Wednesday, September 30th, Month 7 of our Covid-19 Experience.

We are finally here in beautiful Barbados and we made it by the skin of our teeth!

From the 1st of October, the UK will be deemed a high risk country and all visitors to the island will face and mandatory period of quarantine.

It’s been a week since my last post, and four days since we arrived.

Covid Test day was pretty straightforward and everything seemed to be going smoothly. We had a good drive down to Cirencester, the tests were done, we drove them to Cambridge and dropped them off at the lab about midday. We had a drive-through McDonalds to celebrate. Another 2020 first for us. It was another easy drive home, and later we had our final takeaway curry for a while. So far, so good.

Screen 4 assured us that the results would be through within 24 hours, but that deadline came and went and we had heard nothing. It was long and anxious wait. We spent the day doing our final bits of packing, checked in online and picked up the hire car we were going to use to get to Heathrow. But, we couldn’t complete the Barbados Covid- 19 Immigration Forms without our negative test certificate. I was checking my emails every 10 minutes. I felt sick. I couldn’t concentrate on anything.

It was odd, but we both felt as though we had developed colds since having the swabs taken. We began to question whether we had somehow picked up the virus! We even briefly discussed the possibility that we had been given it by the swabs and it was all some massive conspiracy! We both went a bit mad that day, waiting for our results. In retrospect, its more likely that our bodies were simply responding to the insult of having our tonsils and noses swabbed fairly vigorously for several seconds.

I managed to speak to Screen 4 on the phone around 3. They confirmed that our tests were negative but that there had been a problem with the certificates and they’d have to get them amended and send them to us later. The good news about the results soon dissipated as we started another period of waiting for the certificates to come through. Later? How much later? What if they didn’t come through in time for us to complete the Immigration Forms. Would they even let us on the plane?

(I did amuse myself by telling M that the reason for the delay was that we had both tested positive and they had had to double check the results. He was trying to relax in the bath at the time. His face was a picture!)

But they did eventually come through, around 6pm. I filled in the forms and we sat down to eat. But, I had absolutely no appetite. I felt mentally and emotionally drained. We were almost there. Just needed to get up in the morning, drive to Heathrow and get on the plane. We fell into bed and set the alarm for 4am.

We set off around 5am the next day (Saturday) and had a straightforward drive . After dropping off the car, it was slightly disconcerting to be transported to the terminal in a tiny mini bus with the driver and another man. We hadn’t been inside a car or vehicle with anyone else for a very, very long time. But, everyone was wearing masks and they were only allowing a maximum of four people on the bus at one time.

Check-in was utter chaos! We arrived just after 7.30 am and a few people were already in the queue. It wasn’t good. It seemed as though lots of people were being turned away because they had had their tests done too early. The cut-off was Wednesday at 2pm. There was crying, yelling and despair. Each check-in took forever and the queue got longer and longer.

When it came to our turn she tried to tell us that we’d had ours too early. She was looking at the time which was 09.30. But, she hadn’t realised that we’d had them on the Thursday and not the Wednesday. We had a moment or two of panic before it was sorted out.

Then, we were through! We had a coffee, our first coffee “out” together since March, and boarded at around 10.00. The flight left late due to the delays at check-in. We heard the staff saying that 40 people had been turned away. When we finally took off about 11.30 am (an hour later than planned) I actually had to fight back the tears of relief.

We watched some movies and tried to relax on the 8 hour flight. I’ll be honest, the whole experience at the airport and on the plane felt incredibly risky compared to how we have been living over the last six months. The only saving grace was that everyone on the plane had tested negative and day or two before.

On arrival in Barbados, we had our test certificates examined before we were allowed to enter the airport. Then, we had a temperature check and had to sanitise our hands. We then had to fill in more paperwork to allow the government health officials to monitor us for the next couple of weeks.

When we went through immigration, they barely looked at our passports and documents. We were expecting to be challenged about our length of stay but no-one said a thing. We were ushered swiftly into another queue where we were given some symptom and temperature forms to fill in twice a day for the next couple of weeks.

And so, here we are. Nicely chilled and settled in for our 6 months in paradise!

Back home the numbers continue to rise. Over 7000 new cases, and around 70 deaths, yesterday and today. We are so lucky! It feels very safe here compared to the UK. Now that we are finally here. I’m going to try to stop thinking and talking about the virus so much. I’ll update this blog as and when there is something significant to report. In the meantime, I’m going to concentrate of 3 projects. Finishing the second draft of Wait for Me, getting the second draft of Rachel written and get that book published, and start work on a new project – The Beaches of Barbados!

Book Review – The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray.

A thriller set in a dystopian future where the earth has stopped turning and one side of the word exists in permanent darkness and the other is perpetually light.

Honestly, this was a disappointing read.
I loved the premise but, for me, the book just didn’t deliver.
I had to force myself to read until the end.

I liked:
The idea.
The beginning – lots of intriguing questions and an introduction to the “big mystery” that was the central theme of the book.
I quite liked Hopper and her ex-husband David, although I never really got under his skin.
Glimpses of a potentially interesting dystopian future.
Some nice writing.

I didn’t like:
The fact that what I thought was going to be a thoughtful and interesting post-apocalyptic story, turned out to be a superficial, formulaic, spy thriller.
The predictability of the plot.
The big surprise reveals were not very big or surprising.
It was confusing that in this post-apocalyptic world, most of the main characters and their friends and families were living fairly normal lives in what looked and felt quite like our lives today, apart from a few exotic plants and animals thrown in for good measure, and some very effective blackout blinds. I found myself forgetting that we were in a world of perpetual light and sometimes it felt like the author did too.
Clunky writing was a distraction at times.
Very unbelievable and convenient plot developments.
A bit of a scatter gun approach was used to pepper the setting with post-apocalyptic window dressing.

Overall, it was dull and I “sped-read” to get it over with. I kept thinking about what I wanted to read next, and that was was what drove me to finish. An unexciting spy thriller dropped into an unconvincing post-apocalyptic world.

Sorry. I had such high hopes for this but I just didn’t enjoy it or believe it!

Book Review – Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

A thoughtful, gently nostalgic, beautifully written, before and after, journey through a post-apocalyptic world.

I loved this book!

I liked:
The way all the characters were connected and how beautifully it all came together in the end. Even though there were little clues and my suspicions grew as to who was connected to who and how, that was part of the enjoyment.
The writing style was unpretentious and it was an enjoyable and easy read, yet beautifully descriptive.
I liked, or at least felt empathy with, all the characters, even the bad guys, as they were all victims of their circumstances.
The plot held my interest and I wanted to keep reading to see what was going to happen next. I couldn’t put it down.
The more hopeful view of a post-apocalyptical world than we usually see in this genre. Although there had been violence and horror in the past, this seemed to be in the minority now, and people were, generally, kind and loving, and supportive and cooperative.
The positive view on human nature.
The fact that it had a bit of everything – action, romance, drama and science fiction.

I didn’t like:
Very little.
At times, I got slightly irritated when the story jumped back to a different character and their story in a different time and place when I was hooked in to the story unfolding in the previous chapter. However, this was part of what made the book such a good read!
It took me a while to get under the skin of some of the characters because we just got glimpses of them all at the start of the book, and there were so many of them. However, again, this was part of the structure of the book and all was revealed and made perfect sense in the end

Wednesday, September 23rd, Month 7 of our Covid-19 Experience.

3 days until departure and it’s all kicking off again!

The Numbers

The number of infections has risen dramatically since I last wrote. Experts say it is doubling every week and if we don’t do anything to stop it we could have ten’s of thousands of new cases every day by mid October. There were 37 deaths yesterday, and 4,926 new cases.

Globally, there have been almost 32 million cases and almost 1 million deaths.

The News

We’ve officially moved back up to Level 4 and increased restrictions are being put in place. Last week Birmingham and Solihull were placed in a kind of new local lockdown. This essentially banned people from meeting other people from different households in private homes or gardens. The rest of the country were banned from meeting anywhere in groups larger than six.

Yesterday though, Boris addressed the nation again and announced even more restrictions. Masks are going to be compulsory pretty much everywhere indoors, for everyone. Although people can still go to pubs and restaurants, they now have to close at 10pm. People are being asked to work from home again, if they can, and all the steps that have been taken towards easing lockdown, are being cancelled.

Testing has been a shambles, with long queues at walk-in and drive-through testing centres and results taking days to come back. The government has admitted that demand is outstripping supply.

The New Way of Life

I’ve been so tense over the past couple of weeks it been killing me. With regard to my biggest fears:

The UK is deemed “high risk” by Barbados and we have to stay at the airport until we test negative, or go into the quarantine facility when we arrive.

So far, we are still allowed to travel but the rules have been tightened up a bit. Now, before you can board the plane, you must have a negative test, performed by a clinician, within 72 hours of arrival (previously this was departure).

This has meant that we now have to drive to Cirencester tomorrow to have the tests done then, to ensure that they get to the lab in time and avoid paying an extortionate price for a same day tracked courier, we are driving to Cambridge to drop them off ourselves.

It’s a hassle but its worth it for the peace of mind. We will get our test results in time and we can be reasonably confident that everyone else on the plane will not have the virus.

We catch the virus before we leave and are not able/allowed to travel at all.

3 days to go and so far so good. We have been isolating and been very careful so this is becoming much less of a concern now.

We catch the virus en route and are quarantined on arrival.

Still a possibility, but the new rules make catching it on a plane less likely. We have got masks, plastic face shields, gloves, hand sanitiser, santising wipes for the journey and we are hearing that airports are generally very quiet at the moment.

We have also agreed that if the worst happens and we are asked to quarantine on arrival, we will consider the “quarantine hotel” option, if we can afford it. We don’t fancy the government facility at all.

Birmingham goes into lock-down and we can’t hire a car to get us to the airport.

It doesn’t look as if this is going to be problem now. Very little can change between now and Saturday and the car is already booked. We pick it up on Friday.

Phew! The closer we get the less likely anything can go wrong, barring the flight being cancelled or Barbados closing their borders to us.

So, tomorrow is test day, Friday is final packing and picking up the car, then we are up at 4am on Saturday, to leave at 5am and drive down to Heathrow to drop the car and check-in at 7.30. Fingers and toes all crossed!

Tuesday, September 8th, Month 7 of our Covid-19 Experience.

Another month has passed and it appears that the second wave has begun.

The Numbers

There were just 3 deaths yesterday, and over the past month the number of daily new infections has remained relatively stable at between 500 and 1000. It never really fell below the magic number of 500. However, the last couple of days has seen an alarming increase with 2,948 yesterday, and 2,988 the day before.

Globally, there have been over 27 million cases and almost 900,000 deaths.

India is now top of the leader board with over 75,000 new cases and 1,129 deaths in the last 24 hours. The USA had over 25,000 new cases and 286 deaths. Numbers are high in South America and Mexico. Russia had 5,185 news cases and 51 deaths. In Europe, death rates remain under 50 per day but are rising. Spain, Italy and Germany all had over 1000 new cases and France had over 4000.

Globally, Peru now has the highest death rate per million at 907. Following them we have Spain at 631, UK at 612, Chile at 609, Bolivia ta 599, Ecuador at 598, Brazil at 597, Italy at 588, USA at 584 and Mexico at 523. Belgium is still an outlier at 854. All the usual caveats apply relating to differences in testing, case definitions and accuracy of data.

The News

Over the past month, people have been gradually getting on with their lives, creeping back to work, venturing out to bars and restaurants, and meeting up with friends and family. The schools went back this week and universities go back in October.

But, the weather is getting cooler and more and more of these activities are taking place indoors.

The depth of the recession in beginning to reveal itself too. More and more businesses closing and laying staff off. Some estimates say it could be the worst for 300 years!

The summer has been one of cancelled overseas travel plans, an ever-changing pattern of post-holiday quarantines and “staycations”.

Infections have risen in isolated areas from time to time prompting local lock-downs or increased restrictions from Aberdeen to Manchester. So far, Birmingham and London have avoided this.

The recent surge appears to be more generally distributed and, as such, far more worrying. It remains to be seen what the government response will be. I think they are terrified by the prospect of another lock-down and the potential impact on the economy.

The New Way of Life

We have been doing a bit more too, seeing friends and family at both our home and their’s (sometimes inside the house). I’ve been shopping in town and visited the supermarket when I could get an online delivery slot. I’ve been out to a local Farm Park with little A and my daughter and sat inside for a bit while she played in the soft-play area. M even went to the pub last week. He met a friend outside in the afternoon but they ended up indoors when it got too cold.

I’ve finished the first draft of the biography I was writing and it is now with the beta readers. Hopefully, it should just need one more big edit before we think about getting it published. My goal for the next 6 months is to finish and publish Wait for Me.

The big thing on the horizon now is our trip to Barbados. As the numbers rise I’m watching nervously to see if we are going to make it there safely or not. When we first decided to go, I wanted to go in early September (now!), as I predicted a second wave at the start of the month, but M wanted to wait until later, as he didn’t want to have to come home in the middle of the second wave.

As I expected, the second wave seems to be here already, and it all depends how quickly it builds. The main things that could go wrong are:

The UK is deemed “high risk” by Barbados and we have to stay at the airport until we test negative, or go into the quarantine facility when we arrive.

We catch the virus before we leave and are not able/allowed to travel at all.

We catch the virus en route and are quarantined on arrival.

Birmingham goes into lock-down and we can’t hire a car to get us to the airport.

We just have to hope that things remain stable enough for us to travel and arrive safely. We are self-isolating again, as much as possible, and I don’t really see what else we can do at this stage except watch, wait and hope.