31925: A timely holiday
We rented this holiday cottage in Yorkshire two months ago. It's difficult to envisage being able to go anywhere on holiday, to travel and stay at someone else's property, only nine weeks later.
We'd booked off the first week in March but had been in two minds about going away. Two years of building work had only finished the week before and a lot of work was needed to put the house back in order. I'd also booked extra days off to take a long weekend two weeks later to see my mum on her 92nd birthday, which was the day after Mother's Day. In the end we decided we needed a break together and managed to book this cottage at the last minute. We arrived on 5th March, the day the first person in Britain died of the virus.
We took few precautions then. My husband wasn't keen to stop at motorway services (too crowded) so we bought supplies at a small, busy farm shop instead. We didn't bleach everything when we arrived at the cottage, and ate the cake the owner brought around to us. My oldest friend, who lives nearby, came to visit. She and my husband practiced tapping elbows and feet as a greeting. I hugged her, "do we still hug?" she asked, "of course" I answered, as I couldn't ever envisage a time when I couldn't hug my dearest friends when I saw them (and still can't). We discussed the virus and our concerns, but in a distant “it's happening somewhere else or to other people with underlying health conditions” kind of way. We discussed what song we sang to ensure we were washing our hands for twenty seconds as instructed. I had eschewed "Happy Birthday" for a verse of "My Sharona" by The Knack, which suits my ageing rock-chick persona far more.
Thinking back, there were lots of things we did that week that are unthinkable now. At mum's home I fed her and hugged and kissed her with only a squirt of anti-bac to protect us both. We visited a museum set in a WWII prisoner of war camp, stuffed with artefacts and memorabilia which would be impossible to deep clean. Earlier in the week we'd had a couple of days out from home; a cycle ride from Bushy Park to Kingston for a pub lunch and a trip into London by train to the Imperial War museum, none of which we'd be allowed to do now. It was in that week in Yorkshire I first saw shelves cleared of toilet rolls and soap.
Back home things started to change quickly, as we watched the death toll and number of cases rise on the news. I was in a meeting in Maths on 12th March when mum's home rang to say they'd locked down to visitors with immediate effect, which shocked me. That evening in rush hour I took a picture of an empty Reading station and remember feeling uncomfortable when someone sat next to me on the train. Little did I know that would be the last time I commuted to work. I went into my university on 16th March, were lectures happened as usual, but class sizes were much smaller. The cafe was open, but not accepting reusable cups. We sat together, but apart. They were the last classes of the academic year.
From 17th March Oxford told staff to work from home. From 23rd March we were in total lockdown. In just two short weeks everything in Britain had changed out of all recognition.