Well, the kids are back in school (hallelujah!) and life is taking on some form of return to normality, or what counts as normal in Autumn 2020.
There are many things we still can’t do, or shouldn’t do, or just don’t feel personally comfortable doing even though other people are; but then there are some things we can do again, with certain precautions, that we haven’t been able to do since mid-March. You follow?
In terms of the government rules and guidelines, restaurants and pubs and gyms are still open as of now, but M and I don’t feel comfortable being in indoor spaces where people aren’t wearing masks. So no gyms or restaurants for us. Dining outdoors is fine, but the chances we have for that are now fewer and fewer given the weather.
Some new restrictions imposed this past month include no socializing in groups of more than six people (known as “The Rule of Six”).
There are higher fines for people not wearing masks on public transit, though I’ve still seen plenty of people flouting that rule with no consequences.
Of course, I have only been on public transit a few times recently, so it’s not like I have had that many opportunities to witness someone get caught by an enforcement officer.
There are rumours swirling around of stricter restrictions coming soon, including the most-often repeated one of there being a total lockdown in London for two weeks over the half-term school break (which is only one week for most schools, the last week of October) to “reset” the virus cycle of spread or something. The term “circuit breaker” is being used.
In nearly every conversation I have with other mums, there’s a mention of “well, we may all be back in lockdown soon, so…” and wondering how to make plans for half term when they may very well be cancelled. Like everything else this year. But the conversation usually ends with us agreeing that “everything else can be cancelled, that’s fine, just as long as they keep the schools open.” We are very, very grateful the kids are able to go to school here. VERY grateful.
We had booked flights to and a villa in Italy for half term, with every expectation that they may be canceled (we didn’t even tell the kids so as not to get their hopes up), and sure enough, our flights were already canceled several weeks ago. So we are planning to just stay in London for half term, and if we can do a day trip somewhere, great; I’ll take what I can get at this point. And my 7-year-old and I have been brainstorming hard about ways to save Halloween and trick-or-treating. (Her best idea so far: everyone has one of those long grabber-stick reaching-aid things, and people hand out candy with them, and the kids take it from them with their grabber stick, to keep at a safe distance.)
Usually by October I’ve started booking lots of fun activities for Christmastime, but I don’t know that we’ll be able to do much this year. I don’t think anyone will be paying a visit to Father Christmas’s grotto. No one wants Santa to be a Super Spreader.
But in terms of what we CAN do now that we hadn’t done in a long time, I’m enjoying regularly playing tennis and volunteering at Little Village again, and I have even started venturing out of our little neighbourhood bubble a bit. It’s so nice to go into central London again, after not crossing the River Thames for six months.
Because we don’t have a car, one of the main reasons I hadn’t gone very far outside our postcode since March is due to (justified) wariness of breathing the same air as a bunch of strangers on public transit.
If I take a taxi and the driver wears a mask, and I wear a mask, and I keep the windows open, I feel all right with that. I’ve taken a bus a couple times recently and there were too many people not wearing their masks, or not wearing them properly, and I felt pretty anxious and uncomfortable.
I sat as close to the doors as possible, to try to get the best chance of air circulation. There was a man standing near me with a mask slung around his chin, and I thought, well, as long as he doesn’t sneeze or cough it will be fine… of course he sneezed.
I think I need a mask that reads “IT GOES OVER YOUR NOSE” to communicate what I’m too shy to say out loud.
The couple times I’ve taken the train, I’ve managed to be in carriages that were fairly empty and people were spaced well apart, and I could open the windows. I haven’t tried the Tube, and have no intention to any time soon. If I can cycle somewhere, that’s the way to go. And usually it ends up being faster, because the traffic is so bad now from so many people choosing to drive instead of taking public transit.
There is now an NHS COVID-19 “Test and Trace” app that the government is recommending everyone download to their phones. Many businesses have QR codes posted by the door, which you’re meant to scan with your phone to “check in” so that they (whoever “they” are) can figure out who has been exposed to someone who reports a positive test, and presumably notify those who were exposed.
Except that the whole “test and trace” concept falls apart when you can no longer get a test, which is what happened here recently. When I took a test during our quarantine period in August, after we had flown back from the U.S. and I developed a cough, I had no problem going online and getting the NHS to send me a free home test kit the next day. I got my results within just a couple days of posting it back. (Negative.)
In the last few weeks, however, people I know who had developed symptoms could not get a test, either a home test kit OR an appointment at a testing site. There is still the option of paying around £100 to go to a private clinic for a test, but obviously the majority of people are not going to do that. And apparently the time it takes to get your results back is now around a week. So I feel like looking at the numbers of cases in London right now is totally pointless, as they are probably way off.
Oh, but back to where I was talking about the good things, the venturing out I’ve done.
I figure if I wear a mask and socially distance when indoors, use hand sanitizer, and overall just stay outdoors as much as possible, then it’s probably OK to get out and about in London a bit again. Happy days!
On Sunday, we took the kids to the Science Museum for the first time since February. We cycled there, with the kids in the Nihola family trike.
M and I wore masks the entire time, and it was worth it. The kids were so happy to be back in one of our favourite places for a family day out.
On Monday, during school hours, my friend Amelia and I headed “into town,” with only a vague idea of where to go and what to do. I really just wanted to wander around the areas of London that are normally packed with tourists, but currently aren’t. I was very curious to see what that would be like.
We started in Covent Garden, and made our way around the West End, Soho, Leicester Square, Chinatown, Trafalgar Square, Carnaby, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, and back again.
Overall, I’d say that it was definitely less crowded than normal, but it wasn’t a total ghost town, either. Certainly there were people everywhere we went, but fewer of them. No tour groups, no street performers or floating Yodas.
We were blessed with good weather that day, which made all our outdoor time entirely pleasant.
And it meant that we could enjoy a nice lunch out. Many more restaurants are now setting out tables outside than they used to. More streets are closed to cars for this reason, which is lovely. We had Chinese dumplings at Din Tai Fung in Covent Garden, and there was only one other table that was occupied while we were there.
We also made a stop in Liberty department store, partly to use the loos, because finding an open public toilet is more difficult than it used to be.
On Thursday, my Culture Club was finally reunited. Aside from watching a few plays streamed online over Zoom together during lockdown, and some of us meeting up on the common on summer nights for wine picnics, we hadn’t had an official Culture Club outing since February.
Fortunately, we just manage to be within the Rule of Six. While going to the theatre is, tragically, out of the question for the foreseeable future, at least we can go to museums again. We chose the Andy Warhol exhibition at the Tate Modern for our reunion.
The exhibition itself was actually pretty underwhelming, but it felt so good to be able to do something as simple as go to an art museum with friends again. Some of the exhibition had been altered or even entirely omitted to make it safer for people to attend, which was reasonable, but also a bit of a bummer. One video installation room was closed, with a single screen at the door playing a video of the video room… it definitely did not have the same effect.
Once again in what was otherwise a rainy week, I got super lucky with the weather, and we could enjoy a nice walk along the Southbank and lunch outside at Borough Market, another one of my favorite destinations in London.
It’s been wonderful to be able to do a few “London-y” things again lately. I don’t know what the future holds for us here, but if people are smart and safe about mask-wearing and hand-washing and social distancing, hopefully we can prevent going into a full lockdown again.