Locked Down In Paradise – part 1

Herm Island Lockdown Journal

March 2020

Home, the Manor Village

Day One – Monday 23rd March

From today, Herm Island is closed for a temporary two week lockdown. As this may the first time the island has closed in the 75 years since the war, I thought it may be worth journaling our experiences for future generations to look back on. We are living through a strange time in the island’s history.

The Coronavirus, originally spreading in China and Korea, in the past week or so has begun to spread rapidly through the US and Europe. Those of us who just got back from trips were already in self-isolation, and Eden and I spent a week in complete quarantine until my results came back negative 2 days ago.

We had guests at the weekend who were disrespectful, refusing to adhere to social distancing and to sanitise their hands, and so we saw no option but to close completely in order to protect the community. This decision was a sudden one, and so there was no time to order the things we needed. We were told there would be one boat to either leave on or get our family members home on, and that would be it until future notice. 

These are the new phrases suddenly in our daily vocabulary, by the way. 

Lockdown – closing the borders and restricting all movement in or out.

Quarantine – unable to go further than the front door and no-one else allowed in the house.

Self-isolation – staying away from others, staying home, save for walks or essential travel.

Social distance – staying 2m away at all times from anyone you don’t live with. 

Travel Trident have stopped sailing also until further notice, so we truly are isolated and on our own for a while 

I’m very lucky to be able to work from home to some extent. I have access to my emails only, but the girls are sending me more. Callum will be setting us up with computers and phones in our homes as soon as we can. This initial lockdown is for two weeks, but we all believe it will last for much longer. 

Some guests are going nuts, calling and emailing and demanding refunds. Some are just plain horrible and bullying. We are unable to do anything right now, but wait for instruction from the States and our insurers. All we can offer are insurance letters. The Guernsey rumour-mill is doing us no favours as we try to react to this situation and put a plan in place. For some reason, they think we are the only small business on the planet to have a pandemic strategy. 

Priorities right now are to make sure residents have everything they need as we follow these new restrictions, and to figure out how we will get food, medicine etc during the duration of this lockdown.

Impromptu coffee table office

Day Two – Tuesday 24th March

Jos is doing an amazing job of keeping us all connected and updated. I keep wondering what it would be like to experience this without internet or phones. We are very lucky to be able to stay connected. Social media can be a devil for spreading fear and misinformation, but it is also keeping us close. 

There is a 10am management meeting every day, that Mark is also part of in his emergency services capacity. He’s been called out several times to remind people of social distancing, and to stop boats landing on the beaches.

Guests seem to think we owe them an oasis, and that we should still be open for them. We are also getting inundated with angry calls and emails demanding refunds and rebooking. All we can do is hold them off till we have answers. 

John emailed us all to promise that we are in this together as a team, and that he will support us through this time. He promised to cover our salaries and that our homes are safe. We are all so fortunate to be here and to have that support. He included the words, ‘we are all in this together; it will take at least 3 months for this crisis to fully pass; whatever is necessary to ensure we emerge into the distant daylight will be done; there is a new tomorrow awaiting us; we will emerge into the new daylight.’ This is a perfect example of why we all love John and Julia so much. 

Jodie and I were working in cottages to get phone signal, so we could take our turns with the phones, but Callum was eventually able to set up computers and phones in our homes. I have the actual computer and phone from my own desk, so I feel more comfortable and able to work efficiently. We are mostly dealing with a barrage of emails. Some people refuse to give us space to adjust. 

We found out today we can order groceries for delivery on Friday, so have done so. It’s difficult not to stockpile, but we don’t want to be those people. Selfishness won’t help anyone right now. Guernsey shops are already quickly running out of supplies.

This has always been the busiest time of year, so I’m appreciating being able to walk in the sunshine with no guests around. This may be the only time we are ever able to experience this, and to enjoy springtime without people clamouring for our time. We all have time to recharge and be refreshed and ready for life to resume as normal.

Harbour and Fisherman’s beaches

Most people who aren’t able to work from home are working outdoors at a distance and helping the service and gardening teams. They are clearing up, and starting to grow vegetables. When we do reopen, the island will look better than ever.

I’m enjoying time to catch up, to cook and clean, and write.

I’m officially out of my 2 week incubation period since returning from my trip, so Mark was able to move back home today. I’m grateful we, and everyone on the island, is well. 

Day Three – Wednesday 25th March

We got a video update from Craig today. We have enough food and fuel for 2 or 3 months, and more on the way. The hotel has completely closed down, and all the food moved to the Mermaid, which will be our eventual food supplier once we finish isolating and can get back to some new kind of normality.

All the fresh and perishable stuff from the hotel and Mermaid was bagged up into care packages and distributed among islanders, and we are able to order shop stock at cost price. I guess we are very lucky that everyone was ramping up and ordering for the start of the season. 

Care package from the hotel

Eden and I spent time outside, cleaning up the patio and cleaning windows. I worry about her mental health, and that of all the teens and younger people. Maybe this is easier for those of us who grew up with less privileged lives, who were used to running out of food, of sitting by candlelight during blackouts, of bathing in lukewarm water topped up with hot water from the kettle. Maybe we have less fear.

Guernsey has locked down also, so we really are on our own now. Some residents have children living in Guernsey, and I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be cut off from them. Reality is setting in that we don’t know when we will be able to leave our shores, but there are worse places to be trapped. At least we are safe.

Day Four – Thursday 26th March

An updated island statement went out, clarifying our business situation, so we are under a lot less pressure. John will lose millions of his own money in order to keep us and the company afloat. To be honest, I don’t even care right now how rude guests are to me on the phone, because I see so many of my good friends elsewhere losing their jobs and closing their businesses. We are the lucky ones.

I dread the day a friend or family member is touched by this illness. So far we are unaffected directly. I wish I could round up everyone I love and bring them here. 

I’m proud to be here during this historic time, and to be part of this amazing community. It can at times be stressful and stifling to live here, but when it really matters, just like when poor Maciek died six months ago, the community really does pull together. 

Two or three weeks ago, this really wasn’t a huge concern for people, and we all thought it would settle down soon, but now there have been 28,700 deaths worldwide, and hundreds of thousands of active cases. 

The lowest paid workers are the ones keeping us all going – healthcare, food suppliers, delivery drivers. If only we could be sure of this being remembered when this is all over. If only those trying to destroy the NHS will be thankful for it now. 

A lot of companies are offering online courses and content for free, to help people stay busy and stay home. We need to not be dragged down by the idiotic, the selfish, the ignorant, those ignoring guidelines and putting others at risk. We need to stay positive and look for the helpers. 

Day Five – Friday 27th March

The phones and emails have quieted down a bit, except for a few people complaining we haven’t contacted them individually as ‘it’s not like Herm has thousands of bookings.’ Actually, we literally do have THOUSANDS of bookings already in for this year! And literally four of us dealing with the phones, and two of those have been working while ill this week! I really do hope that once the worldwide scale of this becomes clearer, those people will be ashamed of their selfish reactions. We all show our true colours in times like this.

Most of us got our grocery orders today. I posted in the Social Forum to ask people to comment if they didn’t get their order and were running low. Social media has been a godsend in keeping us all together. We are all sharing info and updates that way, and we have an office team chat in order to share the work. It has helped immensely. 

Once the food came, I decided to spend some time cleaning and organising my larder cupboard. It’s only three little shelves, but it’s barely used. I found items in there from 2015! Self-isolation may be a good time for a spring clean!

In the afternoon, we got a video update from Craig. He assured us we are in a good position to be self-sufficient for a while. We have fuel already for 120 days, but further deliveries are already arranged. Similarly, more food is on its way, but we have plenty on island to last for months.

If we are all symptom free in 10 days we will apply for special dispensation to be able to work and socialise as a community again. The island itself may remain locked down for several months still. We just really don’t know at this stage.

I think people are taking it more seriously now there are 34 cases in Guernsey, and similar in Jersey with one death. At least Guernsey now has the equipment to set up on-island testing, which will help immensely. 

For now, we all have the weekend off, and a fish and chip takeout coming from the Mermaid. The world is scary right now, but we need to live in the moment and focus on the little things. 

Day Six – Saturday 28th March

The hospital in Guernsey has now converted their day patient unit into an intensive care unit. The crucial thing now, worldwide, is to control the spread until the healthcare facilities can handle it. Thousands of retired doctors and nurses have already returned to work in the UK. 

Unfortunately, many people still aren’t adhering to the 2m social distancing rule, and so this may go on longer than it needs to.

We are staying positive, but little waves of anxiety are coming in occasionally. I have friends who are really struggling with their mental health, who are dealing with sickness and sudden unemployment. I started a support thread in my online group. Group members from all over the world are sharing their stories. A lot seem to be scared of possible rises in crime and home invasions if the police become sick, especially those in rough areas. It’s a threat I hadn’t yet considered.

Eden and I went for a walk today up to the top of Monku and to Maciek’s bench. It was beautiful sunshine with strong winds to blow the mental clouds away. We are so lucky to live in paradise. This feels like the safest place to be right now, even if claustrophobia is hovering at the outer edge of my mind. I wonder when we will next get to leave?

Day Seven – Sunday 29th March

This should have been one of the busiest weekends at work. We had Murder Mystery weekend scheduled, and an open day/weekend for the newly refurbished Rosaire Cottage, extra boats, beautiful sunshine, and the last weekend before the start of the season. And instead we have silence everywhere.

There were only a couple of seasonal staff here, who have been moved into self-catering cottages so they can cook for themselves. Luckily, we were bringing the staff in later this year as April was looking quiet. A year ago, things would have been very different. Jos and I are so lucky Naomi and Jodie stayed the winter, or we’d have been handling this alone. We are such a great team, and this will only bring us closer. 

I feel very lucky to have Eden home. Some island residents have children living in Guernsey, who they haven’t seen for weeks, and no idea when they will see them again. I can’t imagine how stressful that must be. 

Day Eight – Monday 30th March

With just over a week of limbo left to go before we know how we can move forward as a business and a community, I have symptoms again. I called the helpline. The symptoms are the same as before – fatigue, sore throat and chest, a little cough developing. They referred my information to Public Health again and am waiting for advice. I don’t want to be the reason we can’t all get back to some kind of normal again. 

Five of my friends worldwide lost someone this weekend. Prince Charles and the Prime Minister tested positive. Such a strange dystopian reality to be living through. 

Part of my job is to write a monthly newsletter spreading positivity throughout the community as much as possible. I had given up on doing that this month, but then Liam the gardener sent me so much information, and so many amazing photos! The island looks fantastic, and spring is truly blooming. There is nothing more hopeful than spring!

I hope to get some updates on health and mental health to add to it to try to put together as much positivity and reassurance as possible.

It must be difficult for the people who live alone, or who don’t have daily contact. Having a family here does make it so much easier to stay entertained and to carry on as normal as much as possible. We are all happy to stay home at the best of times, so the restrictions aren’t affecting us so much. 

A friend of mine brought up the fact that those of us who suffer from anxiety are perhaps better equipped to deal with the mental aspect of this more than most. We spend every day in inexplicable fear, in existential crisis, waiting for the end of the world. We have been preparing our whole lives for this. And rather than be alienated from all those who see the world ‘normally’, and function in daily life easily, now everyone else is feeling how we do all the time. Not that it is nice for them, but it does unite us with the world again. 

Day Nine – Tuesday 31st March

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the air, a feeling like waiting around for exam results. I don’t think anyone is really sure what’s going to happen after this week.

I read an article that said that the collective weirdness we feel is grief. The world is forever changed, and everyone feels it. Also, the anticipatory fear of sickness and death is affecting everyone on one level or another. We need to treat it as grief and go through the stages of change and acceptance.  

The virus has touched one of our community directly now, with the loss of a family member. It must be difficult not to be able to go and say goodbye. The saddest thing of all may be people dying alone, with their family members unable to hug them.  

I’m enjoying isolation and working from home. I feel daunted about the possibility of going back to an office environment at some point. It’s amazing how quickly we adapt to new normalities.  

Mark is still working outdoors every day, and Eden and I are keeping busy. I am writing and researching online courses. Yesterday I wrote a newsletter with as much positivity and sunshine as I could cram into it. Eden is doing art and gaming all day every day, and chatting online with friends. 

I feel for the young people at crucial times in their education, those who left school unceremoniously last week and won’t be able to sit exams or have leaving parties. Eden is happy at college and is scared of failing or losing friendships. There is talk of trying to reopen schools, even on a part time basis, next term, but I think even the children know it will realistically be September. 

Almost 790,000 cases worldwide now, and 38,000 deaths. How scary that no-one understood the immensity of the threat this posed, even a few weeks ago. I feel lucky that the island management understood, and have acted quickly.  

I’m dreaming of future trips, the Coast Starlight train that weaves from California to Seattle, past sunny bays and lush forests, and through the snow-capped Cascade Mountains. There is a big world out there, beyond the paradise isle. I only just discovered the beauty of travel, and now I’m locked on a patch of land a mile and a half long. Long walks on the breezy common will have to allay the sudden claustrophobia.  

Day Ten – Wednesday 1st April

It’s April, and today should have been the first day of the summer season for us all. Everything would have been opening up to guests, and I would be in my office. Instead, I am working at home, with angry calls and emails coming in. 

After the management meeting yesterday, we have a little further clarification on our future, but it is still just one day at a time.  

There has now been a death in Guernsey, so they are clamping down on restrictions. Some people there still aren’t taking it seriously. They do have on-island testing now, which will help them to have a clearer picture of the situation daily, rather than 72 hours behind as it was when results were coming back from the UK.  

The States have handled this situation amazingly, far better than most places. I feel very lucky to live under such a proactive government right now. My friends in the UK and US are in a far worse situation. 

Speaking of which, darling Jill is now sick. I published a post about the trip and about the hope of seeing my friends again very soon, and she posted about her sickness at the same time. I’m worried for her, but I can’t even imagine this thing beating her. We have future adventures to plan.  

As for the island, apart from one day each on phones and emails for the 4 of us in the office (albeit still working from home for now), we will all be working on the land. That will be a nice change for everyone, and good support for the estate team. It means the island will be at its best when we do finally reopen. Physical work and sunshine may be the best way to ward off stress and depression.  

There are rumblings that we may be closed till September or October. Whether or not we can leave at all in that time, we still don’t know. Regular food deliveries have now been set up from 3 different companies, and the cargo boat will run once a week to bring supplies.  

Some people are struggling already with this enforced solitude and introspection. We are hopeful that in the next week or so after our 2 week self-isolation period is over we may be allowed to get back to some kind of normality and to socialise again. ‘Normal’, however, will possibly be changed forever now.

Day Eleven – Thursday 2nd April

It’s strange how this current state of limbo seems to be affecting my friends worldwide in the same way. There is an anxiety that comes with not knowing what will happen in the near future, and with spending so much time alone and indoors. The waiting is unsettling. 

I went through my work and personal diaries to update them, and it basically just involved deleting everything. It feels really strange to have an empty to-do list, and no idea what the future will bring. I can’t say it’s wholly unpleasant, to be honest.  

I’m still working from home the next two days, but hopefully we’ll have some answers next week and can have a real schedule. Hopefully I’ll get some time working outside too. It’s easier this way for now as only Jos and I have computers and phones set up at home. 

Day Twelve – Friday 3rd April

It’s a quiet day. The phones are quiet. I can’t help but feel they are all ramping themselves up for a big barrage next week. Jos and I are feeling very anxious, and I think we really need our turn doing some physical work soon.  

We’re really waiting to find out if things will change next week, and if so, then how they will change. Guernsey is still locked down till next Wednesday, but it does seem that it will go on longer. A second death was announced today, and three babies are also infected.  

I have heard this situation being referred to as the ‘invisible occupation.’ It’s ironic that this year was to be the big 75th celebration of the liberation of the islands after the war, and we are already now going back to those old values of growing our own food, being frugal, and living under strict regulations. Who knows what the future may bring?

The Moore family left today, on the cargo boat. That means Mark is the only police officer here now. Hopefully, we won’t need him to act in that capacity for a little while. I guess it depends how restless everyone gets, or how long this social distancing rule is enforced for. 

That same cargo boat has also brought us supplies and groceries. Despite a grey cloud of the unknown in the air, for now we are all well, we are all safe, and we all have everything we need.

To be continued……

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