16 March, Spittal, Northumberland, UK

By Margaret McPhail

Spittal, the place where I started off on holiday and am now in social isolation with my partner Maggie, is a good place for this sort of situation. We have a flat overlooking the promenade, the North Sea, the mouth of the Tweed and, beyond that, the historic market town of Berwick upon Tweed, so the views and opportunities for people watching are good. Plus we can go out for our permitted (at the moment) exercise and easily avoid close contact with other older people and young mums with little ones. Greetings and comments can be exchanged at a safe distance and currently everyone seems positive.

But yesterday, when we were only ‘social distancing’, seems a long way away.

We drove to Berwick parked and set off on a walk round the ramparts, the day was bright and windy, but warm in sheltered spots.  Even so, there were not many people around and we were pretty much alone amidst all the history which surrounded us. We deviated from the route we’ve done before and, seeing the lighthouse at the end of the pier, we found a path under the ramparts and set off to see if there was a way through to it. We got sidetracked by a sheltered garden where we enjoyed the warmth from the sun and the views out to sea – lovely!

As we went on we met an American woman of a similar age to us, walking her dog, she kept a suitable distance and stopped to chat. She explained to us how to get to the pier and our talk moved on to ‘what will we do when we’re asked to socially isolate’, which at that point barely 24 hours ago we all thought would be coming in weeks. She intended to keep walking her dog and had agreed with friends they would meet up in the area we were in, spread blankets or bring chairs, keeping a suitable distance, and enjoy each other’s company from time to time accompanied by a glass of wine. Personally, she wanted to learn things, maybe backgammon or bridge? I mentioned Future Learn as a valuable resource for those like us who have curious minds and the time to spare as well as Professional Development Courses for those still in work.

When we got home, via Marks and Spencer’s for fresh food, we stumbled upon a press conference (at last!) from our Prime Minister and his medical and scientific advisors and the mood changed. We were been asked to self-isolate immediately.  On Sunday it was ‘2-3 weeks away’ on Monday it was – NOW. Quite staggering, really, in many ways.

We have each other and daughters who will support us, we will have different days to those we expected, we can Skype friends, learn things, keep a diary. No one knows how long this will be for.

The walk on the pier? We haven’t got there – yet!