When I arrived in London in February, there were mere whispers of a strange virus on the news. A little alerting, but we certainly had no way of knowing a global pandemic was around the corner.
Fast forward a week… I’m at the local “surgery” (that’s British for doctor’s office) complaining of a cough and feeling like I had fluid in my lungs, making it difficult to breathe. I had no idea it was coronavirus- I thought I’d be much much sicker.
It was over a month before I felt somewhat normal again, and by then, the infamous “March 17th lockdown” was in full force across the UK. There were no flights, no food in the grocery store, and the local towns were becoming increasingly sad ghost towns.
It was surreal, to say the least.
We were at the beginning of a global pandemic, over 5,000 miles away from home.
I had gone to London for a blogging/work project and had brought my 5 year old son. I thought it would be a great opportunity to travel Europe before he was due to start school. How things change in a matter of weeks….
We started in Henley Upon Thames. A beautiful town, known for its famous annual Regatta. I chose this town to wait out the last few weeks of freezing cold and wet weather, planning to move on when Spring arrived. Once lockdown arrived, the grocery stores were empty, and the only delivery service available was Dominos pizza at $40 a pop. (Yes, American style budget delivery pizza is pricey in England.) It was strange, seeing the delivery man drop the pizza at the door, ring the doorbell and literally RUN away. No mask or gloves this early on, but “contactless delivery” and social distancing were already here. After a week of increasingly empty grocery shelves, we were forced to leave town and find accommodations elsewhere.
For the next 4 months, life became a game of survival; Hotels were closed, and Airbnb hosts canceled bookings; some out of fear they would catch the virus, others because they couldn’t get supplies (seriously, no toilet paper for weeks, folks.)
The nearest option was in the Cotswolds, and I was grateful for it. It was a luxury carriage house on a 16th century farm- surprisingly luxurious and the host was incredibly kind. His wife freaked out when her children invited my son into their house to play- Covid hysteria is a thing folks. Although I understood her concern, I opted not to extend our stay past a few days, considering how hard it was to contain my son and explain to him that he was not allowed to play with kids that were a mere few feet away from him.
We moved on to a 15th century cottage in France Lynch. This was an absolutely stunning village, with cottages (stone homes, hundreds of years old) with single lane paths with centuries-old stone walls on each side, and merely an inch on each side of your car. How I managed to come out of these roads, scratch free, is beyond me. It must have been like a Harry Potter movie, where the walls magically stretched just enough to allow our car to pass. I was grateful for this place- there was a lovely garden for my son to play in, a warm fireplace, a cozy bed, and more importantly…. a grocery store with actual food on the shelves!
After this, we were able to find a host that had a longer stay available. Hannah (and her flat) was a gift in so many ways- we became friends over the next few months, and our children bonded. She and her family, honestly made our lockdown a relaxing, fun experience.
Eventually the UK government actually blocked Airbnb from allowing bookings to stop people from traveling… which ironically, forced us to travel. We ended up driving across England, boarding a desolate ferry to Northern Ireland, and then driving down to Waterford in the Republic of Ireland, where a kind Airbnb host accepted us as an “essential travel” booking. Once again, we did our quarantine- we stayed in, having our groceries delivered and no contact with anyone.
After the first phase of lockdown restrictions were lifted, we ended up back in London, still unable to get home. The hurdles we navigated, were endless- as if finding everyday shelter and food wasn’t difficult enough, we also had limited transportation options (reduced train schedules, nonexistent Uber availability, taxi shortages, and closed car rental agencies… one that closed while I had a car out, leaving me no option to return or even contact them. That was fun, Avis.)
Basic needs aside, the worst part of the experience, was the angst we saw in others. Mostly women, snapping and swearing at each other for coming too close. At one point, we were in the park near Hampton Court Palace, and two friends had run into each other, just in front of a narrow bridge. As they spoke, a woman hesitated to pass, then said in a vicious tone, “This is horrible of you two, to stop here like this!” and stomped off. As I passed, I smiled and said, “Don’t mind her- she needs to get out more” and left them laughing. Mind you, we were only allowed 1 hour out per day at this time.
Spending lockdown in London was an experience in itself, and one that left me with some beautiful insights. With all that was going on, and the constant need for flexibility and patience… it didn’t take me long to realize the best approach was to be prepared, and surrender to whatever would happen.
The truth is, there was no way of knowing what was going to pop up next, and I had to accept that and make the best of the situation. That is just what I did… and the result was…. months of time with my son, feeding swans, coming nose to nose with gentle deer in Bushy Park, long walks around deserted medieval courtyards and ancient roman ruins, and the list goes on.
We spent days where we did nothing but perfect our slime-making skills, and “work out” with Nintendo Switch (getting our hands on a Switch Fit Ring was an adventure in itself!) My son ended up with a collection of UK themed legos and playful costumes… and hopefully some very unique and special memories.
When I look back at this crazy adventure, I hope I will remember just how much I grew as a mother, as a business woman, and as a person in general. I hope that I will forget worrying about that 15 pounds I put on while the gyms were closed, but remember how well I actually did handle the situation. Because in the end, lockdown ended up being full of blessings.