As this strangest of years draws to a close, I am putting finger to keypad one more time to describe my travels in the time of pandemic. My final jaunt of the year taken before the second lockdown was imposed was to Venice as September turned to October. I will preface this post with my usual disclaimer. While traveling to, and while in Venice, I observed all physical distancing, hand hygiene and mask-wearing guidelines. I observed the fourteen-day quarantine period upon my return to Ireland – which as I have previously mentioned is not that difficult when you live alone. I kept this excursion entirely to myself again, not wanting to hear people’s criticism or judgement of my decision to travel. The only person I was placing at risk by my choice was myself, and for the sake of my sanity, I thought my decision was sound.
It was November 2019. I was sitting at my desk in the Wastelands pondering opportunities for foreign travel in 2020. I wanted to visit places that I had never previously travelled. Destinations in Europe that fit such a description were becoming scarce. With the exceptions of the Baltic countries of Latvia and Lithuania. I went online and booked a trip – flight into Riga on Thursday 9th March and then fly back from Vilnius on Tuesday. A two for one holiday. As March approached there were rumblings about coronavirus. It became very real in the middle of February flying back from Rome. The guards in haz-mat suits taking temperatures of people departing struck an ominous note. In early March I decided that the Plague made it unwise to travel. The air of the apocalypse hung heavy. It felt like Armageddon. I postponed my trip until late August.
If I survived then surely things would be back to normal by autumn. Little did I know. The August flights were not cancelled, and Covid related deaths and infections in Ireland had drastically reduced. I was willing to take the risk to make the trip. Unfortunately Latvia and Lithuania were not so lackadaisical. If I was I to travel I would be expected to self-isolate for fourteen days upon entry. Reluctantly I decided not to travel. Crossing the border between Latvia and Lithuania by bus might be tricky. I didn’t want to get into trouble with the Baltic authorities. Ryanair didn’t reimburse me. Of course they didn’t – it is Satan’s favourite airline. The flight was not cancelled therefore if I was going to be charged more than the flight originally cost if I were to postpone. With a heavy heart the Thursday of departure passed. I remained in Dublin.
The following week felt heavy. This pandemic seemed relentless and eternal. On Wednesday I was staring morosely out the window at the Luke Kelly statue, hissing at the emails from my work customer as they appeared in my inbox. I was idly entering destinations onto the ‘fare-finder’ section of the Ryanair website. This is the section that offers last minute deals. What was this – a Friday to Monday return flight to Barcelona cost 40 euros. I had no intention of going anywhere. Out of curiosity I opened booking.com. What was this – three nights in a pension in the Gothic Quarter for nineteen euros a night? In other words a three day trip to one of Europe’s most beautiful cities would cost under a hundred euros. Departure in thirty-six hours. As if in a daze I clicked on the ‘buy ticket’ button, giving a little yelp of terror as I did so.
I live alone. I am not part of a social bubble with another person. Working from home each day, I can often go the entire week without meeting anyone in real life apart from the shop assistants in Marks and Spencer when I am on a yellow stickered luxury food items mission. These foods don’t require any effort other than to place them in the oven (and if truth be told I would never be able to assemble a scallop bake on my own). It’s been like this for most of the year. It’s been annoying and difficult while remaining reasonably manageable.
However in July I threw caution to the wind, and booked a flight to London for a three day trip. Having witnessed how toxic judgement can be towards people who choose to bend the rules to accommodate their personal situation, I kept this trip off social media at the time. I was unwilling to deal with other people’s reactions. Particularly from people who had either a garden or who lived with another human being. On my trip, I would follow the rules by washing my hands; socially distancing, wearing a mask and continuing my self-isolated life as normal when I returned. My conscience was clear, but I wasn’t going to trumpet my travel plans. Click link below to continue
My phone beeped to notify me that a new pair of jeans were ready collect in Dunnes’ Stores on Henry Street. I had ordered them online four days previously to prepare myself for winter. The time was 2pm. Having spent the morning drinking tea, and exchanging scurrilous and libellous gossip with a friend in London I needed to take an excursion to get some exercise. I decided to walk through Sean McDermott Street in the north inner city on my way to the shop. I wanted to see the Mother and Baby Home on that street.
Sometime on Tuesday night, I woke up coughing. I was not initially worried. Even though it has been three years since I quit smoking, each year since – as the winter draws in – I get a brief case of the remnants of a smoker’s cough. Nothing like the hollow, hacking sound that cough mixture couldn’t reach, back in the smoky days – but a faint, irritating condition nonetheless. When after two hours of coughing it hadn’t ceased, I started to worry.
It’s now seven months since the soggy lockdown was introduced. This initial stage – pre official lockdown – was when we were all sent home, told to work from there, and to maintain physical distancing from people outside your household. As I packed up my laptop and mouse on that happy Thursday, I was expecting to be back in the office in the Wastelands by April 1st. I wonder how that bag of apples I left in my locker is faring?
Two weeks from now it will be seven months since the hard lockdown came into force. It seems like a decade ago. Back then I had a trip to Latvia and Lithuania planned for Friday 20th March. Sensibly I postponed this trip to the distant mists of the future, to a time when we’d be back gamboling through Fairview Park, with the global pandemic but a distant memory – September. September was last month. Both countries were – at the time – on Ireland’s green lists. This meant that I’d be spared the consequence of self-isolating for two weeks upon my return to Ireland.
Dublin has just entered the second week of level 3 Covid-19 restrictions, to tackle the surge in infection rates in the city. Level 3 means a tightening of the restrictions from Level 2 – where the rest of the country (aside from Donegal) now sits. Level 3 means that art galleries and museums are closed; as are theatres. House parties are limited to six people from outside your home – but all have to be from the same household. Bars and restaurants – whether they serve food or not are closed – unless they have an outdoor seating area, in which case they can could cater to a maximum of fifteen people.
‘Well that’s restrictive,’ I thought to myself. On Thursdays I received a message from a friend asking if I’d be willing to take a chance on having a sociable beverage on Saturday evening (along with the compulsory €9 meal – in Ireland bars that serve food were allowed to open, whereas bars that didn’t were not – Covid respects cuisine you see, and it stops moving when a substantial meal is being consumed – or something.)
I agreed. Three weeks under a renewed semi-lockdown as the days get shorter, and a distinct chill arrives in the air sounded unutterably grim. Particularly (as I have repeatedly said) for those of us living alone in an apartment without a garden. ‘We’re all in this together’ rings hollow when the four walls start closing in on you.
With a steely resolve I went online – I wasn’t taking any chances. With such limited opportunity for revelry I decided to make a booking to make sure we got a seat.
I received a call from a friend a couple of days before the new lockdown for Dublin was declared; asking if I’d be interested in accompanying her to the Druid Theatre production of ‘Druid Gregory’ in the grounds of Coole Park in Gort on Sunday evening. She had acquired a pair of tickets for the sold out show. I had a very brief internal debate about the wisdom of traveling West on the weekend that the capital closed up shop once again. Considering I live alone, work from home and only meet a small handful of people at a socially distanced level on any given week, my decision was easy. I was going to the theatre for only the second time since March (in August I went to see Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Happy Prince’ by Bewley’s Café Theatre in the Irish Georgian Society building on South William Street in Dublin.
The new restrictions to tackle the spread of coronavirus were released last night. As predicted they are an incoherent mess.
House parties are to be limited to no more than six people from outside your household (and these six cannot come from more than three separate households). Meanwhile minimum wage workers in meat processing plants, are allowed to go to work in factories where the recent outbreaks have originated. These workers predominantly work in cramped conditions, living in crowded homes, with up to ten strangers bed-sharing. Schools are re-opening in a few weeks and social distancing guidelines are to be observed. Many children travel to school on public transport. Travel on public transport is to be avoided however according to new guidelines. People over the age of 70 years old are encouraged to stay indoors. However the outbreaks are predominantly among those aged under 45. The leader Fine Gael – Leo Varadkar – didn’t bother turning up at the press conference with the other two equally useless coalition party leaders Micheal Martin and Sleepy Eamon Ryan. Micheal sounded stern like a schoolteacher scolding the nation. As the news was bad, and Varadkar is a PR obsessed snake-oil salesman, he wanted to distance himself from it. It’s almost as if he thinks he is not a part of government, therefore equally responsible for the shambles of the new guidelines.
I am sitting at my workstation, gamely pretending to work. In actual fact, I am staring out the window at the Luke Kelly statue, swearing vengeance.
Later today there will be further announcements regarding updated recommendations from NPHET (National Public Health Emergency Team. New restrictions on movement and public gatherings are expected. There has been a recent spike in corona cases (200 on Saturday – the largest daily number since early May) and outbreaks in meat-processing plants and direct provision centres (the inhuman, degrading places where Ireland places asylum seekers – often for years – while their cases are being processed). The outbreaks in the meat plants and DP centres has already led to localised lockdown in counties Kildare, Laois and Offaly. The virus is spreading in the community again. The shutters will be coming down, Action must be taken. (click link below for next page)