Week 586

Sunday, 15th March, 2020

Half way through March and all is not well with the world. Pandemic is a scary word and it coincides with a year when we have been voraciously booking trips away. We are now, cautiously retracting our reach in the attempt to recoup as much of our financial commitment as we can. Goodness knows how the tourist industry will survive this carnage. 

For many years, I have been observing the precariousness of a country’s GDP relying so heavily on their tourist industry with specific reference to Greece. Stavros always shrugged such views off and believed that it was the eternal gift that kept on giving. Certainly, in spite of lean and fat years, people like him could always expect to make a good living out of it. The apocalyptic events of this year might just give him pause for thought. Italy is in lock-down. Spain is in lock-down, Greece is almost there with cafes and restaurants and bars closed until after the (income generating) Easter period. 

Borders are closing across Europe and we are being told that this extreme position could last until the end of the year. All cruise ships are banned from Greece as are ferries from Italy which bring the largest part of pan-European traffic. Americans are banned from flying to Europe and flights are stopped to and from Spain. The Greek Tourism Federation is warning that Most tourism companies will fold without support. Where will that support come from? Germany is on the brink of recession as it is. Greece can’t afford to save itself. The apocalypse may not only be medical. It may be economic as well.

Much of the current received wisdom is that this virus will be with us until the end of the year and is likely to mutate and revisit next year. Restrictions being put in place at the moment may stay in place for two years. Island businesses are unlikely to stay afloat in those conditions and will retreat to subsistence living.

Luscious Tarragon

On a much more serious note, my tarragon looks as if we haven’t had a Winter season at all. Come to think of it, we haven’t. Last March, it looked like a pile of dry, old sticks. This year it is green, vibrant and ready to flavour my chicken. I may be about to die an untimely death but I will certainly smell delightfully of a hint of aniseed!

Monday, 16th March, 2020

Beautiful day of blue sky and warm sunshine. We have spent it planning our near future in the light of developments. We have cancelled our trips to Yorkshire, France, Tenerife. We still have Athens on the books. It is a bit depressing but necessary. We are going to freeze our Health Club membership for …. 9 months although we can unfreeze it at any time. This is a major change to our way of life.

We have done a good workout by walking in the local area today. Actually, I was shattered after a couple of hours of rigorous effort. This virus pandemic looks likely to last well in to this year and, maybe, in to next. It will certainly curtail our way of life. The only remaining trip we have on the books at the moment is one to Greece and that is currently in serious doubt. The Greeks have seen a large rise in confirmed cases of infection and anyone entering the Country is to be put in two weeks’ quarantine. It makes any sense of a week’s holiday impossible.

Two weeks quarantine for travellers to Greece.

Actually, I’ve found a positive to this virulent lock down. The Metropolitan Opera, New York is in isolation but is committed to providing entertainment for those of us at home. 

Bizet’s Carmen from the Met.

Bizet’s Carmen on Monday, Puccini’s La Boheme on Tuesday, followed by Il Travatore, La Traviata, Lucia de Lammermoor and so on, night after night of free streaming. I am going to be in heaven. I don’t want isolation to stop.

Tuesday, 17th March, 2020

Is it only Tuesday? It’s seemed such a long week already. Today has been spent disentangling ourselves from commitments over the year. We’ve already received reimbursements from 2  hotels. We’ve cancelled one other in Tenerife. We are hoping a Greek one can be held on to for late in the summer. We have been to the Health Club and suspended our membership for 9 months. It has really hurt us to do it but we can go back at any time. When we went in today to sign the suspension forms, we found the carpark nearly empty which confirmed our decision. The whole process is fraught with risk as we exercise.

As we withdraw from travel abroad, we have also cancelled trips to friends across UK as well. It is sad that life should come to this but needs must. In response, we have decided to invest our cash at home. We had intended to do this in later age when our travelling times were much reduced but now seems as good a time as ever. We have been talking about establishing a more formal, garden kitchen. Currently, we store our cooking equipment in the garage – Griddle, Hob and Deep fat Fryer – and move it in to the garden when we need it. Now, we will explore the idea of expanding the patio paving, putting a cook house at the back of the garage and running power and lighting to it so that we can establish a permanently set up kitchen.

This project will mean adding a paved area, extending a power feed with lighting and extending Wi-Fi reach to the furthest point of the garden.

En route to the ‘Shed Place’, we visited Sainsburys and Asda. It was a strange, strange experience rather akin to Christmas without the excitement. We were there about 8.00 am but already the shelves were bare. People – mainly older – were limping around the aisles, using their shopping trolleys as warlike missiles and with manically glazed over eyes. Anybody would think we were in the grip of a pandemic. We wanted to buy tinned stuff for our local food bank but there was hardly any available. I don’t blame anybody for this. If you are told to isolate yourself for months on end, why wouldn’t you try to buy up the world’s stock of tinned food? We did that two weeks ago!

Wednesday, 18th March, 2020

Quite a grey, overcast day today although not cold. We are busily doing paperwork which we’ve been putting off. I’m also going to do some garden tidying to breathe some fresh air in to my lungs and raise the heart rate a bit. 

Sainsburys, Rustington last night.

We have a Sainsbury’s superstore in Rustington. It looked far less than ‘super’ last night according to our local media. If a major concern like this cannot keep up with demand then who can?

Sainsbury’s, Sifnos

Greeks have a centralised control in these circumstances although they are not always peripherally observed. Supermarkets are being handed strict opening times by government. The aim is a laudable one. Mandatory extension of supermarket opening hours discourages panic shopping and aids shops to encourage shoppers to maintain the advisory 2 metres between each other. 

Of course, what makes sense in Athens, doesn’t quite do it on Sifnos. What is a large supermarket in the capital is a very small, corner shop on the islands. Not only do islanders regard Athens with sceptical disdain but the are inclined to follow tradition over central government diktat. However, the island has published Athens guidelines for all supermarket/corner shops to follow.

Tesco, Kamares Sifnos

This has included opening times a social distancing. If you shopped in one of these places, you know that the crowds would have to be restricted to 2 shoppers at one time because of the restricted space.

Kathimerini reports fears that Greece will miss out on the tourist season completely this year as major international tour operators such as Tui, AG and the FTI Group suspend operations and payments. The Americans have already isolated Europe and now added UK. Airlines are collapsing their schedules because of lack of takers. This summer is going to be a wasteland for islands like Sifnos.

Thursday, 19th March, 2020

Out early on a grey day with fine, wetting rain. We were on our way to do our regular, weekly shop. Interestingly, there was nothing regular about this. Although the carpark was fairly quiet and it was reasonably early in the morning, the shelves in this superstore were very empty. It was a good job we didn’t want any potatoes because there was not a single one for sale. We didn’t need fresh fish and there was not fresh fish at all. We did want a fresh chicken but there was nothing available.

Pauline was keen to get a couple of packets of paracetamol but none was there. So, we moved on to staples like porridge oats for Pauline’s breakfast. Usually, there are about 8 different brands. Today, not a single bag/packet of any brand could be found on the shelves. We actually will need fresh milk soon. Long ago, we bought in packets of dried milk for just this eventuality. Just as well because Tesco had no milk at all. We decided to go on to Sainsbury’s. No milk. On to Morrisons. No milk. What is going on?

What’s wrong with those cows?

We even went back to Tesco later in the hope that they had restocked. We are being told there is plenty of supply, supermarkets are constantly restocking but these are soothing words to dampen down panic demand. The evidence behind them is not there. 

We suspended our Health Club membership yesterday. It was costing us £150.00/€161.00 per month. We were told by our contract that we could freeze up to 9 month but it would cost us 25% of our charges each month – £37.50/€40.25. Today, all members received an email saying that all conditions were being waived. We can freeze for as long as is necessary at no cost at all. Later, we heard that Health Clubs and Gyms were closing entirely across the country. We feel justified in our actions.

Friday, 20th March, 2020

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The Second Coming – W.B.Yeats 1919

The clown that is our prime minister has had to face the fact the country will need strategies that would look very much more at home on the shoulders of the Labour leadership. Centralised salaries have been announced today that will cost the country £Billions and will saddle the young with debts that will long outlast my lifetime. Bailing out businesses and citizens, ordering the closure of huge swathes of the country’s commercial activity is not natural, Tory activity. Much of this was in Labour’s last manifesto. As so many are pointing out, it will be hard to retreat from this if it remains in place for a couple of years as is likely.

Our Health Club is now compulsorily closed and so are bars, restaurants and other mass gatherings. Sport has gone. Most airlines are virtually gone. Most European destinations are locked down. The command economy is suddenly in vogue.

Don’t bother going to Greece for a quick break. Anyone entering the country has to go into compulsory quarantine for 14 days. Not very conducive to a short break! Ferries are confined to carrying freight. Strict rules about supermarket shopping

Greek Farmers’ Market

The Greek government today stressed the perils of leaving cities for the islands and countryside ostensibly to escape the spreading of the coronavirus epidemic, with the prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, warning Greeks to stay put. Whether the Greek state have the financial strength to support its huge pool of poor and unemployed remains to be seen.

Saturday, 21st March, 2020

A glorious but cold day with a sharp, sea breeze. Pauline knew she was taking a risk but decided it was worth it to have a last haircut before the complete ‘lockdown’. We had to go in to Worthing for that. The appointment was at 9.00 am. It was very quiet. I usually sit in the coffee shop while Pauline is busy. Today, all coffee shops were dark and empty. I walked the chilly streets looking for toilet rolls.

Struggled for a parking space today.

Pauline came back looking lovely and 10 years younger – so money well spent. At the butchers in the precinct, a queue had formed and snaked about 100 metres across the concourse. It was orderly and quiet even though the ones at the back were likely to end up with very little.

Although the day continued to look gorgeous, it remained cold. However, come rain or shine, it is now our new gym. We put our jumpers on and set out for a long walk around our local area. Actually, the village and its surrounding area is quite delightful. It is good to be forced to explore it.

In spite of the temperature, we griddled tuna steaks outside and ate them with salad as the sun streamed in through the conservatory doors. Virus or no virus, we have a modus vivendi to maintain!

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