Greetings from Scotland, where I am a house guest of Lynn and Richard’s. Lynn, my friend with whom I have traveled in Japan, Italy, Prague, Colombia, Berlin, and road trips across the UK and US.
I weighed the pros and cons of relocating from Oxford to Scotland carefully. I would get a ride with a friend who has homes in both locations. He drives back and forth once a month anyway. But would I be violating the law? The guidelines for the UK lockdown are pretty unambiguous: Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives. Don’t leave home except for exercise, to shop for food or medicine, or to work if you can’t work from home.
Would going be irresponsible and selfish? The Scottish chief medical officer had just resigned in shame for not observing her own advice; she’d been driving back and forth between to her two homes.
Sure, the chances of my giving the virus to, or catching it from, anyone as a result of the nine-hour drive across the length of the country were slim. But could my friend expose me to the virus, or vice versa, during a whole day in a vehicle together? Could one of us pick it up from the petrol station pump or the bathroom door handle in the rest stop?
Was I in denial? Did I just want to go because I wanted to go?
In the end, I reasoned this way: In Oxford, I had to go shopping almost every day in order to keep enough food on hand. I couldn’t order home delivery because I don’t have a UK bank account. I didn’t have a car so I couldn’t do a bulk shop—I could only buy as much as I could carry four blocks, which was where the closest store was. In Oxford, the stores are tiny and cramped. There were employees at the doors allowing only one person in for every one who exited, and the floors were marked to keep people two metres apart, but there were plenty of people who ignored these measures. It made me nervous.
Here in the highlands, I can Stay at Home for a month. There are deliveries by a bread man, a milk man, and a fish man, although the latter didn’t show yesterday. Lynn can order meats and other basic products from the local butcher, pay online, then stop in front of the butcher shop while they load her order into the back of her vehicle. For everything else there is an enormous Tesco where it is easier to observe the six-metre rule.
The house has two water supplies, one of which is dedicated to the house. There’s a massive garden where a profusion of vegetables are growing. The river can be fished for salmon and trout. Richard has enough wood and peat stored up to keep the house’s dozen fireplaces roaring for months. Richard hunts deer and game birds. The guns will come in handy when the zombies try to come up the drive.
I hope that’s still funny a month from now.
The UK has extended its lockdown for at least another three weeks. How do you pass the days in a country house? Some days I feel like I’m in a dream where I’m trying to run through thigh-high pudding.
But mostly, the days fly by. I used to get up early—6:30, say. Today I slept until 8:00. I used to snarf my breakfast down. Now, with people to talk to, we might spend an hour chatting away over coffee. I’m still doing my remote work and have seen funding opportunities shift from malaria control and water sanitation and human rights training to COVID, COVID, COVID. I wonder how far it will go. Will there eventually be no funding for anything but COVID?
I go for walks in the hills.
I have been assigned a project—to scrape and re-paint a wrought iron set of outdoor furniture. I take yoga classes on Zoom. I spend hours talking to friends.
I proposed a creative activity of making plague masks out of papier Mache. I think Lynn and Richard thought I was joking.
And now, some delightful daffodils. Hang in there!