Longtime NOTL resident Susan Hall, a warden at St. Mark's Anglican Church, has been caught up in the COVID-19 pandemic while visiting family iin Brighton, England. She is now isolated there and has written the letter home about her experience.
Special to The Lake Report
Here I am in the U.K., having arrived just a smidgeon before the crisis hit surprisingly fast, suddenly shutting down air travel, shortly followed by the immediate closure of any business deemed non-essential. And finally, the pubs, clubs and restaurants that surround me were empty and silent.
Probably, like you in Niagara, we are allowed to be out for exercise within a short distance from home, to shop for essential food supplies or to minister to an elderly shut-in, while maintaining a six-foot distance from others.
It occurred to me that people’s behaviour worldwide during this coronavirus pandemic rather mirrored medieval behaviour as citizens tried to escape from the plague infested cities during the Black Death in the mid-14th century. In so doing they spread the infection as they went.
Similarly, in Italy, there was an exodus from Lombardy prior to the lockdown, spreading the virus to the rest of the country. In New York City, Americans dashed off to Vermont and other less populous states.
Here in the U.K. people rushed to isolate in what they considered safe, isolated places, no doubt encouraged by an article in the Sunday Times Homes section, entitled “Best Places to Isolate” with photographs, accompanied by tempting descriptions of lovely homes for sale in remote areas.
They flocked to their cottages in Snowdonia, Cornwall and other traditional beauty spots like the Lake District. Others hitched up their trailers (caravans) and went to a field somewhere or a massive caravan park, acres of which scar what once were beautiful isolated coastal areas.
Likely some brought the virus with them but apart from that when they arrived they were soundly berated by the local residents for putting an intolerable strain on their food supplies and health services. Crowds, which filled parking lots as they congregated in usually deserted spots, had to be broken up by police after they had been monitored by drones.
Unusually, authorities whose role had been to promote tourism were giving strong warnings for people not to come.
This past weekend was sunny and warm here in Brighton and on national BBC radio the leader of Brighton & Hove council warned people that police would be patrolling the beach and be in force at the railway station. They were asking people why they had come and if it was considered that their visit was non-essential they were sent straight back. Nevertheless the police were still having to breaking up groups barbecuing on the beach.
It is amazing how many police are around when released from non-essential duties.
Burglars have had to retool because with people all at home, home burglaries have diminished. Now their efforts are directed at businesses, starting with pubs!
Life in isolation is challenging, as I’m sure we’ve all found out, especially, if, like me, you live alone. The irony is that my family, who I came to spend as much time with as possible, are isolating at the other side of the city.
They are rigorously observing the rules and are cooped up with two teenagers and a 12-year-old avid football (soccer) player, two German shepherds and a Siamese cat named Ivy. A saving grace is that one of the German shepherds is a new addition to the family, four-month-old Jet. Everyone is fully involved.
My daughter is worried that when life gets back to normal Jet will feel the loss of endless attention; as she aptly says, “A dog is not just for lockdown.”
Getting supplies is quite stressful. Online grocery shopping is the norm in the U.K. Now, with everyone at home, actual visits to supermarkets have been a bit risky.
On the morning my local Sainsbury’s decided to reserve the hours from 8 to 9 a.m. for people over the age of 60 I found myself in a dense crowd of people with a few seniors among them aggressively pushing to get in.
I read recently that the supermarket chains are now employing ex-bouncers, from closed bars and clubs, to enforce appropriate distancing and prevent massive buying – which leaves shelves bare. Much of it gets sold elsewhere at inflated prices. However, the alternative to getting an online delivery slot is well nigh impossible.
I happened to be awake at 3:30 one morning, probably a combination of someone sending a text or email from Canada without realizing the five-hour time difference and me always forgetting to put my phone on silent. I thought I would take a chance of going online at Waitrose and seeing if a slot was available. Bingo! I made it.
My daughter said, “Can you believe it? Normally we do this all the time without thinking about it and now if successful it is as if you have won the lottery!”
I keep remembering “vital” things that should have been on my list and I have till tomorrow to “amend “ it yet again as I constantly keep thinking of things I am without.
Fortunately, there are enterprising young entrepreneurs who have companies such as the Sussex Peasant, Seed 'n’ Sprout and the Brighton Sausage Company, all with stands or very small stores. They are up and running with deliveries, which I value highly.
A highlight of life is on Thursday evenings at 8 o’clock when the whole nation joins in. We all stand on our respective doorsteps and clap, cheer or bang something to show support for the National Health Service (NHS) workers on the front lines, dealing with an overwhelming wave of COVID-19 infected patients. That way I found out a) I had neighbours and b) they were extremely friendly with offers of help should I need it. We have exchanged phone numbers. Benefits all round!
Having lived in Canada for 50 years I have exactly one friend in Brighton whom I met two years ago on a walking holiday. In fact, we were both booked to go on another holiday to Portugal on April 1, which, needless to say, never happened.
One big annoyance, of course, was that even when almost everything in the world was shut down the travel companies refused to cancel holidays, so I was left to cancel and bear the full cost.
One hapless young man was booked to go to a European ski resort. The holiday had not been cancelled so the group took off only to arrive at the resort and, finding it closed, had to fly home again.
My walking is reserved now for my morning’s walk down to the Brighton seafront, made even more beautiful when more or less deserted as it is on weekdays. It is a memory I will treasure.
I consider myself particularly fortunate as a family member tapped into the massive army of generous British volunteers and she found someone who lived near me.
I rejoice in the fact that every morning I am visited by a delightful young woman called Anna, who is studying international affairs at Sussex University. She brings me a paper, giving me my daily Sudoku fix.
Anna is someone with whom I can have a lively, two metres apart conversation; me in my hall and her on the sidewalk. It is just wonderful to be able to count on seeing a real person daily. One day we were closely scrutinized by a two-man police patrol. They smiled and passed by.
In my solitary confinement I am buoyed constantly by daily emails, WhatsApp or calls from friends in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The all are unbelievably important. I miss having a cat with which to isolate but as my only way back home at some time maybe through the Canadian government, a cat likely would be on their no-fly list.
Please, all of you stay in, where you are protected, but reach out to each other as much as you can. It means so much at the moment.
With love to all at St. Mark's.