Like millions of others around the world, Gulf News Foreign Correspondent Mick O’Reilly is currently under Covid-19 lockdown. This is what life is like in social isolation in Ireland, where there are strict rules about who is allowed out, where, and under limited circumstances.
11 days, 5 hours and 18 minutes
Wednesday 1 April, 9am
Who would have thought that just a month ago, the phrase “flattening the curve” would have become so commonplace. When they come to put together the work of the year at the end of 2020 – it can’t come soon enough, can it? – then “flattening the curve” should be high on that list.
So too “social distancing”. Yet in nations that are under lockdown or under restrictions of movement, practising social distancing can now be a matter of life or death for others.
Here in Ireland, people are allowed out to shop, to exercise for an hour a day as long as it is alone and done within 2 kilometres of your place of residence, or you’re going to a medical appointment or work in a job sector deemed essential to the economy.
We all can flatten the curve
The supplies in my house are running low. I tried to make them last for as long as possible but the time had come to replenish as best I could.
I decided to walk to my local store, killing both the exercise regulation and the shopping one at once.
It’s a bizarre and surreal experience – must like life now. Isn’t it amazing how quickly the world as we knew it has changed so much?
The supermarket has cones outside the front car park, carefully cordoning entry and exit lines. There are little ‘X’s painted on the footpath, each two metres apart.
You queue up to go in, keeping your social distance from the next in line. And only two are allowed in the store at any one time. One comes out, one goes in.
What strikes me is that everyone is remarkably good humoured about this process. There is nothing else to do. We are all playing our part. We are in this together. Prevent the spread of the virus depends on us. Acting together, we all can flatten the curve. It is that simple.
When it’s your turn to go in, you must sanitise your hands in handgel. And if you’re going to use a shopping basket, you must wipe the handles and the surface with antibacterial wipes and dispose of them in a designated bin. And you must keep your distance from the other shopper in the store.
I was looking for lemons. There were none. I was hoping to pick up fresh fish. There was none. I was looking for some fresh green vegetables such as celery or cabbage. There was none.
The shelves had lots of staples, lots of chicken and meats, frozen and packaged foods, household goods and what not.
I was reminded about stories my mother, God rest her soul, would tell of growing up in Ireland during the Second World War, when most food was rationed. No, we are not at that stage and it won’t come to that. So not being able to find a lemon is nothing to gripe over. If that is the worst of my privations in this war on this coronavirus, then that’s an easy burden to carry.
When you come to pay, shoppers are asked to use contactless payments such as your bank card of phone – cash is frowned upon lest it carry germs. Who would ever have thought there would come a day when cash would no longer be king.
My essential viewing
There’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist out there called Anthony Doerr who penned a novel called 'All the Light I Cannot See' that makes for a riveting read.
It’s set in the closing days of the Second World War in Saint-Malo and is the confluence of a series of events that take place beginning with the Nazi Occupation of France in the summer of 1940. The writing style is tense but flows with a beauty that is irresistible. I finished it off in two days, admittedly they were spend by a swimming pool two weeks ago. It was a book I had attempted to read several times but never had the time. Now that things are moving at a slower pace, try it for yourself. I’m sure you can pick it up as an e-book.
It took Doerr a decades to write it.
Last night I forwent watching Netflix and tuned in instead to Irish television and its current affairs special on the coronavirus. I have to admit that there was a long WhatsApp video clip from a 58-year-old women who has heart problems and has contracted coronavirus.
She makes a guttural heartfelt plea for everyone to take the lockdowns and social distancing measures to heart. Her life – and the lives of so many other vulnerable people – depends on our actions. It did bring a tear to my eye as she said how she dreaded being moved into an ICU unit.
Statistically, slightly less than 50 per cent of those who enter an ICU with Covid 19 don’t make it through. She’s a mother and grandmother who now fears not being able to say goodbye to her family face-to-face because she’s naturally in strict isolation and her condition is deteriorating.
If you are a person who believes in the power of prayer, then now might be a good time to do so.
I pray to God she makes it – and all others too.
It also reminded me this morning of a piece I wrote about 15 months ago on the Spanish Flu pandemic that struck in the dying days of the First World War.
Given all that has happened, the piece is certainly interesting.
The good news
After that, don’t you need some good news?
Good news today comes courtesy of my former colleague at Gulf News, Derek Baldwin. He’s back in Canada now and working as News Editor at the Intelligencer newspaper in Belleville, Ontario – about one-third of the way between Toronto and Montreal along Lake Ontario.
This is his story, and it is a tear-jerker in a nice way:
Brighton resident Scott Anderson, 84, didn’t let a COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing hospital visitor restrictions keep him from professing his undying love to his hospitalized wife, Mary, 80, on their 63rd anniversary Sunday.
Unable to visit Alzheimer’s patient Mary in the Charlotte Sills Wing at Belleville General Hospital, Anderson – a transplanted Scottish-Canadian fiercely proud of his heritage – ended up with alternate anniversary plans when the hospital stopped all visitation due to the novel coronavirus threat in mid-March.
And so it went that around 11 a.m. the skirl of the Scottish bagpipes rang out in the BGH parking lot through a drenching drizzle as Anderson clutched a bouquet of flowers and blew exaggerated kisses upwards to his wife on a lonely hospital balcony.
His affections were returned by Mary with a warm wave from her Shakespearean perch high above where she stood wrapped tightly in an Anderson tartan flanked by hospital staff.
Bagpipers Sean Cleaton and James Wessel of the Air Force City Pipe Band in Quinte West didn’t miss a note to the drone of the pipes as they performed “Scotland the Brave” drawing other patients to a large window inside the hospital wing to witness the impromptu musical love-in.
Described as an inseparable couple rarely apart until this month’s visitor restrictions, Anderson said it’s been difficult not seeing his wife up close and personal for nearly two weeks.
“I love her madly and I miss her terribly,” lamented Anderson, adding he had been coming to see his Mary every day at the hospital for the past 15 months to help her pass the days.
“I’ve been coming every day to see her for more than a year. I’ve been coming every morning and helping feed her lunch,” Anderson told The Intelligencer from the parking area fronting the Sills Wing. “It’s a terrible, terrible thing.”
The upside Sunday was a sun blanked by heavy cloud and steady precipitation raining down on the Romeo-and-Juliesque encounter which lent an air of Scottish authenticity given his home country’s proclivity for the dourest of downpours.
“This was great. The weather is typical Scottish weather with this pouring rain,” he said in the parking lot. “Everybody wonders why Scotland and Ireland are so green, I never knew what a sprinkle was until I moved to Canada.”
Sunday’s anniversary spent in a parking lot seemed a lifetime away for Anderson who first met the lass of his life at a costume party where he sported a pirate’s get-up, she a Hula girl’s apparel.
On their first date before their March 29, 1957 wedding, the couple danced the night away in the Locarno Dance Hall in Glasgow never suspecting six decades later they would have three children, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
They moved later that year to Canada when Anderson joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and afterward pursued a lucrative trade in antiques restoration before retiring to their present home overlooking Presqu’ile Bay in Brighton.
The couple are well known in Quinte West as former owners of the Carrying Place Flea Market and their daughter Audra Anderson is a business personality and former international model who sold her modelling agency in Belleville last fall.
Audra was visibly moved Sunday by the emotions of her parents’ anniversary reunion of sorts which she organized to the surprise of her father, including the ordering a large anniversary cake that was taken to her mother to enjoy in the hospital.
She thanked BGH “nurses and PSWs” caring for her mother and said the essential services they are providing during the pandemic have been exemplary, including making Sunday’s social distancing anniversary reunion possible.
“This is one way I thought we could make it special. Obviously, they are very proud of their Scottish heritage. They love music, they love dancing,” Audra said.
Meme of the day
This meme was sent to me via WhatsApp by my next door neighbour in Spain. I have no idea what he’s going to one the lockdown is over. He’s been sending about 15 or 20 memes and videos a day – and not all are in good taste. This one passes.
The lockdown diet
Day 3 of Dr Joshi’s Holistic Detox: “21 days to a healthier slimmer you – for life.”
Three days in and at last the hankering for a coffee first thing in the morning has worn off. I’m getting used to the green tea. Again, breakfast was the usual fixture of a half-bowl of oat porridge heated, served with a half-banana, honey, cinnamon and a dash of almond milk. There’s little or no dairy on this detox.
I had some cooked roasted chicken in the fridge and one of the recipes in the book is for a chicken salad sandwich – not on bread but rice crackers instead. And that meant I had to make my one mayonnaise. I don’t know it you’ve ever tried it, but making mayonnaise is quite difficult. Four egg yolks, lemon juice and quarter cup of olive oil drizzled into the food processor very slowly. And salt and pepper. Nyayyah. It wasn’t a great success but add in the chicken and some fresh spinach on top of the rice crackers – I didn’t starve.
Supper was a chicken curry – I know, there’s lot of chicken, which is why I was looking for fresh fish for some variety when I went shopping – made from two chicken thighs coriander, cumin, turmeric, chicken stock, diced courgettes, almond slivers and some fresh coriander to garnish, served with a white basmati pilaf rice with shallots, garlic and ginger. Yes, tasty, and there’s enough there for tomorrow’s supper too.
The stock shock
Here’s the plan: As part of this exercise in being socially isolated, I am pretending to play the stock market. I’m pretending that I started out with £10,000 (Dhs 45000) and seeing if I can turn this into a profit at a time when indices around the world have been on a rollercoaster ride that rolled back the gains since the great financial crash of a decade ago.
The rules are simple. I won’t be calculating in brokerage fees and the deals can only be done when the market is shut. So, I’ll buy at the close of one, sell or not at the close of another. It will be interesting to see how my play portfolio ends up at the end of this lockdown in less than 11 days’ time.
For simplicity’s sake, I’ll be using those public traded on the FTSE500 – the London stock exchange (https://www.londonstockexchange.com/exchange/prices-and-markets/stocks/indices/constituents-indices.html).
If you’ve been following me for the past couple of days, you’ll know that I’ve held onto 3,000 shares in Tesco – one of the UK’s big food chains. My reasoning is that people are spending a lot of time locked in at home. They’re shopping online. They’re buying food. They’re stockpiling. Grocery stores would be a good buy.
I bought 3,000 shares, costing me £6978.00.
On Monday, the stock moved upwards, ever so slightly, touching 234p at one stage during the day. It closed at 232.72, up fractionally. My 3,000 shares were then worth £6,981.60 – a gain of £3.60 on Monday.
I decided to hold on to these for one more day.
Maybe that’s not such a wise idea – they finished at 229.76p on the day. That means that £6,981.60 yesterday is now £6,892.80, a loss of £88.80, or down £85.20 on the initial investment.
But I want to hold these for one more day – and here’s why. There’s a news report that says that Britons made nearly 80 million extra grocery shopping trip in March, spending almost £2 billion more on food and drink than in 2019 as they rushed to stockpile amid coronavirus fears.
I am inclined to hold these until the close of business tomorrow so that the effects of this report filters through. Fingers crossed.
I cashed in 1,500 shares in another high street retailer, Morrisons, and bought 75 shares of Unilever – another food processor and make of health and homecare products. Those shares were expensive, at 3997.50p (£39.975) each. I could only afford 75 – costing me £2998.13. So how did they do?
They closed up at 4016p – worth £3012.00. That’s a profit of £13.87. I think I’ll keep these for one more day, and make a decision on everything tomorrow.
This is how my portfolio stands:
TODAY’S NET WORTH: £9,960.32
Tesco: 3000 shares, £6892.80
Unilever: 75 shares, £3012.00
Cash on hand: £55.52
% Loss: -0.04%
£ Loss: £39.68
The idiots on social media
A post been shared on Facebook more than 2,000 times claiming that onions can be used to “catch the cold & flu germs” and stave off Covid-19.
Apparently inspired by a practice in China, the claim is not true.
Onions are neither effective ways to prevent the coronavirus entering your home nor do they catch cold and flu germs
And if you think they do, you’re likely the sort who will ignore conventional thinking and instructions and wonder around without a care in the world. Enough said.
Questions and answers
I’m not an expert, but I might be able to help you make a bit of sense of this. And we can all get through it together. Isn’t this what this is all about.
Send your questions for me to Readers@gulfnews.com.
That’s it for now. Let’s check in with each other tomorrow. And stay safe.
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe