The silence is so Loud though.

I have three windows that overlook a path which leads down to the River Almond, a haven for walkers, families, dogs and sometimes even horses. There is also a kick pitch and tennis court located there so, despite it being a dead end, cars do congregate there albeit in low numbers to use the services or access the river walk. This same path also provides a short cut to the main shopping area and industrial estate, for all of those people living on the west side of the Village. All of this contributes to a miasma of people, vehicles and animals passing by our windows, albeit colourful but with monotonous regularity. A couple of years ago we purchased shutters since many of the walkers feel the need to nosey in as they pass by. And since two of the windows are on the kitchen we might be mid meal when this happens. Not that we use them all the time but increasingly privacy has become necessary as the better weather invites increased numbers of people tracking back and forth and the peering eyes were becoming tiresome.

All of this is a daily feature of life at the Danders, except that is for Christmas Day. Not for the first time on Christmas Day I have been struck by the loudness of the silence. No one walking dogs, no-one driving past, no one out for a river walk. The silence of Christmas Day has a rich quality that conflates with the magic of Christmas morning, adding to the weight of serenity and anticipation of the day ahead. A feast for the ears. it is broken only by the clanging of a single bell from the local Church announcing Christs birth and the beginning of the service. I have always noticed this silence and valued it, appreciating what it adds to my experience of Christmas. But it’s now something we are experiencing daily as part of Lockdown and I fear not only that the magic of that one day has been stolen, but strangely I am longing for the noise, the detritus of community life to return.

The first notable silence was created by the lack of flights, we do sit beneath one of the routes into Edinburgh Airport. This is not so much about the noise but the constant sight of aircraft coming and going and the wistful envy to be aboard the ones heading out at least. The vehicles were next; the growl of the engines, dependent on the age of the drivers, signal the speed, age of the driver and make of the approaching vehicle before we see it. For some vehicles it was so regular we knew just from looking at the clock who was coming and going from the neighbours across the bridge, to the man walking dogs as a business. It is a dead end and walkers often stroll carefree on this road, the corner concealing the walkers aided by the neighbours fence, which does not provide any signs warning “SLOW DOWN pedestrians” and so we often watch heart in mouth as some cars increase the revs as the downslope appears. It can be such a hazard when you cannot see ahead of you but thankfully we have yet to experience any causing any harm. Now only the Police Cars are making that journey, prowling for any of the rule-breakers.

Lone walkers, (presumably they are heading to work given their backpacks) heads down, earphones protruding either linked to their phones by wires or Bluetooth, getting in the zone for the day ahead, have been massively reduced in numbers as the economic shutdown has taken hold. Cyclists on the other hand, have remained a constant feature, the Lycra wearing cyclists mainly, usually serious about their activity and seeking the thrill of endurance. Since we are on the R75, the main cycle path between Glasgow and Edinburgh, the Lycra wearing cyclists are fairly frequent. Now they are joined by those families eager to break the chains of Lockdown, some with helmets some without, none with Lycra, most with jeans, many with children in tow can be seen tackling the Brae up from the River. Chatter seems to cease ahead of the Brae as all energies are garnered as they prepare to tackle the steep hill or Brae leading to the choice of routes to either the east or west.

Families and dog walkers, of course have continued to feature just in greater numbers. An assortment of woolly hats, bulky jackets, prams and scooters toddle past at a leisurely pace. Even in the good weather this is the attire (we are in Scotland!) If I am in the kitchen I am 4 feet higher and look down on them like a giant. This can be quite frightening for the little ones so in these difficult times I needed to show my friendly side. I now have a rainbow thanks to my young neighbour and that delights the children as they add it to their counting list, pausing for a moment to admire it. Sometimes my grandchildren wander past out with their mum, dad and the dog. Well every other day actually. I can hear the wee tiger cub and the mermaid calling in unison “GRAN” ( please note not Papa aka the Lion, they know where the bread is buttered) as they approach in the hope we are close enough to hear them. We often make a joke that the three windows onto the path are a bit like a trip to MacDonalds. And so it is that they stop at each window to put in an order for the chocolate biscuit and a drink. Since Lockdown the shutters are gathering dust, standing open at all times, demonstrating the need for contact through a socially acceptable distance and because we now appreciate the passers by waving in, smiling and peering in as such a welcome addition to our day.

Lockdown, like any other circumstance that forces change, of course has it’s benefits. Taking the passers-by and the noisy landscape for granted demonstrates how much we relied on it in the past, and missed it when it was gone. Something so simple that puts us back in our box, longing to make eye contact with other people, longing to hear aircraft filling our skies, longing to hear and see our grandchildren for more than a biscuit.

We ourselves have also been out and about waving and smiling at others we pass at a safe distance. We have also been taking time to stop if a face appears in the window, seeking to reassure them that life is still going on despite the national crisis and if they are OK or need anything. Our daily exercise a much needed escape from the confines of the Danders, which despite being my Shangri-La, does not respond too well to the lack of people within it. And so it was we were out for our daily exercise, a good five miles moving at a reasonable pace when quite innocuously my hip went snap….. the sair leg was back again, just like that, and suddenly I could walk no further………

Christmas at the Danders

Coronavirus- now in my back yard!

Our final stopover of the trip was to be in Bali, the beautiful Indonesian Island, promising peace and tranquility. A place where we might re-charge our batteries before heading home. The four day stopover was all inclusive, meaning you had little more to do than summon the Balinese waiter with the press of a button to bring you a cocktail as you lounged by the sea. The beds on the beach provided a serene outlook shaded with palms, and you were entertained by the antics of the paddle board rookies as they tried to master the waves. The rush of the waves to the shore, the blistering heat and the cool long drinks affirmed for sure, we were in paradise.

Our resort was within a gated community of around 17 hotels, our Hotel, the Melia Bali, was a grand affair with several restaurants, bars and for the strenuous among us, beach and pool activities to keep the calories at bay. We were initially unaware that somewhere close by a British Woman had died from Coronavirus and when the story did reach us it did little to provide any real context of the scope of the virus now, as opposed to when we left Britain in February.

This tragedy had occurred the week before we arrived and may well have resulted in a slightly stricter regime at immigration when we arrived on the Island. On immediate entry to the immigration hall we had to sign a declaration that we had not experienced any symptoms. Signing this with your name, passport number and next of kin was obligatory and somewhat sobering. Then we were placed through a screening process where those of us with high temperatures would be turned away. We had experienced screening at several airports along the journey but not as vigorous or individualistic as this. It raised the tempo considerably for us but not in a way that threatened our holiday. News items from Australia suggested that Australians should not travel to Bali. Being in our bubble I wondered what the drama was with this, since, as I have said, we had no context for it. Australia then went into lockdown preventing anyone arriving in the country from travelling onward, requiring a 14 day quarantine.

As we sipped our daily cocktails, oblivious to the reality, the world continued to collapse around about us. The waiters here provided constant hand sanitiser all around the hotel, other than that overt gestures that Coronavirus was crippling the country were absent, it was pretty much a non-event, if you were a tourist. Apart from the low numbers in the hotel, to us life was pretty much as it had been for the past 4 weeks, a holiday. How painful it would be when we were kicked into touch in just a few days. Lots of information from my kids, seemed to suggest that we might need to isolate when we got home. I scoffed at this claiming the UK had gotten things a little out of proportion, after all we were in areas also affected and life was going on as normal? Was it not? I’m ashamed to admit we were in a total bubble and it was going to be a very hard floor that we hit when we finally came back to earth.

As we cruised at around 35 000 feet from Bali to Glasgow in nothing short of luxury, we sipped champagne and munched on filet steak, watching the latest movies on ICE oblivious to reality. Little did we know what we were coming back to. Of course we had seen the FB images of empty shelves in the shops, but put this down to our eccentric behaviour as a nation rather than it conveying any real sense of crisis. As if to re-affirm our nonchalance to the matter in hand, our arrival at Glasgow Airport did nothing to dissuade me of my belief it was all a storm in a tea cup. We careered through the Airport unhindered with only customs seizing the chance to upset us by checking our luggage. How disappointed they must have been when they realised we had little but cases full of dirty washing. No-one quizzed us on where we had been, no mass screening, a swift check of the passport and out to our waiting driver to head home. If things were as bad as our children were suggesting how could this be the case?

The reality hit me when the grandkids were kept at a distance, because we had been on a flight and abroad in countries where the virus had claimed lives. My daughter, who is studying to be a Nurse, was somewhat more in the know than me. We realised, very quickly that self-isolation was the only way we might get to see our grandchildren. We sat alone in our home for seven days, watching the news and catching up to the place everyone else was already at. I ventured out to the shops, since the cupboards were almost empty and could hardly believe the shelves were so low. Someone commented that “at least there was bread” as if it was an unusual thing. We had been transported to another planet, I thought.

You know when you’ve been fast asleep and wake up suddenly, you get a bit confused trying to recall how you get here and got into bed. It was much the same as that for us; what was this world we were now living in? It was clear the bubble we had been part of during our holiday had finally burst – and it was traumatic. Slowly during our week of isolation I finally appreciated what needed to be done. I have to say it took us a week to actually process the information and get the message. A week later on the Monday night we were in Lockdown and that was any time with the grandchildren well and truly scuppered.

Life has altered dramatically in the space of five weeks. No Mass ( during LENT!!!), no social gatherings, social distancing between neighbours and all our family over 70 locked away in their little houses with no-one to see them or hug them. It’s a devastating time for many. But we have been so fortunate to even have had a holiday at all, many cannot get away, losing money in some cases. All the trips we had to look forward to are also gone now but at least we had one that was pretty amazing.

How will we cope? What will life be like in isolation for so long, will there be new ways to live our lives? Will we seek out contacts through social media? How will we shop for our every day needs, when all the slots are taken for months on end? Every day, in this new reality of mine, I am grateful for my health, grateful for our NHS staff and Care Workers, all of the shop workers and delivery drivers, pharmacists and teachers, social workers and police officers, dealing with the reality of this awful crisis. Meanwhile I am still trying to get my head around what it all might mean? I have now well and truly admitted that Coronavirus is now in my back yard.