When the danger first became apparent and warnings began to be issued about keeping your distance and avoiding large gatherings, Phil and I were staying at our holiday home in the Cheshire countryside. I donated a kidney to my husband in 2017 and we had bought the static caravan with a view to enjoying a long and healthy retirement. As we stood on the veranda watching the buzzards circling over the wooded hillside, the blue tits on our bird feeder and the squirrels scuttling up the trees, we concluded that it would be no hardship isolating ourselves in our own haven of tranquillity. This dream was shattered when the park owner told us they had been ordered to close the site as people were not allowed to stay in their second homes.

Reluctantly we travelled back to Sheffield, then the full lockdown was announced. Phil received a text followed by a letter informing him he was in the clinically vulnerable group and should not leave his house or come into contact with anyone for the next 12 weeks. I was somewhat confused about what to do as a partner of a shielding person but there was no way I was going to banish him to a separate room. We needed supplies of food so I ventured to our local market where the atmosphere was very strange. The fruit and veg stall had placed markings on the floor and it was a matter of weaving around other shoppers to fill your basket and then retreating to the line and waiting to be called forward. I also had some cheques to pay into the bank and was cross-examined by the cashier as to why my journey there had been necessary. 

We soon settled into a routine which did not differ greatly from our normal. We pottered round the house and caught up with lots of odd jobs and on sunny days we sat outside and played chess. Deciding to use common sense over the shielding guidelines and having two lively young pointers, we got up early each morning to spend an hour or so walking with the dogs in our local park where we only encountered a few fellow dog walkers and a handful of joggers and were able to wave from a safe distance of around five metres. The virus was something far away on the news stories; but then it came closer to home. The grandfather next door was taken to hospital, tested positive for Covid-19 and died a few days later. He was in his late 80s and had been frail for some time so it was no great shock.  More distressing news came when a friend a few streets away who we had known for over 30 years also succumbed to the virus. She too was in her 80s, but fit and active and we had expected her to be around for a good few years to come.

Then came one of the worst dilemmas we have ever faced. Phil’s younger brother died suddenly in Middlesbrough. It was not connected with coronavirus but still a shock. Under normal circumstances we would have driven up to meet Phil’s sister and made all the arrangements together. Instead we had to do what we could by phone and email. The funeral director arranged a short open air grave side ceremony with up to ten mourners, but advised anyone shielding not to attend. Phil was undecided what to do and we talked it over for hours. I did my best to support him but only he could make the decision. If I advised him not to go for the sake of his own health there was the risk that he would regret it for the rest of his life, but, partly out of loyalty to me, he had no desire to take any chances with his transplanted kidney. The deciding factor came when we realised that several nieces and nephews would be there who were key workers; one a food shop supervisor, one a security guard and one a nurse on a Covid ward. Even with social distancing the risk did not seem worth taking and he made the heart-wrenching decision not to attend the funeral of his only brother. 

We were pleased that when the market closed some stallholders set up home delivery services so we were able to have fresh fruit, vegetables and meat dropped on our doorstep. Supplies which we needed from supermarkets proved a bit more of a problem. Being unused to online shopping we spent ages identifying what we needed and filling virtual trolleys only to find there were no delivery slots available. It shows what life had become like when the highlight of our week was when we secured a slot!

As lockdown restrictions were eased, we began driving a bit further afield to enable us to walk in larger woodland areas. I certainly will not be rushing back to any shops in the near future. We had several theatre trips cancelled due to the lockdown and hope we can look forward to seeing some productions again, although it may be quite a different experience under the new arrangements. This “new normal” is going to be difficult for us all but we need to persevere with it in order to preserve not only our own lives but the lives of countless others.