the population, I’ve decided that baking is the key to pulling myself out of doldrums.

Because cake solves everything.

My culinary adventures started on a high, with a pretty impressive first attempt (with help from Hubbie) at m’semem (Moroccan pancakes which are delicious with honey for breakfast). But after that it was a truly spectacular downhill slide. How can one woman be so inept when it comes to mixing a few ingredients together? The chocolate brownies were the flattest in the history of chocolate brownies; the flapjack nearly broke our teeth; and was the butterscotch peach upside down cake really supposed to suck all the moisture out of our mouths?

Despite these failings, I sent poorly-lit photos of my creations to my friends on WhatsApp. It seems to be the thing to do right now in lieu of anything more exciting to chat about. I worry that once this is all over they’ll be expecting me to be a baking goddess and will be sorely disappointed to find out the truth.

M'semen - moroccan pancakes
M’semen – Moroccan pancakes

I’ve also taken to cleaning the house far more regularly than usual (which is certainly not a bad thing!). It keeps me occupied and means we live in a gleaming little nest rather than being able to write our names in the dust. Once this pandemic is over and I’m busy with work again (fingers crossed!), I’m tempted to find a local domestic cleaner to carry on the momentum, as having a clean home is definitely healthy for a positive mind and soul.

Week 7 – Acceptance

There’s a knock at the door.

Followed by the patter of swiftly retreating footsteps. It’s the postman, who has left a parcel on the doorstep and is now nowhere to be seen. I don’t bat an eyelid and realise how quickly I’ve come to accept the ‘new normal’. A neighbour stops to exchange a few words from across the street, and even her dog sits obediently rather than dashing up to say hello like he used to.

It strikes me how I’ve chatted to passers-by far more in the last few weeks than ever before – ironically, isolation is bringing out the social side in all of us.

Week 8 – Restlessness

I’m bouncing off the walls.

It’s 9 months since our last trip away (not counting a short jaunt up to Scotland at Christmas) and as frequent travellers, we’re starting to feel it. 2020 was going to be a blow-out year, celebrating both our 40th birthdays in style with holidays and family gatherings. This month we should also have been jetting off to the Caribbean after winning the Teletext Travel blogging competition at the end of 2019. None of this is of course happening, and whilst there are bigger problems in the world right now, for us, the disappointment is very real.

I’d planned a surprise birthday getaway for Hubbie in June, to make up for his disastrous 30th birthday (which was spent dealing with a horrendous work incident), but that’s of course all gone up in flames. Instead I’m scrabbling around trying to find ingredients to bake him a cake, but don’t fancy my chances of producing anything worthy of someone who has lived for four decades given past results. He’ll probably be more thankful if I manage to procure a ready-baked one from the shops!

We did go to the beach over at Allonby this week, now that short jaunts by car are becoming more accepted. It blew a few cobwebs away and we were amazed that we were pretty much the only ones there. I guess Cumbria isn’t known for its beaches.

The beach at Allonby was a refreshing change

Week 9 – Confidence

Some areas of the world are starting to open up again to tourism, and despite the monster still lurking out there ready to pounce on anyone who ventures into its grasp, I find that I would actually get on a plane next week if I could and just go somewhere different. Preferably somewhere with palm trees and monkeys.

I also want to start spending my tourist dollars to help communities that rely on tourism. A drop in the ocean when compared to the reality of what is needed, but every little helps, right.

I’m a lot less worried about the virus now than I was at the beginning. Not because infection rates are dropping, but because I’ve got used to its existence. And I’ve stopped reading the news. Having dodged the virus for this long I’m perhaps starting to feel a bit invincible, which is ridiculous since the reason I’m fine is because I’ve spent most of it hidden away at home.

Statistics help. Although the numbers are monstrous, if you look at the actual percentage of the population who has suffered, it’s actually very low, which means the odds of us avoiding it are pretty high. But I don’t want to become complacent, as that’s when it all goes wrong.

In other news, Hubbie’s 40th birthday cake was surprisingly impressive! Which is more than can be said about the day itself. Poor boy.

Hubbie’s 40th Birthday Cake

Week 10 – Garden Wars

We’ve finally stopped lowering the tone of the neighbourhood by attending to our forlorn and forgotten garden. Usually all our pennies go on holidays, and the garden is always a project for ‘next’ year. Yet after 3 years in our ‘new’ house, it’s now beyond embarrassing. Everyone else’s plots are immaculate with sunflowers standing up like sentinels, perfectly positioned climbing roses, and not a weed in sight. In contrast we have a marsh with a few sorry excuses for bushes and an out-of-control mint plant.

After a lot of hard graft, constantly-changing sums and countless hours of research, we’re now the proud owners of several home-made raised flower beds. Hubbie did all the hard work (it keeps him out of trouble), although I’d like to claim recognition for helping to shovel FIVE TONS of soil from the front to back! Never. Again.

Going to the garden centre was the most fun we’d had in months, seriously. Worryingly we now understand why the old folks go there on coach trips. Oh dear.

Playing with man tools to make our raised beds

Week 11 – Dawdling

Talking of old folk, I’m becoming one of them, and I’m not even 40 yet!

On the rare occasions I go out in the car, I find myself dawdling along well under the speed limit without realising I have a steady stream of frustrated drivers behind me. I even got beeped at the other day, so mortified! Normally I’m the impatient one, but the truth is I simply have nowhere to be so have all the time in the world to get there! I realised this week I haven’t used my alarm clock for 6 months!

Which is either uplifting or depressing depending on your outlook. The jury’s still out on that one.

Week 12 – Hope

Feeling really good. Freelance work has finally picked up again (I no longer work at the supermarket) and I’m super proud that I’ve managed to stay afloat despite everything. It’s probably because I’ve ‘pivoted’ my copywriting business from travel to other industries, and whilst I hate that word with a passion (it’s on the same scale as ‘wellness’), it seems to be working.

Which is why I treated myself to a celebratory pizza.

One of our favourite local cafes, Askham Hall, has now opened and is cooking up wood-fired pizzas in their outdoor oven, so I spent a happy afternoon in their gardens catching up with a friend and trying not to dribble cheesy goodness down my chin. It felt like such a normal thing to do, and hopefully the start of things to come.

Askham Hall
Askham Hall

Week 13 – Plans

Ridiculously excited right now – we’ve just booked a holiday! Now that hospitality is slowly opening up in the UK, the time has come to think about dipping our toes in the water once again.

I attended an online travel conference last month where it was proposed that bloggers should be the trailblazers when it comes to encouraging people to travel abroad once more. Yet I’ve never been a trailblazer and don’t intend to start now. At the moment I feel it would be irresponsible, and I’m also back to thinking that I don’t want to get on a plane any time soon. So, we’re not rushing. We’ve seen those crowded Bournemouth beaches and do not want to add to the problem.

We’ve made the decision to stay put in the UK for the rest of the year and champion British holidays, because they’re just as good as tropical beaches! The hospitality industry all over the world has suffered enormously, so where better to start spending our tourist £’s again than on home turf.

So we’ve started planning a fun road trip in August, combining visits to family (some of whom we’ve not seen since last year!) and some super quirky historic hideaways that we know you’re going to love. Watch this space for more on that! I think we’re more excited about this trip than any of the other amazing adventures we’ve had together. Just because we’ll appreciate it more!

Our road trip will be covering some beautiful rural destinations in the UK

If you are planning on going abroad once we’re out of lockdown, then of course, there are some new things to look into and check. Unfortunately, the rules are different for different countries, so you do have to do your due diligence to check what is required at each location. Some countries will ask that you quarantine when you get to your destination, for a set amount of time. Others will be fine with you not doing this, as long as you have had a negative coronavirus test prior to travel. This is something that you have to arrange and pay for yourself. Arranging something like a PCR test means that you will be able to get a fit to fly certificate. You are likely to need to quarantine when you return back to your home, so that is something to consider too. If you can work from home, then it won’t be too tricky. Otherwise, travel might need to be put off until you won’t need to take weeks off work at a time.

Week 14 – The Future

As some parts of the world are emerging from the darkness, others continue to battle and it will be a very long time before things get back to normal. If they ever do. Personally, we believe there will be constant flare-ups up and as restrictions are relaxed, a second virus wave here in the UK is inevitable. So we’re just taking life one week at a time, not making super solid plans too far ahead, and being thankful that for now, we’re doing okay.

If we’ve learnt one thing, it’s that travel is a privilege, not a given.

The future of travel is uncertain at best, but it’s definitely going to be different from before. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I reckon a lot of people will be putting more thought into their holiday plans, considering the impact of their arrangements on the ground, and wanting reassurance that their trip has sustainability at heart. Conscious travel will be on the up!

For the immediate future, many people will be taking rural ‘staycations‘ (another word that should never see the light of day!) in their home countries, with lots of self-catering cottages and glamping on the cards. City breaks probably won’t be that popular initially, and those that do decide to fly will be battling for seats as the vastly reduced airline capacity will be stretched to it’s limits.

From now on we know we’re going to truly appreciate every single trip we take, and never take anything for granted again.

How about you? What do you think the future of travel will be like?

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  1. says: Frank

    Enjoyed this post Heather, especially the section on your part-time job picking out groceries for online orders. Good for you, you’re a go-getter! As you know, we were in lockdown for 3 1/2 months in Spain. Got back to Canada 10 days ago and we’re in even stricter lockdown where we can’t even go out to get groceries. For the first time in our lives we’re ordering groceries as well as all our alcohol. And you know what? I think it’s what we’ll do going forward. I’ve always found it stressful going shopping and it’s actually kind of nice having delivered at home.

    And I don’t care what anyone says. The pandemic is changing our habits. I mean everyone. It’s made us more careful about money as well. Why waste money on bars, restaurants and cafes? Don’t need that anymore. Instead we’ll maybe splurge a bit more on the groceries we order and make good stuff at home. Buy nicer wines. In the end you come out spending less anyway.

    And when we hopefully have a home in Spain (by the end of the year?) we won’t be joining gyms anymore. We want to buy a good quality spinning bike. Expensive, but it’ll pay itself off by the money we save on gym memberships.

    It’s early days, but this is all going to have a devastating effect on local economies. I see yesterday that British Airways now permanently getting rid of their whole 747 fleet. My favorite plane in the world and makes me sad. The world is going to be a different place.

    Anyway, enough doom and gloom.

    Glad to hear things picking back up. Don’t know much about your freelancing but glad you’ve been able to make a business out of it. I’ve done some newspaper articles (all travel) for the main Canadian papers but where I’ve made the most money has been on the blog itself – but that’s practically dried up. Nobody is flying or booking hotels or tours…

    Keep up the good work!

    1. says: Heather Cole

      Thanks Frank 🙂 Been writing the post for months, not knowing if I was actually going to bother publishing, but figured might as well, it’s something we can all relate to. We think we’re going to keep doing online grocery shops too, although it’s a bit of a pain having to order 2 weeks ahead which means I’m stuck at home on delivery day (not that there’s anywhere else to be at the mo!). Glad things are slowly progressing your end, hope your quarantine goes okay and you’re able to get back out before too long. I hear you about gyms, so glad I got my cross trainer, it’s already paid for itself I reckon. And I used to swim at the local pool, but don’t reckon I’ll be going back for some time, maybe I should use the lakes instead! Brrrr. My dad worked as an engineer designing the 747s back in the day, really sad to see them go, but it’s happening to many airlines, I think the future of air travel will be very different. Hope your blog picks up again soon, we’re started to see a tiny increase as people start thinking about travel again, although think it’ll be years before it’s back to pre-Covid levels. I’ve found freelance copywriting (in travel but also for other niches) works so well alongside the blog, it’s sporadic for sure, but is giving me the independent life I’ve always wanted, atm anyway. Good luck with the visas, and keep smiling 🙂