3.10 sprint across carpark
3.12 commence school run
3.35 netball drop off en route to cricket training
3.56 pick up the dog from the vet
4.25 mad dash around Woolies
4.55 netball and cricket pick up (I’m late)
5.25 start dinner
5.45 after school job drop off
6.40 serve dinner (it’s burnt)
This is from my diary dated 28 July 2018. On that day and pretty much every day since, I wished the world would slow down. And now, in a way that I could never have foreseen, at a too high Covid-19 cost, it has. The plan was to slow down by having a family gap year, but coronavirus has stopped us in our tracks. In this corner of the world, isolating in the UK, we’ve had to get used to a different reality and get used to it fast.
Just weeks ago, we’d joined throngs of other tourists on the Brighton seafront in an upside-down beach house which sits as inconspicuously as an upside-down beach house can, not far from the pier. Just outside the upside-down door, a right- side up sign warned me of motion sickness.
This topsy-turvy house in which doing the dishes meant reaching up not down, messed with my head. In the bedroom a neatly made bed, pillows plumped, hung from the ceiling above me so that I questioned gravity itself. But I was surprised at how quickly I adjusted to this inverted reality, and the 5 quid entry fee was money well spent in preparing me for what would come next.
Media updates warned us that life was about to feel very different here. As I walked through a locked-down London, I had the same feeling of being off-balance. Gone were the buskers in Trafalgar Square and the High Street hustlers vying for our tourist dollars. Instead, police and guards patrolled empty streets, and imposing statues cast shadows over pigeons which still scavenged, a little more urgently now, at their feet. The capital was a deserted city.
We had tried to avoid London. But in the mayhem of cancellations and shutdowns, we’d managed to hold on to an Airbnb in Westminster and so for 3 days we had no choice. We ventured out to St James’ Park using our once- a- day exercise ration where an understandably twitchy police officer, in an understandably twitchy city, in a country which like every other was counting its dead by the day, yelled at us to go home.
Not too far away in the Peak District, police had dyed black the turquoise water of the iconic ‘Blue Lagoon’ in Buxton and were using drones to track people walking in public parks on their once a day exercise ration. Streets and parks were now off-limits and when a burly policeman carrying a heavy-duty firearm yells at you to go home, you do. Or in our case, if you’re in someone else’s country, you find one.
We literally headed for the hills and crossed a 16th-century bridge to the ancient market town of Tenbury Wells, which sits amongst the picturesque farmland of the Teme Valley. And here we are still, staying home as Boris wants us to do, isolated from the 3,777 people who live here, and learning to adjust to this different reality in the same way that everyone else is; day by day.
Gradually life is taking on a new rhythm and I’m finding my footing in a world which has changed with dizzying speed. As airlines grind to a halt, the birds have the skies all to themselves. Road noise has been replaced by gusts of wind which whip across lonely country tracks and ripple the lake. A week ago, I would have shut the window against an icy wind, but now I invite it in, grateful for the fresh air.
The world has slowed down and the streets around us with names like ‘Apple Tree Walk’ and ‘Old Wood Road’ have fallen silent. They too seem stuck in time. It’s not what I had in mind when, in my not so long-ago life, I wished for it to be so.
But when I hear through our cabin walls the muted murmurs of family conversation, when we lapse into companionable silence, evidence of the new way we’re learning to be together now in close and continuous proximity, I can’t help but wonder how I’ll feel when jet aircraft once again reclaim the skies, and the noise of traffic drowns out the wind.
Sue Webb is a high school teacher who lives with her family on the Sunshine Coast. They are 10 weeks into a family gap year and found themselves, like most other travellers, stopped in their tracks. Stuck without a home to go to, they are finding refuge in a secluded log cabin tucked away in the farmlands of Shropshire, where life is gradually taking on a new rhythm. They are slowly getting used to a different reality and learning more about themselves in the process.