Liz Pert-Davies would normally live in St Andrews, Fife and work at the University of St Andrews as a Senior School Administrator. However, in Covid times, she is working remotely from her holiday lodge in Northumberland. This is her written story.
I left my home in Fife in March for a week’s leave at my holiday lodge in Northumberland. Little did I know that I would still be here several months later. The lockdown came just as I was about to return and, at the time, it made more sense to stay put. The University where I work had told staff not to go into work, but to work from home. I had brought my work computer with me and other things I needed. Now I do my work remotely and I meet with colleagues and students via Microsoft Teams.
I’ve been inside for two weeks safe in a gated community. But, inevitably I’ve had to fearlessly cross the barrier and re-join the ordinary world. I say ‘ordinary world’ but what is that anymore? There’s no traffic on the country roads. The hedges have gone wild and rampant. I see a pheasant standing in the road ahead. He’s as surprised to see me as me of him. Our eyes meet as I get closer. He’s daring me not to slow down, but I do. His expression shows he’s wondering what I’m doing there. Am I the first car that’s gone down this road today? Slowly he saunters off to the verge, not in any particular hurry.
The country road ends when I approach the junction with the A1. I pull up at the junction first looking to the right and then to the left. The road is straight on both sides and there is nothing in sight for as far as I can see – it’s empty. No lorries, cars, motorcycles, tractors, nothing. I’ve never experienced this before. There’s a strange peace and isolation to this picture. I feel out of place, alone. The road is completely mine. I feel like a trespasser. Should I really be here?
I recognise the landscape – I can see Bamburgh Castle standing tall in the distance. So much is unchanged and yet……. A couple miles later I turn left off the A1 into the village of Belford. Cars are parked in the main street, quietly sleeping and resting, whilst the pavements are devoid of human presence. A short while later I reach the Co-op and park up outside in one of the designated spaces. I prepare myself, putting latex gloves and facemask on before getting out of the car. There are a few people going in and out of the store. A green and red light system lets you know when you’re allowed to go into the store. Once the maximum safe number of people are inside the red light stops anyone else entering. The green light is on, so I take a trolley and spray the handle and my latex gloves with the provided disinfectant. Once in the store I instantly see guidance stickers on the floor. There’s a strip of tape every two metres making little ‘boxes’ to enforce social distancing between people. Other floor stickers signal a one-way system. Shoppers have to be vigilant not to pass a product they want because there’s no way to double back.
As I walk around list in hand, I see there are many empty spaces on shelves and in one case a whole section empty – the toilet roll section. Milk is rationed to two pints per customer and flour, baking powder and eggs are sold out. The scene reminds me of a movie I saw years ago when the apocalypse had struck, people had turned feral and were going about armed ready to shoot anyone at any time. The film resonates in my mind as I stand in the empty aisle. Who will I see in the next aisle? Will they be armed? Will I be told off for not being in the correct place? My imagination starts to run wild as I feel anxiety rise in my throat. My face mask feels as though it’s suffocating me, my breathing increases, my heart beats faster. It’s so hot and stuffy. I feel faint, feel myself rocking on my feet and grab the trolley tight to steady myself as I close my eyes and count to ten controlling my breathing. The overwhelming feeling is panic.
I get to the checkout as fast as I can and keep focusing on walking out the door and getting into my car – my safe space. Shopping paid for and packed, I keep my head down and go straight to the exit. I walk quickly past the queue of people waiting patiently for their turn and a kind gentleman comes over and offers to put my bags in the car – a godsend. This means I can get away quicker. I thank him and then get safely into my car, the sense of relief is enormous. Taking my gloves and face mask off, I feel as if I’ve walked a tightrope and made it to the other end unscathed. Now, just to get home.