The UK continues to inch forward on the road towards the end of Covid restrictions. It’s now possible to get your hair cut or order food and drink outdoors at restaurants and bars. Which means that one of Britain’s favourite pastimes – queuing – is back on the menu again.
More importantly from our perspective, booking self-catering accommodation is now permitted again. Heather had had the foresight to book us a family getaway for the last week of the Easter holiday, which happily coincided with the easing of restrictions. You wouldn’t have thought that travelling barely 80 miles to enjoy a few days away with zero-degree night-time temperatures could be so exciting. But it was.
Friday 9th April
I’ve had my head down all week trying to clear my inbox before we go on holiday next week. So it’s only really just sunk in that we’re going away for the first time since October half-term, fully 5½ months ago.
We all need the break, even if the weather forecast isn’t great. Four nights in a caravan park in Weymouth is hardly the height of glamour, but even the prospect of having a different set of walls to stare at is an enticing one. Hopefully it will be dry enough and not-freezing enough for us to spend some time on the beach and do some long family walks. And if all else fails, we’ll batten down the hatches and play lots of games.
We’re not setting the bar too high. In truth, there’s no need to. The last three months have been such hard work for everyone that it won’t take much to cheer us up.
Monday 12th April
The UK moved into its next phase of easing lockdown restrictions today, with non-essential retail stores reopening and hospitality venues able to serve customers again, albeit only outdoors. This morning I woke up to images of long queues outside pubs at midnight and #HerdImmunityMonday trending on Twitter.
I despair sometimes; I really do.
It’s not that I begrudge people getting a pint at their local pub again for the first time in months. I understand the urge to do that, particularly for those who are young or single or simply crave face-to-face social interaction again. It’s been a long, miserable and lonely winter, which has hit practically everyone harder than the previous lockdowns. And there’s no doubt that the level of crisis has dropped several notches in the past few weeks. But there’s a huge difference between things getting better in the short-term and things actually being better in the long-term. We’re not yet out of the woods.
To misquote Kenneth Wolstenholme: there’s some people in the pubs. They think it’s all over. Well, it’s not yet.
Anyhow, I wasn’t going to let that spoil my mood as we headed off for Dorset this morning, with all five of us very much in holiday mode. It’s now traditional for us to kick off any road trip with Mr. Blue Sky on the stereo, followed at some point by a singalong to the Hamilton soundtrack, pausing briefly to tune in to PopMaster on Radio 2 at 10:30. (Yes, we’re a bit odd like that.) Three boxes ticked.
We stopped off in Poole to drop in on Heather’s aunt and uncle, play some crazy golf (I won) and take a stroll around the lake in Poole Park before heading on to Weymouth. The kids love staying in caravans, even more than they enjoy a night in a motorway Travelodge with dinner from Burger King and breakfast from Greggs. It’s all part of the adventure for them. And while I enjoy a good hotel too, caravan parks and fast food always stir up happy memories of the holidays of my early childhood when even a cheap B&B felt like the lap of luxury.
The kids unpacked and explored their new surroundings. I headed out to reconnoitre the path down to the beach and the local shops and chippies. We heated up the pre-made dinner we had brought down with us (another family tradition), played games and read for a while before packing Kara and Toby off to bed.
As the saying goes, a change is as good as a rest. And just a few hours in a new environment was enough to lift everyone’s spirits and start to wash away the tedium of the post-Christmas lockdown. And even though we won’t be able – or want – to do all the things we would normally do on holiday, just doing slightly different things in a slightly different place is more than good enough. For the next few days, we’re not just getting away from work, school and everyday responsibilities. We’re taking a break from the pandemic too, even though we can’t fully escape it altogether. The phrase ‘getting away from it all’ has never been so apt.
Wednesday 14th April
Socially distanced visits with two more of Heather’s aunts. An afternoon on Weymouth beach where the chill ensured that overcrowding was never going to be an issue. And fish and chips smoothly purchased from an excellent (and Covid-compliant) takeaway.
While Heather was queuing for our dinner, I took a stroll around the harbour. Currently hospitality venues can only serve outdoors, and the pubs and bars were predictably (and understandably) rammed with customers. Literally in some cases, with patrons sitting or standing virtually shoulder to shoulder around adjoining tables. Everyone seemed comfortable enough about the lack of distancing, but personally I’m not ready for that yet. I’m not agoraphobic by any means, but I wasn’t a fan of tightly packed crowds pre-Covid, and I’m definitely not right now. I’ll no doubt venture out to the pub with friends one Friday evening sometime soon, but we’ll be doing it somewhere where we can either have a separate pod or space ourselves out in a proper beer garden. Let me find my way back to normality at my own pace.
Friday 16th April
This week has been just what the doctor ordered. Not remotely warm, but just enough for us to sit on the beach wrapped up in umpteen layers and drinking coffee, while the kids – who don’t seem to notice the cold at all – happily built sandcastles and ate ice cream. (Okay, we may have had ice cream too.)
We finished our holiday with a scenic geocaching walk in glorious sunshine, and with a spectacular view down over the town and beach. I’m not sure my batteries are fully recharged but my mood has certainly lifted and I’m a little more hopeful that we might enjoy something resembling a summer yet, even if I remain dubious about our prospects of making it to France in August.
Saturday 17th April
Legoland was the last place we visited before the pandemic descended upon us, so returning there today felt like a watershed moment.
It also felt very different.
When we ventured to Legoland last year, ‘lockdown’ was still something imposed in other countries, but not the UK at that point. Even so, the M4 was at most a quarter as busy as usual and the park itself maybe one-third full despite being fully open. Uncertainty filled the air, with most people already informally practising social distancing – and steering well clear of anyone who coughed or sneezed. Of course, this was several months before wearing masks became commonplace and I remember being able to count the number of people I saw doing so on my fingers.
If we knew then what was to follow, would we still have gone out in such a public place on that day? Maybe not.
Returning today, I was struck by how different the experience was. With lockdown restrictions easing, the motorway was pretty much as busy as ‘normal’. Only pre-booked visitors were allowed, ensuring Legoland was operating at barely half-capacity. However, all indoor rides remained closed, meaning the park still felt as packed as it always is at weekends. Fear and uncertainty had been replaced by a sense of fun and release. Everyone wore masks on rides; many kept them on even when walking in open spaces.
Was I nervous? Not really, no. Although I did still flinch when people ignored the clearly signposted guidelines and stood close enough in ride queues to occasionally touch me. I’m not sure that particular reflex reaction will go away any time soon.
In general, though, this felt like another step on the path back to normality. I do think some people have gone too far too fast and seem to have forgotten that there is still a (diminished) public health risk. Conversely, I know that, for many others, the prospect of being in such proximity to large numbers of strangers still fills them with dread. We’re somewhere in the middle: still mindful about minimising risks to ourselves and others, but tentatively expanding our comfort zone with every passing week.
But that’s the problem, isn’t it? While many of us are moving forwards at differing paces, others remain shielding at home or keeping any form of public interaction to an absolute minimum – and often with very good reason. It feels like half the country is stamping down on the accelerator while the other half has its foot down hard on the brake pedal. Will attitudes continue to polarise over the next few weeks? How long will it take us to bring fractured communities and families back together again? And will we ever be able to repair the physical, mental and financial scars that, for far too many people, will be a lasting legacy of this pandemic?
Who knows for sure? But for now, the only way for us to see how this story ends is to keep turning the pages.
Previous ‘Life under lockdown’ entries