from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: a Scorcher

November 14-16. Willow Springs, Flinders Ranges.

Sunday was forecast to be a scorcher – over 40 degrees with a hot northern wind – but since we only had a brief time in the Flinders Ranges, our group decided to make the best of it by taking off early to explore – with the backup-plan to rush home to retire indoors when our excursion became unpleasant. The locals at Willow Springs Station told us that they were hoping for a little rain. They’re always hoping for rain; their lives are circumscribed by the rainfall.

the ‘golden’ spike

So, we drove north to enter the world famous Brachina Gorge geological trail.

Through this spectacular gorge you can follow a corridor of geological time: exposed rocks from 1,500 billion years to the Cambrian (beginning 541 billion years ago). We drove through a billion years of rock deposition!

Brachina Gorge, Flinders Ranges

We took a short excursion within the gorge to see the ‘Golden Spike’ which marks the spot where the relatively new Ediacaran geological era is defined (635-541mya). This significant place for geologists is on the bank of a dry creek bed surrounded by river red gums. Very low key.

Along the way, we saw several emus, including a family with nine chicks.

Emu Family – Flinders Ranges

But sadly, during the whole day we saw only two kangaroos. In the past, before the current drought, kangaroos were plentiful. I searched the rocky hillsides for the endangered yellow-footed rock wallabies but saw none – previously they were plentiful at that location.

Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby – taken on a previous trip

After about 10 o’clock the hot wind gusts made us rush back to the comfort of the cars. We carried on to the western side of the Flinders Ranges to reach the famous Prairie Hotel at Parachilna – it was an oasis! We had coffee and drinks before heading east through another gorge: the Parachilna. The temperature was now over 39° and dust eddies battered our cars.

We arrived home, thankful for the cool haven of the shearers’ quarters. About four pm, the sky turned weirdly brown. I drove up to the main station to pick up the local wi-fi. I was sitting in the car when the world around me disappeared in ferocious flurries of dust and flying branches. It seemed like a tornado.

the Begining of the dust storm

Extreme wind squalls rocked the car, brought down huge branches from the eucalypts in the creek beds and torn tin sheets from one of the station’s houses.

The dust storm in the creek

I kept my car in the open, nervous to drive back to our accommodation, as I realised that driving under a gum tree was highly dangerous. The newly arrived sheep did not seem to mind these events: huddling together, they put their backs to the wind and rain and shook their fleeces.

The dust storm was followed by a short hail storm and hard rain lasting only 5 minutes – 2.5mm – hardly leaving a puddle.

The shearers’ quarters in the rain squall

The temperature dropped 15°, the wind abated and within minutes it was delightful to be outside: the trees were shining, the sheep ventured out, only the eastern horizon was black over the Bunker Hills.

But there had been further damage: a branch had taken down our local power line. We brought out the candles and torches for our last night.

So, it had been a memorable day: we experienced some of the extremes for which Australia is famous. To be a farmer here you need fortitude, patience and to ever believe that things will get better. 

Sunset after the storm – Willow Springs’ shearers’ quarters and woolshed

I arrived home on Monday to be greeted by the news that South Australia is again heading towards lockdown. A worker at one of our ‘medi-hotels’, where travellers are in quarantine, got infected – how so is a mystery at the moment. Before she was diagnosed, she had infected her family and they had all travelled around Adelaide and their kids had been to school. So, the wicked genii are out of the bottle and we are in trouble. Whether contact tracing, testing and other vigilance to stop the spread will work is the big question for us in the coming two weeks.

from Steph in London: If you’re not bothered about uplift …

June 4. Shiny graphs galore and an inbuilt belief that, if they look good, they will be telling the truth and, even more importantly, will be proving we are not the worst country in Europe and nearly the worst country in the world for the virus … David Blunkett when Minister of Education once said, “Learn to measure what you value not value what you measure”. It might help!

Shutting the borders so that those countries with a worse record than ours don’t send people over to contaminate us … I am sure that the fact that we are (almost) the worst country in the world will mean that anybody with any sense will keep a wide berth of the UK for ages.

In the meantime we wait and watch to see what happens with the freedom that has been given to us … there are definitely more cars around. Five of the grandchildren are back in school 3 days a week, one is having a full day of lessons on line much to her horror and the others are getting very much  better at table tennis and baking cakes. The six-year olds spend the day in ‘bubbles’ of 15 with 2 teachers. They do everything together and are separated from everybody else at break and lunch time. Then when they are dismissed at 3-ish they all pile into the playground, throw themselves at their friends from other bubbles then go home.

 My eldest son is planning to be working at home until December with the younger members of the team going into the office on a fortnightly rota. The logic of that is that the “youngsters” may not have the space at home to work there long term and the oldies (those over 35!) who can work in a separate room will do so, and just visit the office once a week for the odd meeting.

Life has become strangely more agitated for us all. Do we go out? With gloves, a mask, nothing? We’ve bought disposable cups for friends so we can serve coffee (in gloves) and safely. Are we being totally neurotic and is the R number in London only .4? It was strangely calmer when the world had stopped … but it is the summer and if it had gone on into the winter there would have been many (more) stir crazy households.

So, the conversation about uplift was a joy – two very jolly over 80s discussing comfortable underwear.

The rest is censored …

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: cute and clever they came …

beware the curise ships …

May 5. Soon after the virus arrived and we were in isolation, jokes and memes flooded the internet. Whatsapp, Instagram, Youtube, email and Facebook, all carried these humourous and charming commentaries on our situation. Then the home singing and entertainment videos started. No sooner had you received one, than you found people to send it on to – to keep us lighthearted. We needed to be light-hearted and amused and to feel that others were contacting us to share this emotion. Many, too many, images and videos addressed the need to have another drink to keep you going in the circumstances. We were promised that ‘the whole world will dance again’; shown cute animals apparently freed of the presence of humans and shown clips of Trump being stupid (not difficult). All this interspersed with advice on how to survive, how to bake bread at home, how to sew your own face mask and how to mix your own hand sanitizer.

Through it all the official news from our TV and newspapers keeps us informed on the real numbers. It’s a numbers game, it appears. Numbers positive, numbers in hospital, numbers dead.

The most endearing message of our times arrived this week. It’s a video purportedly from sometime in the future when Covid-19 is a distant memory: a period of history almost forgotten. A father lies in bed reading stories to his young child and the sleepy kid asks for the story about the VIRUS. The father then tells his child how this virus effected the world in terrible ways BUT we all learnt a lesson and the world became a better place: kinder, less acquisitive. It’s called ‘The Great Realisation’, by British artist and poet ‘Probably Tomfoolery’. 

A world of waste and wonder. But then in 2020 … the people dusted off their instincts and …the earth began to breathe … remembered how to smile … good news was in the making … we all preferred the world we found to the one we left behind. Old habit became extinct … made way for the new. Why did it take a virus to bring the people back together? … who knows if you dream hard enough, some of them may come true.’

The internet is ecstatic … 2.9 million views on Youtube and growing. We feel this touching video is the way we might go, living in our first world countries we can especially appreciate a warm glow of hope.

But what do you think will emerge from this period of Covid-19? What is the reality of the direction the world is heading?

I am going to think of the possible outcomes (don’t you love the word ‘outcome’), positive and negative, before my next post.

from Susan S. in Washington, DC. USA. April 1, 2020

April 1. Does anyone else feel as if you are living in two different realities at once?   I wake up in the morning and go outside to pick up the newspaper, which has been delivered faithfully by 0600  – the same as always.  On Thursdays the men in the large noisy garbage trucks rumble through the alleys collecting rubbish – as they have for years.   The Post Office is open, and the same clerks who have been there forever, are still as surly as ever.   The coffee machine in my kitchen continues to work. And the cat demands his breakfast as he always does.  I think about whether it is warm enough yet to put vegetable plants in my plot in the nearby community garden.   So, on one hand, the situation seems normal.  But when I turn on the radio for the news, the other reality begins to crowd out normalcy.    

Each morning the new numbers of infected and dead – locally, nationally, and internationally – dominate the news.  The latest usually erroneous  and always self-aggrandizing statements by Trump are repeated (why do news organizations continue to give him oxygen by covering every stupid statement he makes??).  Today I spent a couple of hours on the internet watching videos of how to make a no-sew face mask, because we now anticipate the recommendation will soon be that everyone should wear a mask when leaving the house.   A woman on our community listserv asked if anyone had a sewing machine they don’t use and would give it or lend it to her to sew face masks.  I responded, took my old sewing machine that I haven’t used for years, and dropped it on her front stoop.   A smart woman in our neighborhood put out a call for volunteers who would be willing to run errands from people in the neighborhood who are homebound.  30 of us signed up right away. I’ve only been called on once to pick up and deliver medication from the pharmacy to an elderly widower.  We spoke through the door when I got to his house. He was clearly relieved.  Parks are now being shut down, because young people continue to congregate, play basketball (contact sport!) or sit close together at picnic tables talking and laughing about whatever 15 year olds talk about.   They’ll find somewhere else to gather.  There hasn’t been any flour or yeast in any of the stores.  Is everyone baking bread? 

 Obviously, these are all quite unimportant matters compared to what is going on nationally.  Trump announced at a press conference the other day that he isn’t going to give much-needed medical equipment to certain states unless the governors ‘are nice to him.’  States like New York, which is now the center of the CV in the US.  I watch Gov Cuomo’s press briefing most days.  Today he announced that based on the modeling they’ve done and in one of the worst case scenarios, NY will need 117,000 beds and 37,000 ventilators.  Trump has sent NY 4,000 ventilators.  Florida, on the other hand, which has a Republican governor, got 100% of his request fulfilled.   These are lives at risk, folks.  Unconscionable.  

 So, as to helping to stay sane, I have been gathering web sites that provide some relief and distraction.  Here are a few of them.   Maybe collectively we can continue to add to the list.   Keep well and stay strong!

 The Saint Who Stopped an Epidemic Is on Lockdown at the Met

 Songs of Comfort,

 Virtual garden tours,

 Google arts and culture,

 Coursera – free course on The Science of Well-Being, taught by Yale U psychology professor, Laurie Santos,

 Globe Theater performances,

 10 virtual tours of the world’s most famous landmarks,

from David Maughan Brown in York, UK. March 2020

31 March. So much for our liberal society.  NHS staff who are risking their lives every time they go near a Covid-19 patient without adequate protective equipment, which for many of them is most of the time, are now being told that they risk losing their jobs if they speak to the media or complain on social media about the lack of appropriate equipment.  So they have a choice: risk their jobs or risk their lives.  Not that speaking out about the danger they are expected to court every day would appear to have made any difference.   At least there are two sides to the hopelessly bad planning and general incompetence coin:  significant numbers of NHS staff in self-isolation can’t get back to work, and can’t therefore run further risk of contamination, because they can’t be tested.  Germany is testing 500,000 people a week; we, after weeks of promises to ramp up testing, think we might have got it up to 7,500 a day.

In the meantime a liberal reluctance to issue clear and unequivocal instructions to the police and general populace has resulted in some police forces taking it upon themselves to “shame” people who have been driving out into the countryside to take their one form of exercise a day by publishing drone footage of their dog–walks, and to issue people with court orders for going for a drive or going to the shops to buy “non-essential items.”  Corner shops have been instructed in some parts of the country not to sell Easter eggs because they aren’t “essential”. Tell that to the parents of all the children who will be looking out for the Easter Rabbit come Easter. Or is home-schooling these days supposed to include lessons on how closely related Covid-19 is to myxomatosis?

30 March. We were scheduled to be in the Kruger National Park today with Sarah, Andreas, Hannah and Mia.  Apart from anything else, that would have made sure Andreas was well away from the “front-line” at the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield’s A&E department, where he is a consultant.   Worrying about how he is going to survive the pandemic in the absence of the protective equipment all the medical staff need has cast a shadow over the past 10 days for us all – a particularly deep and dark shadow where Sarah is concerned.

As the novelty of coping with the lockdown fades, its place is being taken, for me at least, by steadily growing anger.   A new global plague such as Covid-19 has been predicted for decades. Peter Schwartz, to give just one example, identified it as one of his ‘inevitable surprises’ nearly 20 years ago.  Ebola, swine flu, and SARS have since highlighted that likelihood, but without going on to become global pandemics themselves.  So what has the UK government done by way of preparation for Covid-19?  It has spent the past ten years cutting the funding to the NHS, and the public sector more generally, in a blindly ideological, and wholly unnecessary, ‘austerity’ drive whose underlying goal has been to shrink the State.   Look where that has got them.  It has generated a shortage of some 50,000 nurses by removing university grants for nurses and discouraging qualified staff from other countries with its xenophobic Brexit rhetoric and the reputation its ‘hostile environment’ has given us.  It has hastened the early retirement of doctors by imposing ill-judged pension taxation and enabling increasingly unsustainable workloads.  Where Covid-19 itself is concerned, it initially followed the infantile example of Johnson’s friend Trump in not taking the virus seriously and delaying essential social distancing measures until it was too late.  And now, on the absurd grounds that ‘we have left the European Union’, it has refused the invitation to join an EU purchasing consortium dedicated to obtaining the protective equipment and respirators indispensable to coping with the pandemic.  All of which is going to result in thousands and thousands, potentially tens of thousands, of wholly unnecessary deaths, including the deaths of doctors, nurses, carers and other staff who are being expected to soldier on on the ‘front line’ unprotected by their derisorily inadequate ‘protective’ equipment.   One can only hope that once people have got over the “Stiff upper-lips Chaps, let’s all pull together, this is no time to criticize the government’ syndrome there will be a forensic, rigorous and unforgiving reckoning with those who have been criminally responsible for the many thousands of wholly unnecessary deaths.  

29 March. Part of the morning has been spent cursing IT as I carried on trying to find and retrieve files and folders on my iMac after a Zoom conference-call on Thursday somehow resulted in my desktop being wiped clean and some of my folders disappearing from view.  Zoom’s ‘documents transfer’ facility is apparently vulnerable to hacking, viruses and other nasties – not that we were transferring any documents – so time needed to be spent updating virus protection and getting it to scan everything in sight.  Unfortunately it isn’t much good at spotting coronavirus.

Part of the afternoon saw the other side of the coin as – again using Zoom – we played charades with the grandchildren in Cape Town, Sheffield and York, feeling profoundly thankful for the communication made possible by IT. 

28 March. The ‘New Walk’ along the bank of the Ouse, established in the late eighteenth century (hence the ‘New’ in its name), is eerily empty today – probably as empty as it has ever been early on a Saturday afternoon when spring has just sprung.  The occasional person being taken for walk by his, or occasionally her, dog was suggestive of the aftermath of a disaster movie in which 99% of the population has been wiped out and, with all the shops closed, the dog is being granted its wish for a final walk. 

The highlight of the lockdown to date has been this evening’s surprise dinner – a seriously good parmagiano – prepared for us entirely by James, our eleven-year-old grandson.  All we needed to do was pop it in the oven to bake for 40 minutes. James, very poignantly, could only stand on the pavement on the other side of the front gate and wave proudly to us as his father passed it to us at the front door.  With only the recommended two or three hours of structured time being devoted to ‘home-schooling’ every day, and no sport to play in the afternoons and evenings, one of the positives that could come out of the lockdown is the range of new interests and skills children are having the opportunity to develop.

27 March. News from Cape Town seems better, or at least no worse.  Brendan and Becky both feeling better but not, I suspect, entirely up for home-schooling two lively little girls who would appear from Face Time to be fully recovered and now feeling cabin-feverish rather than Covid-feverish.  

Our boiler has taken itself off duty.  Having observed the warm spring weather of the past two days it has decided it is no longer needed in the war on cold and gone AWOL.  Given that Intelligence is available suggesting that the cold has only beaten a brief retreat by way of a diversionary ploy – the forecasters are predicting a full frontal assault over the weekend with the temperature dipping to 2 degrees – we have called in auxiliary forces by way of true British Gas.  (Well we wouldn’t be expected at a time of national embattlement to tolerate any other nationality would we?)  We are relying on whoever we have enlisted in this particular skirmish to get the boiler back on duty in appropriately sergeant-majorish style.  A luta continua!

26 March. News comes of the first family members to contract the virus.  Becky, our Cape Town daughter-in-law, had been working very closely with the first member of the Cape Town university staff to test positive, and had been self-isolating for ten days.  She’s had a high temperature and bad headache for two or three days, but no cough; both our granddaughters have had temperatures, one for three days the other just one day; and Brendan now has the temperature and very bad headache.  Becky had booked to have the test but her GP told her after a phone consultation that it would be a waste of a test as he was certain she had contracted the virus.

One of the consoling factors about living so far away from them has always been the thought that if anything bad happened, if our support was ever really needed, we could get a flight to Cape Town and be there within 24 hours.  Now there are no flights, and even if we could get to Cape Town we wouldn’t be allowed in: the border is closed.  For the first time in my 44 years of being a father I find myself wholly unable to go to the help one of my children if he really needs me.  It is a rather bitter irony that the best thing we could do in present circumstances to help was, in fact, what we did:  two weeks ago we cancelled our visit to Cape Town at the last minute, partly because of the responsibility it would have put of Brendan and Becky had anyone in the family gone down with the virus.

25 March. Time Stands Still. The clock on the Tower House clock-tower across the road has stopped working.  Time stands still.  Is it just that whoever usually winds the clock is self-isolating, or is there some kind of cosmic message there for us to spend our weeks of down-time puzzling over? It stopped at exactly twelve o’clock.  If there is a message to be read, one would much rather the clock had stopped one minute before it reached midnight.

My one permitted daily outing for exercise yesterday took me along beside the river again on my bike.  People were abiding by the ‘social distancing’ advice this time: keeping their distance, walking dogs and children in small family groups, going for solitary runs or bike-rides.  And that was on both sides of the river, not just the side where I saw four policemen ambling peaceably along in pairs in the spring sunshine making their uniformed presence visible.  Media commentators are talking about ‘house arrest’.  This is not, at this juncture, house arrest as those of us from South Africa know it.   Nor is the injunction not to meet more than one non-family member at a time as yet comparable to the Riotous Assemblies Act’s prohibition of ‘gatherings’ of more than two people.  Perhaps the clock stopped at midday and not at midnight.

24 March. So Boris has now formally and with due, and uncharacteristic, solemnity ‘enlisted’ us all in the ‘fight’ against Covid-19.  His best Churchillian imitation having been much more reminiscent of Captain Mainwaring, I can now feel myself authoritatively confirmed as a member of Dad’s Army, and go on military maneuvers around my house to make a cup of tea, knowing that I am ‘winning the battle’ by staying at home.

The wholly inappropriate invocation of World War II and the ‘Blitz spirit’ in the coronavirus context is a supreme example of selective memory.   The Blitz spirit didn’t ‘beat’ the bombs which rained down on our cities and, like the virus, killed large numbers of people; the heroic little boats that rescued the troops from Dunkirk wouldn’t have had to do so but for the shambolic and humiliating army retreat from which they serve as a distraction; and the cowardly and wholly unnecessary massacre of the civilian population of Dresden has to be conveniently forgotten if that war is to be invoked as our inspiration.   Coronavirus is a disease people need to avoid getting; it is not an enemy army we need to go to war against.

23 March. Went out for a ride beside the river yesterday afternoon to make the most of the spring sunshine and do something about incipient cabin fever.  There are no longer designated cycle and pedestrian sections of the path, the rubric being ‘share with care’.  That meant not only bewaring of dogs on seemingly endlessly extendable dog-leads, when they were on any leads at all, and avoiding children learning to get around on assorted skates and scooters, but also having to negotiate a way through clusters of socially undistanced young people busily ignoring all medical advice.

Are these the same young people who are reportedly pushing past elderly people to clean out the supermarkets during the hours supposedly set aside for NHS staff and the vulnerable?  Or haven’t they heard that there are 30 and 40 year olds with no underlying health conditions in intensive care in London? Or don’t they believe anything the experts are saying? Or do they just feel invincible?

22 March. It is going to be a very bleak Mother’s Day indeed for millions of elderly or unwell mothers social-distancing and self-isolating all over UK and unable to hug, or in many cases even see, their children.   Nowadays we can consider ourselves lucky that we do at least have Facetime and Whatsapp, and no doubt many others, that allow split-screen family get-togethers.  But it isn’t even approximately the same.

It is going to be an even bleaker Mother’s Day for the florists who are going to be left with buckets of expensive flowers that aren’t going to be sold, and the Mother’s Day card sellers who are going to have to put most of the cards back in a cupboard and hope that if they still have their businesses by next year people will have forgotten the designs on the few cards they saw this year.   They, like so many others, will no doubt be spending their day wondering how on earth they are going to keep their businesses going.  One of the few categories of traders who will be enjoying the day are the wine-merchants with on-line delivery systems whose businesses are burgeoning.  It isn’t difficult to guess why.

21 March. The news carries footage of people queuing up the street with empty supermarket trolleys waiting to get into the supermarkets; people coming out of the supermarkets with grotesquely overfilled trolleys; and aisles and aisles of empty supermarket shelves. Today, the main news broadcasts have also picked up and broadcast a tearful plea to ‘just stop it!’ from a desperately tired critical-care nurse who had been to a supermarket to get some groceries after a 48 hour stint and found nothing to buy.  Everything had been taken by panicking shoppers stock-piling anything they could get their hands on.

“There’s plenty of food for everyone”, “there’s no need to stockpile”, we have repeatedly been told. The Prime Minister, flanked by his two chief experts – the Chief Medical Adviser and the Chief Scientific Adviser – have taken the opportunity to reinforce this message on more than one occasion from behind their lecterns at the daily 10 Downing Street news conference. They appear to be nonplussed that nobody seems to be listening to them. But, when it comes to having food on the table for their children to eat, why would anybody believe a Prime Minister who has built a career on being a serial liar? And, after the advocates of Brexit have spent three years trashing experts and pooh-poohing their expertise, why would people suddenly take any notice of experts just because Johnson, of all people, arrives at a lectern flanked by two of them? Chickens and roosts come to mind. But that doesn’t help exhausted nurses to buy the food they need.

20 March. There’s something quite liberating about looking at the calendar and recognizing that every commitment entered onto this month’s page, and next month’s too, if one could be bothered to look, could be erased, if one could be bothered to find a rubber to erase them. There’s nothing going on out there that I should be going to and need to be anxious about forgetting. It’s one step on from retirement, when I felt liberated at not having to go in to work from nine to five every day (at least in theory), but wondered how I was going to maintain some purpose in life. Right now the purpose in life is just to stay alive, and doing nothing at all apparently helps towards that end.  Whether that end is worth striving for, if going nowhere, seeing nobody and doing nothing much is what it takes, will be a question more easily answered in three, six, nine, twelve or even fifteen months time. Who knows?

19 March. Wake up with a slight headache and feeling a bit warm and immediately wonder whether it is the onset of Covid-19. No home test-kit available so you can’t tell. No test available at all, for that matter, until you are gasping your last in intensive care, at which point they test you to establish whether it is, in fact, the virus you are dying of so that you can be definitively added to the daily casualty figures. The vacuum where testing is concerned is just another telling symptom of the North/South divide.  In Harley Street you can pay £375 to have yourself privately tested.

The chances that it is coronavirus are very small. There isn’t only one virus in the universe. It is just that Covid-19, with the able assistance of the media, has bullied, harassed, chivvied and harried every other virus out to the very edges of global consciousness. That hasn’t stopped the common cold from still being common, or the winter flu from overwintering here before moving seasonally onward somewhere else. The other bugs just have to bide their time out there in the viral undergrowth and nip in to make stealth attacks while Covid-19 hogs the limelight.

18 March. It’s my youngest granddaughter, Rosie’s, third birthday today. She lives a mile away in York but the closest I can get to her in my ‘self-isolation’ is to leave her birthday presents in the re-cycling bin outside her house. At least we haven’t yet got to the point where a drone is going to tell me to get back inside my house, or a policeman stops me to demand to know where I’m going. But that might only be because austerity has denuded the authorities of policemen, and the manufacturers of drones are responding to government requests to manufacturers to tweak their production lines a little and make respirators instead.

We phoned Rosie this morning to wish her happy birthday. She responded by singing “Happy Birthday to you” to us over and over again. Tell two year olds to sing Happy Birthday twice every time they wash their hands to keep the hand-washing going for 20 seconds and the word ‘birthday’ becomes just a measure of the passing of time – a finite fraction of the twenty seconds worth of grains that have to trickle through the hour glass before they can stop washing their hands. But then birthdays are just a measure of the passing of time. Experience enough of them and you end up in self-isolation.

Eileen D. from Murcia, Spain. March 2020.

26 March. Our first death on our resort. As yet we do not know if it was due to COVID-19 . The authorities are here testing as I write. The victim thought he was ill due to a recurring lung problem. He was seen at our local supermarket 48 hours ago after visiting the doctor. No one is going to move from their house. Frightening times!

25 March. Lockdown Extended. Our lock down period has been officially extended for another week. The numbers dying and infected rise every day. I know that older people are very vulnerable but in Spain I keep hearing of relatives of friends who are fighting for their lives in their 20 ‘s and 30’s.

On a positive side the unusually wet weather has been a boom to the agriculture here in the South East of Spain. All around me are fields of produce for English supermarkets. Large English farming companies lease the land and to cultivate them. On the fields the produce is picked and labelled to be transported by lorry immediately to Britain. At present there is great activity trying to keep up with the demand.

Talking to my friends also in lockdown it seems all we want to do is to go for a long walk. We really will appreciate our freedom when it returns.

24 March. Lock Down. In Spain we have been locked down and under a state of emergency for over a week. The numbers infected daily rises and so do deaths. We have over 33,000 infected cases at present. The authorities have extended our lock down for another 15 days. I live on a golf resort and the hotel , golf course and all sporting facilities are close until mid-June.

Looking at Italy, as Spain seems to be following their pattern, I think we might be here for much longer than we think. Maybe our lives will never be the same again!!

Stairs have been my salvation. I tried to find a suitable Pilates class on YouTube but all the teachers were young and supple and did things I could only dream of. Luckily my normal Pilates teacher who is use to people my age 60 plus, will set up a Facebook group and continue putting us through our paces. I have never used technology in this way but I am glad I am being forced to get up to date.

Indoor jobs that have been on the back burner are now coming to the fore. Hundreds of photos have been discarded, old files, diaries and stuff are thrown out. Do I need all these clothes? I have wardrobes of nothing to wear. I trying to be ruthless but it is not easy.

23 March. Today I am going to leave the house to go shopping. I never thought it could be so exciting. Preparations are needed. I do not have a mask as there are none for sale so I improvise with a scarf. Decked in a cap, scarf and disposable gloves I am ready to go. The roads are deserted and the atmosphere is eerie. As it is early in the day the supermarket is reasonably stocked and it is easy to keep your distance from other shoppers.

On my journey I heard a heart-warming story on the English radio in Spain: A lady went at opening time to her local supermarket in a Spanish village who had difficulties keeping the shelves stocked. Before the shopped opened at 9 am all the staff stood outside the shop and sang “I shall survive” by Tina Turner. They had worked hard to clean and stock the store for the day. On visiting the butcher there was a bottle of hand gel outside the shop on the pavement for customers to use and only 2 people were allowed in the shop at any one time. In the shop there was a line a meter from the counter to keep customers apart. We all felt comfortable with these measures. Stocked up I think I might make a Christmas cake to cheer us up.

22 March. How life can change in a week. We had been in locked down now in Spain for a week. Our area in South East Spain had no cases of people being infected 10 days ago. However, Madrid is a hothouse with thousands of cases. Many people in Madrid have holiday homes here as in the summer the temperatures sore in the city of Madrid. Many Madrid inhabitants decided to take refuge in their holiday homes on the coast. Now we have over 200 cases but no deaths. However, in the whole of Spain we have 20 000 cases and 1000 deaths. Everyday the number of cases seem to multiply.

We had been in locked down now in Spain for a week. Our area in South East Spain had no cases of people being infected 10 days ago. However, Madrid is a hothouse with thousands of cases. Many people in Madrid have holiday homes here as in the summer the temperatures sore in the city of Madrid. Many Madrid inhabitants decided to take refuge in their holiday homes on the coast. Now we have over 200 cases but no deaths. However, in the whole of Spain we have 20 000 cases and 1000 deaths. Everyday the number of cases seem to multiply.

Life in lockdown is very strange. If you see someone you stand 2 meters away. Police are everywhere ensuring we all adhere to the restrictions. Only one person per car and you are only allowed to go to the pharmacy or foodstore. You need to keep receipts of your purchases for proof if stopped. It is quite surreal. Very few cars on the roads , no people walking in villages , it is a bit like a ghost town in a movie.

Susan A. in Ottawa, Canada. March 2020

30 March. First day out of the house since March 3rd.  We went for a walk in Agriculture Canada’s largely deserted Experimental Farm, which is close by our place.  A light rain certainly helped the desertedness, and contributed to lovely misty vistas and trees covered with silver droplets.  In addition to many fields the Farm has barns, lovely glass green houses and many many trees. Minor coughing, but no one about to fear I would infect them.

There are 6248 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada today, and 351 new cases in Ontario, the largest single-day increase.

At his daily briefing (not to be compared with the daily briefing given by the leader to the south), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted that the trajectory of COVID-19 cases seems not to be that of the US. 

Although it is too soon to know the impact of Canada’s efforts to curb the spread, he said he is proud that Canadians recognise the importance of staying home and keeping their distance from others.  Encouraging words, but we have seen people walking down our street and not keeping a distance, and doubt that they were all couples or living in the same house.

During the briefing the Prime Minister also gave more details on the emergency wage subsidy he had announced last week. Businesses, non-profits and charities whose revenues have decreased more than 30% will be eligible for the rescue plan. The government will cover up to 75% on the first $58,700 salary dollars and it will be back-dated to March 15th.  Companies are encouraged to re-hire laid off staff.  Trudeau was stern, at least for him (the new beard seems to help with gravitas), about punishing any efforts to profit from the plan.

Post retirement excitement has been a massive renovation project to create our “old age home” for which painful undertaking we received an unexpected award….and eventual great pleasure.

25 March. After that, it was a fog of coughing, fatigue, relieved by free opera from The Met, Queen Victoria by Lytton Strachey and room service from Drew who stayed far far away at the opposite end of the house.  Now, finally out of the fog, I am dressed and upright for at least half of the day.  And looking around now I see that the virus has been busy making its way about Canada and the United States.

18 March and later. Today is the 12th day of our self-imposed self-isolation. 

In mid-February Drew and I headed off to Paris for a two month stay to visit with old colleagues and friends from an earlier 20 year sojourn, planning to eat in favourite restaurants, to visit galleries and museums, to just walk about and look at the beautiful city that we love so much. 

I was aware of the coronavirus being active in China, and I had played host to the H1N1 virus in 2009.   But only the foggiest memory remained of how sick I was.  I do remember being left down a long corridor in the hospital for an hour or so on a hard little chair, and thinking that lying on the floor was looking more and more attractive – what could be worse down there than what I already had.

We were not really worried as we headed off, but we did take the precaution of refreshing our pneumonia shots.  We also tried to get hand sanitizer, which the druggist informed me had flown off the shelves and would not be restocked any time soon.  We didn’t pay enough attention to that little warning.

Once in Paris, it was not long before the situation was made very clear about what was happening right next door in Italy.  We did go about to eat and visit friends and walk, but there began to be a cloud of concern hanging over us.  The media treatment was comprehensive, coherent and constant.  It was certainly interesting to watch the communication strategy as the country informed and prepared its citizens so efficiently. The Minister of Health spoke frequently and the President spoke to the country on television and visited hospitals to reiterate the government support for the medical and support staff.  At first, it actually felt comforting to be so continually informed.  But of course it wasn’t really comforting.  There were all those families that had been skiing in the Alps during Spring Break who were about to return to France.  By February 28 we started to consider returning home and booked a return flight through Montreal on March 3rd, for which we paid a considerable sum – and lost the long planned visit in addition to the lost money.  Upon arrival in Montreal, we were surprised that only passengers who had been to Iran were asked to identify themselves, not Italy.  And no evidence of temperature taking.  The only bright spot was not being charged for exceeding the limit on expenditure free of duty!

So, on the evening of March 3rd we returned to the winter snow and ice of one of the coldest capital cities in the world, which we had been so happy to escape.  At that point there were no COVID-19 cases in Ottawa.  Safe for the moment, we thought. 

But maybe not.  After a couple of days, I developed coronavirus symptoms – though no fever.  Having travelled from afar, it seemed responsible to identify myself and my symptoms to Ottawa Public Health.  A nurse took an excruciatingly detailed history on the phone and sent me off to the nearest hospital emergency.  The young fellow registering incoming patients whipped around in his little glass cubicle and put on a mask and gloves before touching my health card.  After a three-hour sit in a room by myself on a hard little chair (reminiscent of an earlier hard little hospital chair), a well-protected doctor came in and examined me, and sometime after that a nurse arrived, stuck two sticks down my nose, twirled them around and released me back to my bed where I stayed for an inordinate amount of time.

So, I had brought something home from France, but thank goodness not the really dangerous virus.  But whatever virus it was, it made me good and sick.