I vowed always to be honest in my blog and not to pull any punches. Our ‘dream’ lifestyle has many advantages, but it is not always sunshine and rainbows.
Living the Dream in Lockdown has not been too bad, but three weeks in, I did have a little wibble.
We had been coping well. Mark made it back from the UK to Italy after delivering The Beast the day before the entire country went into lockdown. We were lucky; we went into isolation with our little family intact. Had it not been forced upon us, we both said that we would actively choose to be in Monte Rosa without the crowds, but of course, there is the mental hurdle of knowing that you can’t leave, even if you want to. Even paradise can be a prison. After four months in one place, we had both been ready to move on.
The ski lifts had closed before lockdown. Initially, we thought that skinning up into the mountains to ski might be fun, since we had the entire resort to ourselves. Then, we thought, “Italy’s hospitals are full and her emergency services overwhelmed. The last thing they need are a couple of numpties like us injuring ourselves skiing – and if we did, they might not come and rescue us…”
We needed to take care. At 1800m in a deserted village in the Alps, we’re a long way from help.
Since we are not permitted to leave the village, we just settled down to enjoy the scenery and walk the dogs locally. To go to the next-but-one village to buy food requires us to fill in a form to hand in at a police checkpoint – and only one of us is allowed in the car.
In our new quest to avoid injury, we refrained from being too adventurous. Yet, after a fortnight, when it became the limits of our world under full lockdown, even walking the dogs around the garden became a hazard. As the snow began to melt, Mark almost stepped on an eighteen-inch viper, out sunning itself in the warming spring sunshine. Thank goodness it was not one of the dogs.
Serpents are not the only hazard. Falling through melting snow, I ended up waist deep in a rock crevice and Mark got a bootie in an uncovered drain. Usually, we would have laughed heartily at such slapstick misfortunes, but in the circumstances, our reaction was sober relief that neither of us had twisted an ankle or broken a bone.
We stopped using the lift in the apartment block for the same reason. If we got stuck, who knows if or when help might arrive? Although at least the stairs provide some much-needed exercise!
Trouble Comes in Threes!
They say that trouble comes in threes. Nothing happens when you have free access to medical care, but the day after lockdown, I lost a filling. Ironically, it was liberated by the dental floss reported to Amazon as missing in action. It finally arrived from China, three months late, just as we went into lockdown. I was suspicious and almost prodded it into quarantine with a stick, but apparently, it is fine to open a package from China without a full isolation suit!
I can’t even remember when I last broke a filling, although I vividly remember the number of noughts on the dental bill – and have not eaten caramel since. A chocolate covered toffee bar, which cost 20p, pulled out the filling, which went on to break two crowns when I crunched down on it. As they say, trouble comes in threes!
On this occasion, our number two came when Mark opened a jar of peppercorns and was hit in the eye by a shard of flying plastic. Unable to open his eye for 24 hours, he was forced to wear a blindfold. Then, the following morning, Kai nearly broke his leg. He jumped off a bench with his leg caught between the slats. The nearest doctor, dentist and vet are all an hour away at the bottom of the mountain. Thankfully, everyone made a full recovery – apart from me. I decided just to live with my my broken tooth until my freedoms are restored and I can see Phil McCavity.
While out with the dogs one day, we met an exceedingly unpleasant chap, who snapped at us,
“You should not be here! Aosta valley is closed!”
He obviously thought we were tourists, who had ignored quarantine to come up the valley for a jaunt. We couldn’t fathom how he thought we got past the police checkpoints.
“We live here!” we replied loftily. Then his obnoxious, little dog snapped and bit Lampo, our friendly, Italian neighbour, who accompanies The Fab Four on our daily passegiata.
“I bet he calls the police and dobs us in!” I joked.
It was rather coincidental that, on our way back, the Community Police patrol accosted us.
Run-ins Come in Threes
We had already had a run-in with the law when The Italian Jobsworth made us move our caravan from the unused and deserted car park.
A very nice policewoman wound down her window. She immediately addressed us in English, which strengthened our suspicion that Mr Obnoxious was a squealer. Her companion in the car was our friend, The Italian Jobsworth.
She told us that dogs should be on leads in the village, even though the resident dogs all wander free. (The Fab Four are usually on leads in the village – but we hadn’t bothered since there was no-one around!) She said that we could now no longer walk the dogs, other than to take them out for calls of nature in the immediate vicinity of our apartment. We pointed out that the village is all but deserted, but she said the rules must apply to everyone, which is fair enough.
We asked if we could go down the mountain to the Conad supermarket, an hour away in Pont St Martin. We told her we had enough food for now, but had planned to go the following week.
“You can go, but don’t leave it until tomorrow or next week.”
It looked like the lockdown might become more severe; she suggested that it might extend beyond the deadline April 3rd. With sinking hearts, we returned to the apartment and lamented our situation. Having the freedom to walk in our beautiful surroundings had been the one saving grace of being stuck. Now, we were confined to barracks.
We dispatched Mark to Conad immediately and he returned with everything – even a beautiful tray of fresh strawberries. Northern Italy has avoided the panic buying seen elsewhere, which means there is plenty for everyone.
Run-in Number Three came a few days later, when our internet ran out. Unsure that ‘essential movement’ included topping up our PAYG data, Mark filled out his form on the pretext of some comestibles forgotten on the supermarket run. He nipped two villages down the hairpins to Gressoney St Jean. Thankfully, our friend, The Italian Jobsworth, only accosted him on the way back, by which time the bird i.e. the topped-up SIM card, was already in hand. Our internet and Netflix would remain uninterrupted, although we were now told,
“You can’t go to St Jean. You can only go as far as Gressoney la Trinité.”
Whaaat? That would give us no chance! The Post Office in Trinité, the next village, adheres most doggedly to the caprice of Italian opening hours. I have slogged into the town square in ski boots to buy stamps for my postcards and I can assure you that, even under normal circumstances, whatever it says on the sign, it is always closed!
Keeping Ourselves Busy
The following day, Mark uttered the words that I never wanted to hear,
“I’ve tidied up the bathroom cabinet.”
My heart sank. I wouldn’t be able to find anything for months.
With Mark, the process of cupboard rearrangement is ongoing, but definitely worsens when he is at a loose end. It keeps me occupied. You see, although we have very few possessions, I can never find any of them; particularly if I seek them out exactly where I put them!
Hunting for my belongings takes up lots of time, but in the spirit of Tales of Travels Past and Future, I got down to transcribing my old travel journals and started to learn Russian.
“Why Russian?” you might ask.
Well, when this is all over, we plan to head east.
Did you know that a knowledge of Russian enables you to communicate in Belarus, Ukraine, The Stans, (Uzbeki-, Kyrgyz-, Kazakh-, Tajiki- and Turkmeni-) as well as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Israel?
That’s because Russian is the eighth most spoken language in the world. It is a popular second language in much of Eastern Europe and is also related closely enough to the Slavic languages to grant a basic understanding. Not only that, few Russians speak English – and most signage in Russia is written in Cyrillic. Thus, if I want to navigate to St Petersburg AND fulfil my ambition to be an astronaut…
So, Russian looked like a good option, especially since our lives follow the well-known Russian proverb; ‘Лучше один раз увидеть, чем сто раз услышать.’
And finally, since we now couldn’t walk anywhere, Mark and I decided to cripple ourselves. We partook of a home exercise class and couldn’t move for two days. I worried that it was because we are getting old, but Mark assured me that the pain was always the same whenever we started with a new fitness routine. In every sense, our freedom of movement was now scuppered!
What’s that? You want me to translate the Russian proverb?
‘It is better to see once than to hear a hundred times.’
Which helps to make the point about how useful it will be to be able to decipher the Cyrillic alphabet on road signs when travelling!
The Folks Back Home
My 85-year-old Dad refused to let my brother or I to do his shopping online because, “I like to do it myself and I’m only in the supermarket for twenty minutes.”
Mark’s brother, in recovery from leukaemia, ignored our pleas to stop taking the ferry and train every week to see a friend.
Mark’s 90-year-old aunt and uncle, who live with their son, dismissed our concerns about him commuting daily to London, the UK’s Coronavirus hotspot.
What can you do? It seems that everyone in the UK is panicking – except those who should be.
The Revenge of the Domestic Appliances
Our rented apartment definitely has its quirks – the lovely, hessian wallpaper for one. Regarding more practical aspects, with no-one else in residence, the tap water is a fine shade of brown and the hot water, heated communally, takes so long to come through that we normally only run it for a shower. We carry out our ablutions in cold water and are accustomed to heating pans of water on the hob to wash up.
The fridge timed its rebellion perfectly. The built-in, undercounter appliance is woefully inadequate to cope with fortnightly supermarket sweeps to the bottom of the mountain. The freezer compartment is the size of a postbox and permanently frosted up, because the door closure is broken. We have developed innovative solutions; Big Blue, our van, holed up in the underground parking, remains cool enough to provide extra chilled storage capacity for fresh veg.
To coincide with lockdown, the fridge stopped keeping temperature. No matter which way I turned the thermostat, it made no difference. I was shocked when I pulled out a salami for lunch and it actually felt hot. All our fresh milk went off, along with two trays of meat. We needed to do something; throwing away food goes against the grain at the best of times, never mind when supplies are short – and food poisoning was definitely contrary to our self-preservation agenda!
The solution turned out to be simple. The built-in fridge is not secured to anything, so ramming in supplies had pushed the body of the fridge backwards. In a curious departure from conventional design, the fridge door is not attached to the fridge; it is a cupboard door. So, without its door, as the fridge worked hard to cool its contents, hot air from the heat exchangers at the rear of the fridge circulated into the interior of the fridge and warmed it up. Then the fridge had to work harder to to cool itself, so the heat exchangers created more hot air, which circulated into the interior of the fridge – and so on. Our fridge had transformed itself into an incubator!
This would have been fine had we wanted to start raising broods of baby pheasants from the egg, but was useless in the quest to keep our precious supplies of food fresh.
Once we pulled body of the fridge forward to meet its door, it solved the problem – and we found that duct-taping the freezer door shut stopped it from icing up. We are now returned to the acceptable, if eccentric, status quo whereby the fridge simply freezes everything placed at the back, no matter how you set the thermostat. Which is fine for Brussels sprouts and pancetta.
But the spoiled food threw out our carefully calibrated supplies. We were down to our last dregs of palatable milk and unable to go shopping, due to a three-day blizzard raging outside. Imagine the joy when we discovered four forgotten litres of UHT tucked away in a cupboard that Mark had not rearranges!
The UK Goes Into Lockdown
24th March 2020, the UK finally went into lockdown. I got a text from the Government, which was nice. It said I could go out once per day for exercise. I wish!
The bin store is slightly off the premises, so now, a trip to take out the rubbish is an exciting excursion for us. One day, we even kept back the recycling so that we got two trips to the bins; what a day that was!
I saw a meme circulating on Facebook; “If landlords get a mortgage holiday, tenants should get a rental holiday. Share if you agree!”
The usual black-and-white-simplistic-soundbite-filled-with-a-lack-of-facts. I wondered why did it not mention words such as, ‘landlords’ insurance & maintenance charges’, ‘continued accrual of loan interest’ or ‘increased mortgage payments after the ‘holiday’’.
UK lockdown had barely started before two of our tenants made the call. Our letting agent told us cheerily that they had been ‘furloughed’ – a new word, which denotes that the Government will pay 80% of their salary while they are quarantined. He also told us that we were the only landlords in his portfolio whose tenants had asked for a rental holiday. Lucky us!
“But the rent they pay is our only source of income,” we explained. “We still have our own rent and bills to pay – and there is no Government help for landlords if they lose their income,” – a couple more of those facts missing from the Facebook meme.
“We’re having two roofs replaced and we’ve just had the fire. We still have to pay for all that!” we pleaded. And we couldn’t get it out of our mind that the tenants might just be taking advantage of the situation.
It is a popular myth that landlords are all evil millionaires, whose sole objective in life is to exploit their tenants. We live in a caravan and have achieved financial independence by going without.
Banks! They are the ones with lots of money! Isn’t that where people go if they are a bit short? Making immediate demands that a complete stranger, whose property you happen to live in, gives up 100% of their income for an indefinite period as an unsecured, interest-free loan to bail you out of your financial commitments while they continue to pick up bills and accrue debts on your behalf is a completely new one on me.
But these are extraordinary times. We’re not monsters! So we agreed to live on fresh air for a month until their Government money came through, although ultimately, our tenants did surprise us by doing the decent thing. They advised us that they would meet their financial obligations, to which they had commited themselves voluntarily, in a much more traditional way – via The Bank Of Mum And Dad.
I weathered all of that, but as the UK went into lockdown, BBC News put out a call for UK nationals to go home. Three weeks into isolation; a week into complete confinement in the house; it was that which finally tipped me.
Returning home is absolutely not an option for us. ‘Returning to the area you are normally resident’ is no longer an option on the fifth version of the form that we need to fill in to go outside. All passenger services on ferries are suspended and while Eurotunnel might be a possibility, all campsites in the UK and Europe are closed indefinitely. As caravan nomads, we literally have nowhere to go.
It got to me!
And to paraphrase the inimitable words of the film Airplane, “I guess we picked the wrong time to give up antidepressants…!”
It is only by being open that the taboos around mental health will be broken, and since one in four of us will suffer from mental health issues at some time in our lives, I have made no secret of the fact that Mark and I suffer from depression. We resisted medication initially, but finally accepted its role in our recovery. However, pride and the undesirable side effects have long been a strong motivation to stop.
Now, our crusade to quit has become more urgent by the discovery that our medication is illegal in some of the countries to which we plan to travel. We reduced our dosages gradually over many months and have now stopped completely. It has not been easy and I have no wish to go back to square one; either deteriorating mentally or by re-starting medication.
So, I needed to address the wibble.
The Solution – A Facebook Management Strategy & People Helping People
Crises bring out the best and the worst in people and Coronavirus is no exception.
Some of my own advice on surviving Coronavirus, doled out in this very blog, has been to limit exposure to news and Social Media. I am fundamentally an optimist and, in my communications, I have tried to be level about the Coronavirus pandemic. My aim is simply to counter the hysteria and misinformation with facts, but such a stance is not popular. People do love to be caught up in a drama, so I received abuse. I was also subjected to the generous assertion that I had no business having a wibble, because there are people who are worse off. This really didn’t help the wibble.
There are always people worse off, but it is unkind and unfair to dismiss anyone’s feelings or concerns as invalid as a result. We all have our own battles to fight and however trivial they seem to others, they are very real to us.
I don’t cope well with such issues, so I self-isolated from Facebook.
I am lucky enough to have some true friends, so amid the noise and bluster of Social Media, I received some lovely messages from kind people. Locked down in a village with fewer than six residents, 1000 miles from home, Facebook is my only social contact with the outside world. So, after a brief isolation, I made the decision to re-connect, but in a limited way. I immediately deleted all the negative people, stopped scrolling through the depressing news feed and now, just communicate directly with those who enrich my life.
I post nothing controversial, don’t comment on misinformation and immediately delete negative comments on my feed. I have found it amazing how some people still find ways to hijack my ‘happy’ posts with negativity! Part of the stress of the pandemic the feeling that it is all beyond our control; it felt good to regain some mastery.
Then, when I wandered into The Motoroamers’ Chatroom, I felt like I had walked into The Garden of Eden.
I found a kind, supportive community, which has even started a database of land for full-timers like ourselves who have nowhere to go.
Going anywhere is not possible at the moment, but it is a comfort to know that if we are forced to move, at least we have options!
So, my descent into the indulgent abyss of Self Pity was mercifully short and I have emerged happy once again, my perspective renewed and enduringly grateful that my situation is not worse. Although we are in a deserted village and can’t go out, we have everything we need and with zero Coronavirus cases in the wider community, we are as safe here as anywhere.
Lockdown has now been extended until Easter, but is likely to continue beyond that. We have plans ready and waiting for when the restrictions lift, but until then, we remain sanguine about being stuck. Since a number of my UK friends said they were struggling after a week in lockdown – and in the UK you can still go out once per day to exercise – I think we’re doing quite well.
The real blessing is that The Fab Four have no idea what is going on in the world. Every day is just a normal day, except that we’re not walking as far as usual; so we play ball or chase or dig for marmots. Having a puppy to cuddle always makes me feel better.
In lockdown, I have learned to take charge of the elements in my control; try not to worry about things beyond my control, such as relatives who won’t self-isolate and appreciate the many good things in my life.
And if that fails, there is always wine!
We wish you all the best for Easter.
If you are in lockdown and suffering from anxiety, please be assured that it is quite normal in these extraordinary circumstances – and you are most certainly not alone. Please do reach out for help. The following UK charities have specific Coronavirus support on their websites.
- Mind has a comprehensive range of information and support on its website, from managing anxiety to easing financial stress, so click here to access the resources.
- The Mental Health Foundation also has plenty of helpful information and links to a helpline.
- The Samaritans offer practical ways to help you cope on the website and a listening ear 24-hours per day, 365-days per year.
- The Money Advice Service has a guide to financial benefits available during the pandemic.
If you are looking for things to keep you occupied, check out my blogs;
- 10 Tips to Make Covid-19 Isolation SPLENDID! – since we’ve been in lockdown longer than most, we offer a few ideas on how to keep yourself occupied.
- “Do More, Feel Better” – Why Not Learn A Language? – improve as you isolate. It is PROVEN to keep your brain healthy & I guarantee it will enhance your travels!
- Stuck at Home and Running Out of Ideas? 5 More Things To Do in Lockdown
And if you want some humour and a vicarious travel fix, there are always my books…