What a Week: Half Term, Halloween, Election Day, Bonfire Night, and Lockdown

As we anxiously await the results of the election in the Divided States of America, here’s what else has been going on for the Walks Between the Commons.

Last week was the half-term school break. We’d had flights and a place to stay booked in Italy, but obviously that was cancelled. So the challenge became: How can I give the girls a normal-ish fun half-term/Halloween/4th birthday in a pandemic?

We started by borrowing a car from a very generous friend for a couple days, so we could do some day trips out of the city.

Ready to go pick out our pumpkins!

I chose places that were all outdoors, and which claimed they were capping the numbers of visitors allowed in and had staggered entry times and all the other measures attractions are having to take now to make them seem safe.

On Sunday we went to Bocketts Farm Park, which was excellent.

There’s so much for the kids to do outside, and the indoor soft play area is in a big barn and we had a 50-minute time slot for that (and the parents wore masks), so it wasn’t crowded like it usually would be.

Bocketts Farm Park

On Monday we went to Legoland in Windsor, which E has been asking to go to since she was 4.

Legoland

I was excited for this, because the other experiences we’ve had taking our kids to amusement parks, like Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, have all been really good. This one, however, was not.

They were operating rides with social distancing, meaning they were leaving seats and, on some rides, even whole rows empty between parties. Which means the queues were nearly twice as long and slow as usual. The wait times were so long for the rides that we didn’t get to go on very many.

Waiting over an hour in a queue with two young children? Out of the question. Legoland clearly needs to lower the maximum number of visitors per day by a lot.

Waiting in line for a ride. This is mostly how we spent our expensive day out.

Also, our lunch of three small (no doubt frozen) pizzas (no drinks or sides) cost £42. Yikes.

In terms of value for money, Legoland in a pandemic was definitively NOT worth it. The kids still said they had fun, though, so that is something.

Then there was the matter of “saving” Halloween. The grocery stores have been using ad slogans like “Stick and Treat” and “The Spooktacular Night In” to urge people to still buy Halloween stuff even though they’re not able to do the usual Halloween stuff.

We could still do a lot of the standard Halloween activities: pumpkin carving…

bat biscuit decorating…

mouse hole bewitching

And to our great delight, our mouse hole had quite a few additions by Halloween!

I also banded together with six other mums in E’s class to organize a private trick-or-treat trail for our kids. We had a schedule and a route so we could all hit each other’s houses, which worked out really well.

In addition, a lot of people put out bowls of sweets in front of their houses, so the kids could “grab and go” along the way.

We also stopped at a house of one of R’s nursery classmates, whose parents had set up a pretty stellar sweet chute.

So all in all, the kids had a great Halloween that really wasn’t any less fun than any other year. Success!

And as we were trick-or-treating, the government announced a monthlong lockdown to begin Thursday, and, supposedly, end December 2. The day my mom is supposed to arrive to spend Christmas with us.

But it’s not as strict a lockdown as the one back in the spring. The biggest difference: SCHOOLS ARE STAYING OPEN!!!!!!!!!

I feel so terrible for the small businesses that have to close once again, particularly the services that don’t have a way to operate online, and particularly for the shops that rely on the Christmas shopping season to turn a profit. It’s such a massive failure by the government. A second lockdown was preventable. And they failed to prevent it.

Now everyone has been trying to get things done before midnight tonight, when Cinderella’s glass slipper turns into a regular slipper that doesn’t leave the house for a month. Trips to the shops or just a last-hurrah meal out with friends, people are doing what they want to do before they can’t do it.

On Monday, I spent a fair amount of time running errands and standing in queues. I tried three different post offices before I gave in and joined the long queue stretching down the block at the third one. And I don’t think the post offices are even going to close, since they’re pretty essential.

Yesterday I cycled over the Prince Albert Bridge to the King’s Road in Chelsea, to exchange something and do a bit of early Christmas shopping before the shops close.

Prince Albert Bridge

I love going to the King’s Road. It just feels like something is always happening there.

Christmas lights are up already

Whether it’s the Chelsea Flower Show, or the Christmas light switch-on, or free outdoor yoga, or watching the Wimbledon finals… we’ve enjoyed a lot of events on the King’s Road. It’s always hopping, but not in the overcrowded, overwhelming way of Central London.

And sometimes Jeremy Piven wants directions to the yoga studio. And sometimes you can’t get to your bicycle because it’s been talent scouted while you were shopping and a TV crew is filming it for the “reality” show Made in Chelsea, which is what happened yesterday. You know, normal stuff like that.

My bike is looking for talent representation; please contact it directly

And today, on the eve of lockdown, I enjoyed one last round of tennis followed by coffee with friends, before tomorrow when those simple pleasures are not allowed.

In addition to being the first day of Lockdown2.0, tomorrow is Guy Fawkes Day. Remember, remember the fifth of November… There will be no Bonfire Night fireworks this year. Cadbury Bonfire Logs and some sparklers in the garden will have to suffice.

I just hope we will be waving our sparklers in celebration of a victory in the U.S. presidential election, too.

If You’ve Got It, Haunt It

This past Saturday, London moved into the “Tier 2” category of the three-tier system the government recently introduced in an attempt to simplify COVID-19 restrictions. They’re obviously trying to avoid going into full lockdown mode again, both for the economy’s sake and also because so many people have “quarantine fatigue.”

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Keep Masked and Carry On

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?

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Flying From the U.S. to the U.K. During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Well, we made it back to London. (If you didn’t read my account of flying from the U.K. to the U.S. a few weeks ago, you can read it here.)

dulles

There were definitely more people around, in both the airports and on the plane, on our trip from Dulles to Heathrow than we saw going west in July. I think we saw a lot more people in the Washington Dulles airport this time because we weren’t in an international-flights-only area of the terminal; there were plenty of domestic flights departing from the gates around us. Continue reading

Flying From the U.K. to the U.S. During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Well, we made it back across the pond and to Virginia on Sunday. Deciding whether or not to make the journey back to the States this summer to visit family was probably a harder decision than when we were offered the opportunity to uproot and move to London with a 3-year-old and another baby on the way. More complicated.

Obviously, flying during a pandemic is risky; however, at the current time, the only people allowed to enter the U.S. are U.S. citizens, and Americans entering the U.K. are required by law to quarantine for 14 days, so direct flights between the U.S. and the U.K. are practically empty.

(BTW, I’m looking into donating to a carbon-offset project, because I feel pretty guilty about flying on a nearly-empty plane.)

Non-essential businesses have only just started reopening in London this month, and for the time being, the U.K. has things relatively under control.

Sign: Please no hugs no handshakes during coronavirus season
A local bar’s new outdoor seating on our high street last weekend, which is now closed to vehicles on the weekends

The U.S., clearly, does not. But fortunately the area my in-laws live in is not a big crowded city, and we are pretty much just staying put at their house. We recognized that this could be our only window for the rest of 2020 for flying to America to see our family. And while being locked down and not able to get to each other, we realized just how far away we really are. We decided it was important to go while we have the chance. Continue reading