During what I like to refer to as, The Time of Covid, I used this blog to journal my experiences during lockdown and beyond / kept a journal of my experiences during lockdown and beyond. At the start of the pandemic, my husband had just been diagnosed with a serious lung condition which placed him in the “very vulnerable” or “shielded” category and we made the decision to self-isolate a week before the official lockdown began. We expected to have to do this for 12 weeks and then return to our normal lives when it was all over. Little did we know what the coming year would bring.
Viruses and Volcanoes tells the story of my life in The Time of Covid as a wife, mother, grandmother and daughter from the first days of the lockdown in the UK and later, after we relocated to Barbados, on the other side of the Atlantic. It takes the reader through the shock and strangeness of the early days of the pandemic, the emotional roller coaster of the prolonged lockdown and the gradual adaptation to the new normal.
Viruses and Volcanoes is a personal, unedited and unapologetic narrative of the lives of a middle-aged couple during the Covid-19 pandemic. It was written in real time and is an honest and truthful account of our day-to-day lives between March 2020 and July 2021. As such, it captures the mundane and incredibly monotonous details of the lockdown life that we all experienced at the time.
My aim was not to entertain, explain or examine but simply to record my thoughts, feelings and experiences for posterity, during what was, at the start at least, a truly bizarre and frightening time. I wanted to capture how it felt when the world changed forever overnight before we all became accustomed to it, and it ultimately became our new normal.
I’ll apologise now for the fact that at times I was angry, frustrated, critical and judgmental, but this was my reality at the time. The journal also covers some of the facts and figures about the disease, the government’s attempts to deal with it and the ever-changing beliefs, attitudes and behaviours of our society as a whole.
Well, we’ve been back in the UK for exactly a week today! Last Thursday we landed at Heathrow at 11 am. We had a good flight and, apart from an almost anticipated 2 hour delay at immigration, a pretty straightforward transit home. The car picked us up at 1pm and we were home by 2.30pm.
Flying in the Time of Covid is different from before, but not dramatically. You get the usual meals and drinks etc. after departure and before arrival, but for the majority of the time you don’t really see much of the cabin crew. If you want water or anything else during the flight you have to ask for it and obviously masks are mandatory throughout.
Our thoughts are very much still with Barbados. Tropical Storm Elsa upgraded to a hurricane just as it hit the country, wreaking devastation across the island. Thankfully, it appears that no lives have been lost but hundreds of trees are down, houses have been damaged and destroyed, roads blocked and many people have been without power or water for several days.
The airport was closed for a few days due to storm damage and, once again, we can’t believe quite how fortunate we have been. We missed it by just 24hours and would have had to change our flights and re-do our Covid tests etc. if it had hit before we left. Our whole Barbados trip has been marked by an uncanny series of lucky coincidences; when we first arrived we missed the need to quarantine in a hotel at our own cost by 4 days and when we departed, we missed the need to quarantine at home for 10 days by 24 hours, and that was only because Virgin moved our flights back by a day!
Home at Last
The past week has been a whirlwind of seeing friends and family and getting the house and our lives back to normal. Various pieces of equipment are revolting in an expression of their disgust about having been left unloved and unattended for 9 months; the shower in the ensuite and one of the radiators in the spare bathroom have both sprung a leak; the printer isn’t printing properly; the motor for the power shower has blown; the back gate, which was sticky before, is now refusing to budge; the gas and electric meter isn’t working; and the whole of the garden and outside space is in need of a good jet-wash and tidy up. I can’t remember where anything is in my kitchen and I have a list as long as my arm of admin type things to attend to. My priority was to do our accounts for 2020/2021 and I finished these yesterday and am slowly getting through everything else. By Monday, I think we should be on top of things.
It’s a weird feeling being back after being away for so long. It’s almost as if we’ve just been on holiday for a couple of weeks, but then it isn’t. In some ways it feels as if nothing has changed – we are seeing the same people, driving around the same streets in the same car, shopping in the same shops, watching the same TV, sleeping in the same bed, seeing the same views from our windows etc. etc. – then, every now and again, something takes us by surprise – new shops and bars on our village high street, a humungous new Marks and Spencer’s at the end of the road, new houses that have sprung up all over the place and grandchildren that have grown by several inches!
It is wonderful to be back though. So many people have taken the time out to stop and welcome us home. I’m enjoying our lovely kitchen with all my amazing gadgets and my big shiny range cooker; our gloriously comfy cozy bed; and my writing desk with my huge monitor that doesn’t give me eye strain and neck ache. I can’t believe I wrote a whole novel with my laptop balanced on my knee on a cushion!
With regard to Covid, it all feels vastly different from the dark days when we left the country last September at the start of the second wave. People seem to be going about their normal lives with just a few restrictions still in place. Table service has become the norm in bars and restaurants, indoor mask wearing is generally adhered to (although we have both noticed a distinct lack of rigour in regard to hand sanitising and contact tracing compared to Barbados, and absolutely zero temperature checks) and there are restrictions on the number of people you can have inside your home. It very much feels as though these restrictions and Covid itself have become part of everyday life and something that we all just have to learn to live with.
This is largely due to the fact that despite the increasing numbers of infections, that indicate the start of a third wave, for the first time this is not being matched by increases in hospitalisations and deaths. Essentially, the vaccine is working! I have to admit that we feel much safer in the knowledge that we are “double vacced”. To an extent, it feels as if we have re-started our lives to where they were at the start of the outbreak back in March 2020, and I must admit it feels good!
Summer of 2021
We have a long summer to look forward to. We have lots of things planned with friends and family; Sunday lunches with our kids and grandkids; lots of catch-ups with friends over a coffee or a glass or two of wine; numerous belated birthday celebrations; a trip up north to see my parents and sisters; a trip to Sweden to see my son and his girlfriend (no quarantine for double vacced travellers returning from amber countries announced today!); a Trident Edge road-trip with my fellow writers to check out the locations that I have used in the book and see if I have adequately captured them in my minds eye; Granny play-dates with my friends and their grandchildren; and a weekend in Stratford on Avon with some friends. On top of all that we have an endless summer of sport to enjoy; Euro20 -deferred to 2021 – (football) is currently underway with England progressing to the final just last night; the British Lions (rugby) tour of South Africa is also in progress; we are entering the second week of Wimbledon (tennis); the Tour de France is almost half-way through; and the Tokyo Olympics start on the 23rd of July.
I have lots of writing projects on the go as well; after the road trip I’m going to edit and write the second draft of Trident Edge then get it beta-read, edited again, proofread and edited again before publishing; I’ve entered the NYC Flash Fiction competition the first round of which starts tomorrow; I’m preparing a submission for the fall edition of the First Line Literary Journal; I’m going to turn this Time of Covid blog into a book; and I also have an idea for a new non-fiction project called I’z a Bajan.
The Final Chapter
All of this, combined with the fact that the government is going to lift all restrictions from the 19th of July, tells me that this is good place to end this particular blog project. It started as a lockdown diary back in March 2020 and then evolved into an account of our Covid experiences in Barbados. My intention was always to bring all these posts together into a book, so that one day our youngest grandchildren will be able to read all about what it was like (for us at least) at the start of The Time of Covid.
It’s been a crazy 14 month rollercoaster of experiences and emotions; fear, disbelief, anxiety and confusion at the start; boredom, frustration and isolation in lockdown; hope and disappointment about ever falling and rising numbers; anger about the behaviours of governments and people (remember the covidiots?); making the big scary decision to leave the country; stress and tension about whether we would even get to Barbados and get there safely; taking risks; having the adventure of a lifetime; being overwhelmed with joy and relief when we got there Covid-free; relishing the warmth, the sunshine, the sea and the beaches and the overwhelming feeling of safety; experiencing a Bajan lockdown, a volcanic eruption, sargassum and a super-storm (which has since been dwarfed by Hurricane Elsa).
Who knows whether Covid-19 will ever go away, and who knows what remnants of our new way of life might persist into the future lives of our grandchildren. I know it’s not going to disappear overnight and that we are all almost certainly going to have to learn to live with it for many years to come, if not for ever. But, in terms of our lives and this diary, we have reached point that definitely feels like a natural point of closure, if not an end.
Keeping with the football theme from last night, forgive me if apply the words of BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme (when England won the World Cup in 1966) to the Time of Covid,
“They think it’s all over,”
– who knows when we will ever be able to complete the comment –
Well, our time here in Barbados is nearly at an end. We leave for the UK on the 30th of June, arriving back into Heathrow on the 1st of July. We’ve booked a chauffer driven car through Virgin to drive us from the airport straight home – its sounds expensive but it isn’t going to cost us much more that it did to hire a car for 24 hours, as we did when we left in September last year, and we won’t be squeezing into a minibus (aka Covid capsule) with a load of strangers, for the transfer to the car hire depot from the terminal.
It’s incredible to think that we have been here for 9 months! During that time we have experienced; a lockdown, a volcanic eruption, a glut of sargassum, a super-storm (this occurred a couple of weeks ago), I have published one book (Wait for Meand written the first draft of another (Trident Edge), I’ve had a column published in the Nation News, as Key Ways Consulting, we have done some Insights Discovery coaching and workshops with the Barbados Davis Cup tennis team and the Ministry of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce at the Barbados Government, we’ve met loads of wonderful and interesting people (this is going to be the subject of my next non-fiction book I is a Bajan), we’ve been to a multitude of new (to us) bars and restaurants and explored almost every beach on the island.
Thank you Barbados! It’s been a blast!
There are a number of Covid related things we have to do before we leave on Wednesday. On Monday morning, we have to go and get a Covid PCR test at the Barbados Testing Centre at the Garfield Sobers Gymnasium near Bridgetown. That evening we need to complete the UK Government Passenger Locator forms and book another Covid test for after we arrive back in the UK.
Until just a couple of days ago, were were expecting to have to quarantine at home for 10 days, and do tests on Day 2 and Day 8 before we were released because Barbados was on the UK Amber list. But, last week the country was placed on the Green list and we are no longer required to quarantine and only have to do one test on Day 2. This is fantastic news indeed! It was going to be strange and frustrating to be back in the UK and so close to family and friends but still unable to see them.
So as we move into the next phase of our personal Covid experience, there have been 181 million cases and almost 4 million deaths worldwide. India, Brazil and the USA are still seeing extremely high rates of infection. The countries with the highest deaths rates are Peru with 5,732 per million and Hungary with 3,111. Countries with over 2,000 deaths per million include; Brazil, Argentina, and Columbia in South America, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Montenegro in Eastern Europe and Belgium, and Italy, San Marino and Gibraltar in Europe.
Here, in Barbados, the numbers remain low with a total of 4,074 cases and 47 deaths. The rates per million population are 682 cases and 22 deaths. New cases were almost down to zero a couple of weeks ago but we have seen another small spike over the past few days. And, while they accept that Covid will remain an ever-present danger for many months and probably years to come, things are almost back to normal apart from strict social distancing, hand sanitising and mask wearing.
And in the UK, there have been a total of 4,717,811 cases and 128,089 deaths. The rates per million population are 69,139 cases and 1,877 deaths. They have been battling with increasing rates of infection due to the Delta variant and the plan to open up fully has been delayed by another month. With over 18,000 new cases today, the daily numbers are more than double what they were when we came out to Barbados in September last year, when they were just over 7000. If we hadn’t been double vaccinated we’d be very apprehensive about our return!
The big news at the moment is that Matt Hancock the Health Minister has been forced to resign after photographs in The Sun of him in an intimate “clinch” with a woman he was having an affair with, demonstrated a hypocritical breach of Covid protocols (as well as outing his affair to the nation).
So, as we start packing and clearing out the apartment, we have mixed feelings about our departure. It’s sad to be leaving and we will miss all the lovely friends we have made here, and the sunshine and the beaches, and all the wonderful people of Barbados. However, it is also so exciting to be able to see our children and grandchildren again, and to be able to give them all a big hug and a kiss. It’s been so long.
For me, after nine sweltering months of sleeping under a mosquito net with only a sheet to cover me (and sometimes nothing at all), I’m really looking forward to feeling cool enough to snuggle up under my fluffy duvet in my big cozy bed!
A significant period of time has elapsed since I last posted about our Covid-19 experience, and that is a good thing! It means that things are going fairly well, both here in Barbados, and back home in the UK. Apart from a few blips in the UK with the ‘Indian Variant’, numbers are going down and things are slowly starting to open up.
Barbados has had a few consecutive days with no new cases at all, and the UK has had a few days with no deaths! Vaccinations are going well, with the first wave of second vaccinations almost completed in Barbados (we had ours on the 17th of May), and first doses now being offered to people 3o years and over in the UK.
We are going home on the 29th of June. As Barbados is on the UK’s ‘Amber List’, as well as all the usual tests and documentation we will need to complete before we leave the island, we will also have to quarantine at home for 10 days after arrival, and pay for tests on days 2 and 8 before we are released. A small price to pay for 9 months in a tropical paradise, instead of being shut up in our house all winter.
I have been so impressed and thankful for the way Barbados has handled the pandemic that I felt compelled to write a ‘Letter to the Editor’ of the national news paper, The Nation News. I was surprised (and delighted) when they gave my little piece an entire page and categorized it as a “guest column”!
This is what I said:
“On the 29th of June we will be leaving Barbados after spending the last nine months here. For medical reasons, we left the UK last September, to avoid the second wave of the pandemic back home. Before we leave, I feel compelled to share my feelings about how impressed we have been with the way Barbados, as a tiny country, has handled this global crisis.
At the time we left, we had barely left our homes for over six months apart from to exercise or buy groceries. We knew there was a chance that we could face lockdowns and other restrictions in Barbados but were prepared to take that risk. Whatever happened, having to “stay at home” in the warm sunshine of Barbados where we could spend a lot of our time outdoors, had to be better than facing a long cold winter locked up in the house in the UK.
The day we set out for Heathrow we were nervous and fearful of contracting the virus on the journey. We hired a car to travel to the airport to avoid the need to interact with others on public transport but were horrified when, after dropping off the car at Heathrow we were transported to the terminal in a small mini-bus with several other strangers. We tried to keep as far away as possible from other people in the check-in and security queues, but no special precautions were being taken to ensure social distancing, and, other than being asked to wear our masks for the entire flight, and being offered a reduced meals service, no other measures were in place to help us keep our distance from our fellow travellers.
The moment we arrived in Barbados we heaved a huge sigh of relief. Now, here was a country that was taking this thing seriously! We were taken by bus to a special part of the airport where our temperatures were taken, we were “sanitised” and our negative test results re-examined before we were even allowed into the terminal. We were given clear advice and instructions about what to do over the next 10 days from the public health team at the airport before we were allowed to leave. Once we got to our accommodation (we had rented a house in St. Philip) we were required to take our temperatures twice a day, record them on a form we had been given, and send them through to the Public Heath team by text message.
Although we arrived before the travel quarantine protocols were in place, for those 10 days, we tried to avoid close contact with other people unless it was absolutely necessary. We did have to go out to buy groceries and get a thermometer and were reassured further by the checks and precautions that were in place in shops and businesses. Hands were sanitised, contact details taken and temperature checks performed everywhere we went. Sadly, I can say that we had not witnessed such rigorous adherence to sanitising and social distancing procedures back in the UK. Even mask wearing was not widely enforced at the time we left home and was not compulsory for children. In Barbados everyone was wearing a mask, from the octogenarian on his early morning walk, to the tiny tot on her way to school.
It was clear from the outset that the people of Barbados were treating the virus with the degree of caution it warranted, and were respectful of, and compliant with, the guidance and advice of Prime Minister Mottley and her government. For us, this was a massive relief and we felt safer and more relaxed than we had done for a very long time. In those early days, I lost count of the number of times we congratulated each other on our decision.
And so, it has continued. Numbers have gone up and down. Crises have come and gone. The country has faced its own second wave with increased death rates and various clusters and outbreaks, including the now infamous “Boxing Day Bus Crawl”. There have been curfews and lockdowns and other restrictions that have been followed by one and all, almost without exception. Then, as if to add insult to injury, just when it was almost all over and things were slowly starting to return to normal, the country was hit by a devastating ash cloud from the La Soufriere eruption on St Vincent.
Throughout it all the people of Barbados have remained cheerful and positive. Smiling and joking. Making light of what was in reality, a very difficult situation for many. Just getting on with what needed to be done without complaint or excuse. They are truly one of the most resilient and strongest nations I have come across and I am both grateful for the way they have made us feel welcome and at home during our time here, and proud and privileged to have borne witness to their fight against Covid-19.
One thing that I began to think might have been the only negative aspect to our decision to ride out the second wave in Barbados was a potentially missed opportunity to access the vaccination. My husband is a Barbadian citizen and has a medical condition which placed him in one of the priority groups for vaccination during the early days that it became available in Barbados. Unfortunately, I am and too young and too fit and healthy to be eligible at this stage in Barbados but would have been offered it in the UK. I have applied for citizenship by marriage and, while this has been approved and I paid the fee back in March, I am yet to receive any documentation that would enable me to obtain an ID number. So, I just assumed I would not be able to get the vaccine until I got home.
I could not have been more wrong. The day my husband went to the David Thompson polyclinic to get his vaccination I stayed at home, only to get a call to say that, to avoid wasting the contents of the vial that had been opened for his dose, they wondered if I would like to be vaccinated as well. I jumped at the chance. We received our second vaccinations on Monday the 17th of May so are now fully vaccinated and hopefully immune for our journey home.
So, I just wanted to say; a huge THANKYOU to Barbados and that you should all be proud of your people and your government, who have by far punched above their weight in the global fight against Covid-19.“
If it wasn’t for the volcano, it might almost be safe to say that things are looking better than they have for a long time on both sides of the Atlantic, and even the growling, ash-spewing monster across the water seems to have lost some of its fury for the time being at least.
Covid restrictions are being lifted here in Barbados and in the UK. Our social media feeds are crammed with beaming faces and images of enticing alcoholic beverages sitting on pub tables ready to be imbibed, as people back home meet up with friends and family for the first time in months (and in some cases years), and enjoy an outdoor drink or two. It’s a happy time!
Here, we now have no curfew on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and an 11pm one on Thursdays and over the weekends. Bars are allowed to open, albeit at 50% of capacity (although I’ve not seen anyone counting), and indoor dining is permitted (not that you’d want to eat indoors here if outdoors is an option!) But, most important of all, the beaches are open all day again!
As far as we are concerned, it doesn’t feel as if we have any restrictions being placed on us at all anymore. We can pretty much do everything we were doing before Christmas, apart from go to the Drive-In Cinema and stay out after 11pm at the weekend – but I can’t recall many days when we weren’t long tucked up in bed by then!
But we don’t want to get carried away! We’re not out of the woods yet by any stretch of the imagination. The steady decline in the UK has slowed, and it has just added India to it’s “red list” of countries due to concerns about highly transmissible and virulent new variant. Barbados has seen a recent new cluster based around a church in the north of the island, and this has been linked to an outbreak in the island’s main hospital. The US, one of the remaining sources of visitors to the island, has now banned travel to Barbados, deeming it a high risk destination (a tad ironic if you ask me).
Further afield the virus is still raging across the world with a total of almost 150 million cases and over 3 million deaths. India is experiencing a horrific surge of infections at the moment, with hundreds of thousands of new cases every day – and those are just the ones that are being tested!
As far as La Soufriere is concerned, she finally slowed down about six days after the first eruption. It’s not over though, as we are repeatedly being told. It’s just that she’s lost some of her energy and her eruptions are not reaching the high-level air streams that carry the ash east over to Barbados. Instead, it is being blown west into the Caribbean Sea by the surface winds that travel from east to west.
The long dark weekend is now well behind us, but it is one I will never forget! Life now is gradually getting back to normal apart from the endless sweeping, washing, and mopping required to sustain a modicum of comfort in our living space. The problem with the ash is that it doesn’t actually go away, it just blows around from one place to another. You can sweep your balcony one day and the next day it’s back again.
People are hoping for rain that might wash it away and into the soil, but rain will potentially bring its own issues. When ash is wet it clumps together in a thick black sludge that blocks gutters and drains. If it’s still hanging around when the rainy season starts in a few weeks’ time, there is a serious risk that this could lead to significant flooding. For this reason, we have been asked to gather the ash up in sacks and not to wash it down the drains.
Last Sunday (the last Easter stay-at-home Sunday) was declared a national clean-up day and everyone in the country was asked to clear the roads around their properties of ash. M worked with another local man to clear our area, and together, after several hours of hard labour, gathered well over 100 kg. of the stuff.
I’ve been working inside the house. Ash gets everywhere. It blows off roofs and trees, and plumes up in clouds as vehicles drive through it. It settles on all surfaces; the floor, the kitchen counter, the dishes drying on the drainer, food and drink left uncovered, toilet seats, computers, books, and bedding. It’s even in the fridge! It sticks to your feet when you walk from the car to the house leaving black footprints on your freshly mopped floor. We keep a basin of water at the top of the stairs and a path of damp towels leading to the front door of the apartment. More towels strategically placed inside help prevent it being transported into the bedroom and bathroom.
It’s tough stuff to shift. The best way is to sweep and gather the worst of it then hose or jet wash the rest. But this is a problem in itself as water is a scarce and precious resource in Barbados. With every resident in the country hosing down their properties and cars, and businesses jet washing building and car parks, water supplies soon became depleted. Residents in St Lucy were without water for the entire week following the eruption weekend. I can’t imagine how awful that must have been for them. We’ve been having two or three showers day just to feel human! We’ve filled a number of containers with clean water for washing and the fridge is stacked with bottles of filtered water for drinking, just in case we too are affected.
Until a couple of days ago opening the windows was still impossible due to the amount of ash blowing around. Believe me, the nights in Barbados are very hot and sticky with all the windows closed and no air con. The fan gives some respite, but M finds that the noise disturbs his sleep. But, even as the amount of ash in the air lessened, it became apparent that we still couldn’t open the windows due the piles of ash on the windowsills, and caught in every nook and cranny of the shutters. As soon as we opened them it would all blow inside.
So, I spent an entire morning painstakingly cleaning the shutters so that we could once again enjoy the heavenly feel of the Atlantic breeze blowing through the house. It’s still bringing in a little ash and everything is covered in a film of it, but it’s worth it just to feel cool again. Besides, we’re kind of getting used to feeling a bit “dusty” all the time.
We’ve started to get out and about again too. My first excursion was to the supermarket on the Tuesday after the eruption. As we had no warning or time to prepare, we hadn’t stocked up with food etc. and were badly in need of supplies. We were completely out of fresh vegetables and the contents of the freezer were rapidly depleting.
Driving is another new challenge. The car always is like a furnace in the Barbados heat but now you can’t use the aircon or open the windows due to the ash billowing around. So, you just have to sweat it out under your protective mask, hat and glasses. It’s a mind over matter thing! The supermarket was incredibly busy with long lines and crowded aisles, but it was gloriously cool and clean. I would happily have waited in line there all day, browsing on my phone and humming along to the latest tunes being played over the tannoy system, rather than face the sweat and grime outside!
On the Saturday – a week after the eruption – we took a break from cleaning and went out for drinks with some friends to a somewhat dusty beach bar. It was crowded with people “letting off steam” and discussing their various ash cleaning experiences. Every few minutes a gust of ash from the beach would blow over us, causing us to cover our faces and don our masks until it passed and we resumed our conversations. We went home filthy but happier and more relaxed than we had been all week.
The beautiful beaches have been a sorry sight. The once golden sand, dark and dirty with a mixture of ash and the rotting remnants of the sargassum that hit in the week or two before the eruption. The normally crystal clear, turquoise blue water, grey and murky. But, once it became clear that the ash had stopped falling and the high priority locations like the airport and the highway had been cleared, the government soon focused on clearing the beaches.
And now things are getting better every day. Every day there is less ash to sweep up on the balcony and stairs. Every day we feel confident enough to open more windows wider and for longer. The roads are better, and we can now drive with the car windows open. The beaches are looking better. The sea and sky are blue again. Yesterday we went for our first swim since the eruption.
Through it all the people of Barbados have been amazing! Smiling, cheerful and unfailingly resilient, they just “get on with it”. Farmer’s crops have been wiped out, animals have died, business have lost yet more trading days and revenue, people are exhausted and aching all over. But people get back to work and their daily business as soon as they can. They don’t moan or complain. They help each other. They continue to be thankful for what they have and enjoy life on their beautiful island whatever she throws at them!
Last night we were kindly invited to the birthday celebration of Julian Armfield, a local author (The Aintree Legend, You Win Some You Lose Some and Absolutely Barbados) and retired BBC racing correspondent. It took place at a little local place on the far south-east tip of the island called Chicken Rita’s. It’s basically a rum shack where “Rita” serves arguably the best fried chicken on the island, with chips with salad which you eat outside on plastic tables and chairs alongside scrap-hopeful cats and chickens. There was no salad due to the ash, but nobody gave a damn, and a great time was had by all, including the cats who managed to get into the box containing the leftover coffee and walnut birthday cake for a moment before they were spotted, and the cake was rescued!
This weekend, to celebrate M’s birthday, we were due to spend the weekend in a little luxury at The Beach Houses on a mini staycation. Sadly, it was cancelled due to the ash but we have re-booked for a couple of weeks’ time – fingers crossed. Instead, we have booked a late lunch at Tapas, a highly recommended south coast Mediterranean restaurant with beautiful views of the sea and hopefully a spectacular sunset! Again, fingers crossed and third time lucky and all that! We have booked this twice before. The first was cancelled due to the infamous “bus crawl” outbreak and the second due to the eruption! Let’s hope it’s not us that’s jinxing it!
I’m not getting much writing done what with all the cleaning, and resting and recovering after cleaning, and comfort drinking in between cleaning and resting and recovering! But I am cracking on with the sequel to Wait for Me. I’ve had such great feedback and reviews that it feels really easy and actually quite exciting to write the sequel. I can barely contain myself when I think about where I am going to take Lisa and Anita this time and what I have in store for them! When I do manage to take the time out to write, I can’t get it down quick enough. It’s only when my neck and shoulders are aching from sitting at my laptop for too long, that I am forced to stop or pay for it later! I’ve already written over 20,000 words and five chapters.
Sales for Wait for Me have been good but do seem to be tailing off, particularly for the paperback. By the end of March, I had sold 78 copies and 44,000 Kindle pages had been read under the Kindle Unlimited scheme. My first month’s royalties came in from January’s sales at £128.21. They will be considerably less for February and March. I need to think about doing some more promotion. I did a Face Book ad in March which might or might not have paid for itself in sales, or “washed its own face” as our son the aspiring property mogul would say about one of his well-performing rentals. I’ve experimented with an Amazon ad campaign for April but have yet to see any real results from that. I’m going to wait until that is over before I try anything else.
It’s lunchtime, a cold beer is calling me from the fridge and my neck is starting to ache. Fingers crossed, between now and my next post, things continue to improve for everyone both here and at home.
Well, it might actually be starting to feel as if this is finally coming to some sort of end. Not “the end” – we’re a long way from that – but “an end”.
Here in Barbados, we have just had the Easter Weekend. Normally, we are told, a massive celebration of festivals, fish fries and parades. This year we were under a “Stay at Home” directive for the Sundays before and after Easter, and Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday.
However, under a slightly bizarre (but hugely welcome) anomaly we were permitted to travel back and forth to restaurants. To drive straight there, and straight back, and maintain social distancing, mask wearing and hand sanitising at all times (except when eating of course!) I suspect this was largely to minimise further disruption and anxiety for the struggling hospitality industry on the islands, who, as you can imagine have been very badly hit.
We took advantage of this and enjoyed a wonderful lunch at a restaurant on the spectacular northern most tip of the island called the Animal Flower Cave (it’s attached to some caves that are normally a popular tourist attraction, but which have been closed due to the pandemic). The food was fantastic, the views magnificent and we were even lucky enough to see a few whales passing by!
Barbados has a vastly different feel to it, so far as we are, into the Time of Covid. Other than the Welcome Stampers (a one-year visa for people who can “work from home” from here), and the usual retired long term visitors, virtually no-one is coming into the island for a vacation, in the traditional sense of the words. Canada and the UK, two of the main tourist markets, are not permitting vacation travel at the moment. The US still does (surprise, surprise) and we have had a recent spate of Americans on the beaches, some of whom are openly flaunting the social distancing rules in a way that is more than disrespectful to local people, who have had their traditional Easter family beach parties, exercise classes and “limes” all forbidden.
The beaches remain closed, apart from the two slots for exercise between 6am and 9am and 3pm and 6pm. The 9pm to 6am curfew has been expanded by one hour to end at 5am. I’ll be honest, that’s not really affecting us much! I’m not feeling any desire to leave the house at 5am, at the moment anyway. Bars are still closed, unless they serve food which most do, and most places will serve you a rum punch or a cold beer, as long as you have a snack at the same time. Tourist attractions are still closed, team sports are forbidden, and pleasure craft trips are not permitted. However, the numbers look good with new cases in single figures for over a week now. Schools are due to reopen on the 20th of April. We are hopeful that the beaches might be opened again soon, as we have seen a few cricket pitches being made ready for play, which could indicate that team sports might be about to resume.
Back in the UK, restrictions are starting to be lifted again. People have been allowed to meet up in small groups outside. Businesses are reopening and people are going back into the office. I’m not totally up with the details as I’ve been focusing on what’s going on here. But fingers crossed for everyone back home that all goes to plan. The high vaccination rates should help prevent a third wave, as is currently happening across Europe, where many countries, like France and Germany, are all going back into lockdown for the third time.
Sometimes, it just hits you how utterly dystopian and futuristic it all seems. At the Mall closest to us, on entry you have to present your face to a small screen that takes your picture and temperature at the same time. A robotic female voice then tells you that your temperature in normal and you are permitted to enter. It feels as if we are living in a sci-fi movie.
So, on the basis of all this, we have booked our flights home for Tuesday the 29th of June. We will have been here for nine months! There will be test on departure, and more tests and quarantine on arrival and only time will tell we will see if the flights are still running by then. It’s beautiful here. Hot and sunny all the time, relaxing and safe, but I am looking forward to getting home.
Exactly one year, to the day, that we both went into self-isolation.
Maybe, at last, there is an end in sight to this whole sorry business.
M went down to see his doctor in the morning for a routine check-up. He asked what he should do about the fact that he had registered on the 17th of February, (a month ago!) but had not had an appointment sent through yet. She said to go to the local (St Philip) polyclinic and wait on line. He was to take his letter from his UK consultant that outlined his medical history and his Barbados ID Card.
Unfortunately, by the time he got there at 1pm, they had given away their last ticket for the day and there were already long lines of people standing in the sun. But, we had heard of a few people that had managed to get the vaccine fairly easily, a few miles further north at the St John polyclinic. One friend had walked straight in, late in the afternoon, and another had only waited three hours – a slight significant improves on the average four plus hour wait.
Travel is a funny little feature of life in Barbados. Generally, local people don’t like to travel far outside their own parish. But, Barbados is a small island. 21 miles long by 14 miles wide (at the widest part). So nowhere is really very far away. The northern parishes are the least populated and so it figures that their vaccination centres are less busy.
So M made the arduous 10 minute, 6 mile journey to the St John polyclinic. He arrived to find on man in the queue ahead of him. He waited longer in the observation area after he’d had the vaccination, than he did to receive it. Then, because they had opened a vial, they asked him and the other man if they knew anyone who would like the vaccine as they didn’t want to waste the remaining doses.
Fifteen minutes later, we were both in the car heading back up to the clinic for me to have mine! There were a few administrative shenanigans’ when they realised I didn’t have an ID number but we managed to get around that. By ten past four we were back in the car heading home! I was a bit stunned by how quickly it had all occurred after weeks of waiting a worrying about whether M was going to get his or not.
We had the AZ vaccine, some of which, was gifted to Barbados by the Indian government a few weeks ago. We are due to have our second dose on the 25th of May, so, by the time we return to the UK in July, we will be as immune as we can possibly be!
That was Tuesday. Today is Friday and I have had absolutely zero side effects. M had a sore arm for a day and that was it.
It’s exactly one year since M and I went into self-isolation!
Things have the “feel” of getting back to normal here.
All shops and business have been allowed to re-open. Indoor dining is permitted in restaurants. Curfew has been pushed back to 9pm.
Still no large gatherings or “liming”. No congregating at the bar! Beaches still only open from 6am to 9am and 3pm to 6pm. Social distancing (stay six feet away from people not from your household or social bubble when in groups) and mask wearing are still required.
The numbers are going down and the death rate has slowed. Despite the recent outbreak, compared to the UK, the picture is better now, and has been right from the start. Although we haven’t been able to get the vaccination here yet, and we would have both had it by now in the UK, we definitely made the right decision in coming here.
Cases per million population: UK 62,573 Barbados 11,967
Deaths per million population: UK 1,843 Barbados 132
Even in terms of vaccination rates, Barbados isn’t doing too badly! Up there at number 11 in the world rankings! UK 38.6% of population. Barbados an impressive 18%! I was actually quite surprised by that figure.
On a personal note, we have now entered our 3.5 month extension. We moved house at the weekend and are settling in to our new home. It’s a spacious two-bedroomed, first floor apartment with a wonderful outside space and beautiful view of the sea. Compared to the last place; smaller with no pool, less expensive, but much more comfortable, cleaner and tidier, and far better equipped.
I’m up to 3.5 K on my Couch to 5K journey. Never thought I’d get this far!
As we approach a year since we first went into lockdown back in the UK, here in Barbados, the decision has been made to ease some of the restrictions that have been in place since the 3rd of February.
I was a little surprised as the numbers still aren’t great. However, I think it comes down to a mix of economic concerns, and (we are told) that all the new cases are coming from just a few identifiable clusters, limited to a few distinct households.
As you can see from the graph, the curve is moving in the right direction. The first half of the recent double peak reflects the prison outbreak back in January. If you “ignore” that peak, you can see a steady increase followed by a steady decline. Fingers crossed, that this trend continues.
Unfortunately, deaths continue to rise, as is always the case as people infected 2 or 3 weeks ago succumb to the serious complications of the virus.
Anyway, we are now permitted to visit the beach between 3pm and 6pm as well as our 6am to 9am slot. The nighttime curfew between 7pm and 6am remains in place but the weekend curfew has been lifted.
Some shops have been allowed to re-open, and restaurants are allowed to provide curb-side pick-ups (takeaways). Supermarkets are still operating under restricted hours but can open on Saturdays now.
It means a lot in terms of what we can do! We can exercise in the morning slot and maybe go for a swim in the afternoon, rather than cramming it all in in the morning. This means we don’t really need to get up at 5am every morning, but so far we have found it hard to break the habit. We seem to have discovered the joys of being out and about at sunrise. It’s cool and the light is incredible. There is something to be said for having spent 3 hours exercising at the beach and still have the whole day ahead of you as you enjoy a coffee on the balcony at 9am!
Shopping wise the implications are tremendous. Because the vegetable street vendors are open again, we don’t need to go to the supermarket as often and stand in the long lines in the sun. But, because, like us, other people don’t need to go to the supermarket as often now, and we don’t have the pre-weekend panic buying, the lines are shorter anyway. The fish market is open again now too, so we’re going down to buy a big fish today and get the freezer re-stocked!
For me, it’s just nice to know that I don’t have to cook every single meal, every single day, if I don’t want to now. The option of picking up a roti or something special from one of our favourites eating places is something comforting to have in my back pocket. It’s the little things.
The vaccination programme seems to be well underway, even if it does seem to have been a little chaotic in it’s implementation. M registered on the 17th of February for an appointment but has heard nothing since. They said that once all the over 70’s had been given theirs, they would start working through younger people with underlying medical conditions, like him. However, it seems that the general public have been turning up at vaccination centres without appointments and are being given the vaccination regardless. Meanwhile, the people they say they are prioritising, wait at home for appointments that never materialise.
Whether you have an appointment or not, if what we have been told is true, you are looking at a wait in the sun of 4 or 5 hours.
On a more positive note, Immigration called me during lockdown to tell me that my citizenship has been approved and, when the office re-opened this week, I was able to go in and pay my fee. Now I just need to wait for them to send out my certificate and I’m good to go for an ID Card and a Passport!
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we’ve been trying to keep fit during our time here and I recently decided to start a Couch to 5K programme. So far, I’m up to running for 20 minutes in two intervals with a short walk in between, and its going surprisingly well! Today, we also took part in an aqua-robics session in the sea!
The only other bit of news is that we’re moving next week. This house is far too big for us and we don’t really use the pool as much as we thought we might. We have found a lovely 2 bedroom apartment, walking distance from a gorgeous little beach, for a fraction of the price we are paying for this place. When we booked this, we were expecting that some friends and family would have come out to visit us in the new year. Of course, this has not been possible so when we decided to extend our stay, we also decided to look for somewhere smaller. We will stay there for anther three and a half months before we come home on the 1st of July – all being well …
The lockdown, or “National Pause”, in Barbados has been extended until midnight on the 28th of February.
The lockdown, or “National Pause”, in Barbados has been extended until midnight on the 28th of February. In addition, the curfew has been extended from the hours of darkness (7pm until 6am), to include weekends. This weekend, for the first time, we are not allowed to leave our homes, for any reason, from 7pm on Friday until 6am on Monday. They are also planning to tighten up their monitoring of compliance with the restrictions, and will be dishing out severe penalties including large fines and even prison sentences, to people who breach the conditions of the directive.
It is all because the numbers are not going down, and it seems that not everyone is adhering to the protocols. Several people have been arrested, and taken into custody, for running illegal parties (limes), or opening their business when they are not permitted to do so. To be honest, on the rare occasions when we have been out, on our way to and from the beach or supermarket, we have been surprised by the large number of cars on the road and people that are about. But, you could argue that we were contributing to these large volumes ourselves!
Sadly, deaths continue to rise. A couple of days ago the country lost their first healthcare provider, when a nurse succumbed to the virus. Tragically, on Monday a 9-year-old girl died from Covid-19 related MIS-C (multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children). This has shaken the island community to it’s core. Especially as it was also revealed that around 40 other children are seriously ill with similar symptoms.
On a more positive note, the island has started it’s vaccination programme after it was gifted a batch of the AZ/Oxford vaccine from India. M has registered for his, as a citizen with a serious underlying health condition, and we are waiting to hear when he will be offered an appointment.
As expected, the past couple of weeks have been very different to our lockdown experience in the UK. We get up at 5am every day, and leave the house at 6am to head to the beach to make the most of our 3 hour permitted exercise slot. We walk, jog or swim, and are usually back home just after 9am for coffee and breakfast. When we need to, we pick up some groceries on the way home.
I use the term “picking up some groceries” very loosely. Shopping has been the most challenging aspect of lockdown in Barbados. We tried to stock up as best as we could before the Pause but, by the second weekend, we were running out of a few things and fresh vegetables in particular. With all shops being closed on Saturday and Sunday, we thought we’d do a little shop on Friday. Well, it’s fair to say that we were well and truly shocked by the length of the queues, or lines, as they are referred to here. Every shop we tried, had long lines of people outside, winding around the block and down the street. Rather than stand in the blazing mid-morning sun for an hour or so, we decided to make do with what we had in the house and try again the following week.
We tried again on the Tuesday. We still had to queue but it wasn’t as bad as it appeared and, when we made it inside, the shop was uncrowded and well-stocked. Once we got ourselves into the right mindset, the soothing background tunes and the air conditioning helped to make it a relatively stress free experience. Nevertheless, we did a fairly big shop to avoid having to repeat the experience too often!
Other than going to the beach and the supermarket, our days have been spent sitting on the balcony, writing, reading, sewing, and listening to audiobooks and podcasts. In the second week, we were entertained by Mia’s (the Prime Minister) dulcet tones being broadcast from vehicles touring the island, reminding everyone of the need to stay at home, wear a mask and wash their hands, and motivating them to “beat Covid” together. It was quite strange and all felt a bit Orwellian, but doesn’t everything these days?
The upside of it all is that I have got lots of writing done. I have been so encouraged by the feedback on Wait for Me, that I have decided to write a sequel rather than re-visit The Ice Factory or start something new. It’s great fun writing about life in a Zombie Apocalypse and people seem to want more so why not? I have already written 6347 words! At this rate, I’ll have finished in a year or so! Well, we’ll see …