This photo is not glamorous or exciting or fun – my partner John and me in a car en route to Heathrow for our flight back to Australia – you can’t see our blue latex gloves
A lot has happened since I sent out my Weekly Update only a few days ago. We are now in forced isolation in an hotel in Sydney and I thought it would be good to start a video isolation diary which I published first on Instagram and Facebook yesterday. That got such a response, I thought I would diarise what is happening in this brave new world in a daily update. I know this is not quite the weekly update or monthly newsletter you signed up for, but hope you find this of interest. Do please let me know if you do, or do not like it.
The socially-distanced queue outside Marylebone Waitrose Sunday a week ago
I felt like we were living in a re-make of the movie based on Neville Shute’s novel On The Beach. (Ava Gardiner, the star, famously commented that Melbourne was a very good place to make a movie about the end of the world!).
Everywhere we went on our daily, allowed walk, people were skirting each other, masks in place as we walked through the streets and in Regent’s Park. Elsewhere the streets of Central London are deserted. Buses have one or two passengers. I wonder about the ongoing effects of this and if a new generation will grow up with a distrust of others. Depends how long it goes on for I guess. My granddaughter is 3 – how do you explain to her that she needs to keep her distance from others when she is a warm, spontaneous child? But I digress.
The world has been changing hourly, not daily. We are experiencing a time of great change, with no prior reference points. It is all uncharted waters. I feel like it is our version of being at war. It’s the only thing I can compare it to, though I have no idea what that was like except from reading, movies and what my parents had said. The calm before the storm We had a fabulous trip to Egypt from 24 February to 8 March. We were remarkably removed from the constant barrage of coronavirus updates. We returned to London as the pandemic grew but still thought as recently as only 10 days ago that we would stay in London to ride out the storm. We have a lovely light apartment there with a terrace and spend at least half the year there as our Flame TV business is global and London an important centre. However, things were moving at a rate of knots.
My partner, John, who is CEO was working furiously to restructure our business to weather the storm. Quite a challenge with TV production closing down with staff unable to travel, along with all the ramifications of staff needing to work from home and managing this globally. It dawned on us that with no possibility of face-to-face meetings that the need to be in London was evaporating. Moreover, we have better access to good health care in Australia were we to become ill.
So by Saturday 21st we thought we should book to return to Australia and did so, to leave London Sunday 29th. One day later and we were panicking that this was perhaps too late but to move our flight forward much was going to cost us double what we had already paid. We investigated various options and decided to pay some extra to fly out on Friday 27th. I had done quite a bit of research and with airlines cutting routes had decided that British Airways with only one stop of about an hour or so in Singapore, with the same plane through to Sydney, could be the best option. We spent the days before we flew following isolation guidelines and only going out to walk every day and buy food when needed. We had fun with a friend, coming up with cocktail a day, going through the alphabet and posting online. I was incredibly moved by the nationwide“Clap For Carers”initiative where people came out their front doors and on balconies to show support for the extraordinary NHS (National Health Service) workers including a rare video of the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge’s three children doing the same. Will we go or will we stay? However, we woke to the news on Friday 27th that any arrivals into Australia from midnight Saturday 28th would be put into enforced 2 weeks isolation in hotels. This really set us back and John’s reaction we should stay in London where we have comfort, space and freedom to move in our apartment. However, I don’t think any of us know where this will end, so I still preferred to return to Australia.
I usually enjoy a champagne in the lounge before I fly but with closed lounges we sat at the departure gate and bought a bottle of water
We knew the airport terminal would be deserted and indeed the Boots Chemist was the only shop open. Lounges were closed and we had been advised to take our own food if we had dietary requirements or if we wished to. A very stream-lined flight However, once on board we found out there was even more limited service than we thought – only soft drinks and tea of coffee in disposable cups and a plastic bag with an unappetising wrap, water and chocolate bar in it for meals. I was told that it was because British Airways was unable to get its usual deliveries of alcohol from its suppliers. I was somewhat dismayed this had not been communicated to us, along with the food advice, prior to our flight. Nor had the fact there were no amenities, tooth brush, eye mask or ear plugs. Luckily I had packed the last two, just in case, but not the toothbrush.
Aside from that it was a great flight. A pretty empty plane and delightful, apologetic staff and we had little interruption. We stayed on the plane during the stopover in Singapore and arrived in Sydney around 7am Sunday morning 29th, unsure of what would await us.
Despite BA making the usual announcements about onward flights (which made us think things may not be so restrictive), when we landed we were told to stay seated and about 10 minutes later an Australian official came on board and advised what would happen when we disembarked. No onward flights and forced isolation for all. I had hoped that perhaps the curfew may not have kicked in and we would be able to go home, but this was not to be.
STRICTLY NO PHOTOS OR VIDEOS
We disembarked keeping 1.5 metres between us, lined up, given masks if we didn’t have them and first had out temperatures taken and then had individual interviews about our state of health. Then another line to go through immigration. We gleaned the information that we would be going by bus to hotels. I asked how that was social-distancing and was told – only 20 to a bus. We then collected our bags, all by 7.30am. So far so good.
Then the disorganisation became apparent. We were told to stand in line 1.5 metres apart prior to going through customs and not given any more information. An official self-importantly dashed about, giving orders to staff, carrying his mask in his hand and sometimes passing close by us, as were others. We were rather concerned about this breach.
One passenger who took a photo on his phone was reprimanded and made to delete it.
Finally we were told that we were lining up until everyone from our plane had collected their luggage and then we would be boarding buses to go hotels. Another flight landed and began to collect luggage.
Picture this – a snake of people in a queue-like a conga line around all the carousels in the arrivals hall, all waiting, waiting, waiting. I was perplexed as surely letting 20 out at a time to get on their bus would have solved this, kept people separated, got them from the airport more quickly and been more efficient? After two hours, we were finally through customs and yet another queue and outside to find fresh-faced young members of the Army Reserve and cheerful, friendly police officers standing around as we walked to the many buses lined up.
We were lucky to be in the first 20 and waited to board our bus with strict instructions to put our bag on the seat in front and sit behind so that we were apart. Great in theory. However one woman in front of us had so many bags she needed two flight attendants to help her get to the bus. So that meant only 12 could get on that bus. This became the new number for each subsequent bus. Clearly the authorities were finding their way as we were only the second flight to come in since the curfew for this new ruling. We waited another 15 minutes while they decided which bus we could get on. Although the bus driver had told me we were going to the InterContinental, someone else (I think perhaps a plain clothes policewoman, she didn’t say) advised us that the Hilton had capacity and we would be going there.
I breathed a small sigh of relief and started texting chef Luke Mangan who has Glass Brasserie in the Hilton, to find out what he knew.
Day 1 Isolation
The city streets were all but deserted. It was a strange feeling – back to On The Beach. I thanked my lucky stars we were going to the Hilton Sydney. On arrival at the Hilton, we got off the bus and yet again stood around with police and army who had no masks on. There was discussion amongst some about what would happen next. One told me – you need to tell them which bus you were on. He cited the actual number of the bus and I said – I thought we were bus no. 2. He shrugged. Then a sweet young army guy led us in – up the steps. I demerred and suggested we could actually go up the ramp and drag our bags? Check-in was with three young policewoman at a special desk near the lifts. We lined up, began giving our details to one and then things changed and were told we all had to go to the same one, so we moved aside. Another queue. Details given, we were escorted individually or in couples up to rooms. The couple in front of us asked if there were larger rooms available for couples which made sense as the many solo travellers got a room to themselves. So on arrival on our floor I asked the police woman in charge for a larger room or two rooms with an inter-connecting door, explaining the difficulty in sharing with a heavy snorer! She, like all the other police we have come in contact with, was absolutely delightful and said she would find one. It’s a strange feeling not to be in charge of your own life and unable to make choices. We were taken to the next floor, shown to rooms and then the police closed the door and left. We were inside with no information and not quite sure what to do. They did sweetly come back to check we were fine as we were about to be locked in for two weeks. I asked a couple of questions and he said “you’ll have to ask the hotel”. So we unpacked and counted ourselves lucky.
I was able to reach someone on reception to find out about wifi and also ask if it were possible to have a “care package” delivered from my sister. She kindly checked with the police and rang me back to say that was fine. Anything had to be dropped off to the police.
So we unpacked and settled in.
Breakfast or Lunch?
Around 12.30pm there was a knock on the door. We answered to see someone’s departing back and a brown paper bag each. Inside was, what looked to us like breakfast. Oh well we thought, set it aside, and instead ate two small cans of tuna and some gluten-free crackers leftover from what I had taken on the plane, with the juice and apples.
The phone rang and a young lady asked me about my dietary requirements. I thanked her and explained I was not coeliac but gluten-intolerant so a little bit didn’t hurt, and that John couldn’t eat fresh tomato. I was gratified.
An hour later at 1.30pm this arrived! I didn’t really mind that mine was not gluten-free as it was clearly too early for the dietary information to have got through and we didn’t need them. No problem.
I normally believe in staying up and only going to bed at night in the country you arrive in after long distance travel. However, part of my managing that is going for a long walk. No longer possible and I know I need to commit to some exercise in the hotel room and make it a habit.
So off to bed I went for a much-needed nap. Once fully awake again, I hit on the idea of filming an Isolation Diary on my phone. Which I did and posted. A bit of fun I thought but also some honest reportage. How will I cope? How will John cope? How will we cope together? What will the food be like? Will we really be able to receive care packages? Will I put on weight?
The contents of four bags of “care package” from my sister
Kindness makes such a difference My sister had already suggested she could drop a care package off – “anti-bacterial wipes for our throats” (aka gin and tonic), Scrabble, some other food and anything we wanted from home. I was thrilled.
She got my keys and rang me from my place and I guided her to where to find things. I was so excited, when only 30 minutes later two gorgeous policemen delivered my care package. I thanked them profusely for their kindness and they said – that’s fine, of course you can receive things, we just can’t have you sending things out. I could have hugged and kissed them – though of course that is not allowed! Then, as I sipped on my gin and tonic, I reflected on how lucky we are to be isolated in our own city. There were many on our flight whose homes are elsewhere in Australia. How can they get care packages?
Not the highlight of the day: back John’s dinner of pasta with meatballs, mixed veggies, some sort of “bruschetta’ (really?) and a brownie; front my green curry of chicken, veggies and gluten-free bar
Dinner came at about 6.20pm. Responding to the knock on the door and seeing what was on offer I was able to ask for gluten-free and was relieved to be able to get a curry. We needed to eat it straight away as it was all only warm which is understandable with delivery to so many at the same time. The flavour wasn’t so bad but lots of gluggy rice underneath. It paled into insignificance as we sipped on a bottle of Barbera which my sister had brought.
All the corona virus jokes don’t seem so funny anymore
We are suffering from COVID-19 information overload. Every where you look or listen there are stories, information bulletins, press releases and jokes, good and bad cluttering up our inboxes and our minds. I feel I am in danger of drowning under it. I really don’t want to succumb to reading it all or watching endless reports on TV. I would rather have time to read my books. I want now, to live my experience, to feel it and see what that is like. John and I discussed last night the challenges of running a business with people working from home. We are both very motivated but it is easy to be distracted. We decided that for our business, and for ourselves, each person should list three main tasks they want to achieve each day. For an employee, that should be communicated to their immediate boss each day. We would report back to each other.
Mine were to write this, sort out our exercise and get going with the thesis I need to write. I have already failed. Most of today I have spent responding to the massive feedback I received on social media to my video diary and writing this. We did have a Skype board meeting and I have video conferences for three hours for each of the next three days – so I’d better get on with that exercise! Sweet dreams one and all. We spent the evening watching Roger Moore as James Bond in A View to Kill with Grace Jones. Outside I doubt I would have watched it – but it was an enjoyable blast from the past and I laughed at the double entendres. Then au lit, as the French say.