Tuesday, February 2

All's quiet on the village front (again)

The post below was written in October 2020, just after returning from Ukraine. I have just returned from the next trip I made, as a lockdown prevented me travelling again until December. Even then, I only just managed to get away in time. The village was in Tier 2 when I planned the trip for 29 December until late January. Then it lurched into Tier 3 a few days prior to my departure and then it was announced that it would be in Tier 4 the day after my departure! 

Tier 3 permitted travel abroad but Tier 4 would not have done. that was a close shave! There was a similar close call on my return. I was due to fly on Saturday 16 January. On Monday there was an announcement that people returning to Britain would have to show a negative COVID test that had been taken no more than 72 hours prior to arrival in Britain. That would entail getting a test on Thursday morning to be sure of getting the result sometime on Friday, ready for my early start on Saturday. Whilst Wednesday afternoon could work, my flight arriving around 2 or 3pm on the Saturday, it was a risk, should the flight be delayed significantly. With temperatures of -20 and snow everywhere, including Luton, I decided o go for the Thursday.

The next problem, however, was finding out (a) what sort of test would be acceptable and (b) which laboratories or similar place would be accepted and whether a hard copy and an English translation would be necessary too. There was no guidance on any of these queries anywhere. I wrote to various UK journalists as well as WizzAir and tweeted Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary who was announcing all this. On Tuesday there was still no news so Olga looked at the possible places in Zhytomyr where I could be tested and we chose the one that seemed most reliable and organised. We made an appointment for Thursday lunchtime. It was a long way out of town an so we would need a taxi as well a a bundle of notes for the test itself. We'd need to return again to collect the result and, yes, they would include an English translation. I just hoped that they would provide something that the UK Border Police would accept.

On the Thursday morning my friend Steve the taxi driver sent me a message while I was still in bed. He said that he'd heard on the radio that the requirement for a negative test had been deferred to start on Sunday, the day after my arrival! That was great news. I needed to confirm it but, sure enough, it was true. We cancelled the appointment and the taxis and spent the money on some art materials and wine!

Over there I had had to use the NDoma quarantine monitor app that I had installed on my phone many months previously. It was all in Ukrainian, though, so didn't make a great deal of sense and, fortunately, for my last trip it had not been required after all as Britain had very low rates of infection and had dropped out of the Red Zone. This time, however, Britain was most firmly in the Red Zone, with variants to add to the mixture and, generally, no-one was particularly welcoming Brits anywhere abroad. I fired up the app on arrival at the Border Control in Kiev but Olga had warned me not to activate it with any data because it was inclined to register my place of self-isolation as wherever I was at the time which, clearly could be a problem if I were not permitted to travel further than 1km away! I showed my phone to the girl behind the screen and she asked me to open the app. By mistake I opened Spotify! She took pity on me and could see that I had the right thing and generally seemed competent, being one of the few in a ragged crowd waiting around who actually had got the right other documents to enter. She said that she would allow me to enter on condition that I got my wife to set it up as soon as I got home. I told her that she was waiting for me and we'd do that no problem. I did feel as if she had helped me out there and could have been awkward but wasn't.

When we got to Zhytomyr I failed to get any data on to the app but all was much better when I downloaded a fresh version. This also had an English translation! Yippee! It was a curious thing and I was required to pose as instructed about three times each day at random times (although these were at least during the day). The problem was that there was no audible notification of these requests. So I had to check the screen every few minutes and I was quite late for quite a few of them. In darker conditions too some of the things I was told to do (tilt you head left, turn your head right etc.) were not as easy as they sound whilst remaining within a frame on the screen. I managed, however.

One amusing event was early in the morning on January 1st. The screen declared that I had 377 days quarantine left!!! It cleared later when I presume that some technical people realised they'd made a mistake in the code for coping with the new year.

I did very little over there other than celebrate Christmas and New Year twice and catch up with a lot of admin. The new laptop did well, although the trackpad has stopped working. Fortunately, Olga's son had a nice wireless mouse which did the job fine and, indeed, I have since bought the same one to use here in the village with it.

It is still quiet in the village as we're in lockdown once more. Goodness knows when it will end. I have just cancelled my flights for the 9-27 February and arranged them for 6-27 May instead, by which time I really do hope it will be possible!! I would hope to be able to get away in March, really, but I'll just buy a ticket when I know the dates I can travel. The May one will be the next, I expect. It also has WizzFlex attached so I can change it if necessary again. That flight I have chosen to take a window seat for a change. I like the aisle but I do have to get up for people to go to the loo and if there is a person in the middle seat it is not that great. In the window seat I can simply get in and settle down and not bother about anyone. Also, at the other end, everyone stands up way too soon and I feel obliged to let the other people in the row get their stuff from lockers and it is pretty mad for a while while we wait for the door to open. In the window seat I can just wait for everyone to clear the way and take a pleasant stroll off the plane.

So far the time away has flown by. With so many Corgi sales I have been very busy and now I am still catching up at the start of February! Olga and I enjoy time together every Wednesday and Sunday evening online and that works well for us. The last period, from February to August was a long haul. I went back in September/ October and then this last time was a bit delayed but we just about managed the 80 days in between.

80 days from 16 January would be 1 April. I am hoping it won't be that long this time. We'll see.

So here's the previous post. No much changes. But I have had the first vaccine and definitely feel quite confident that I can travel again without worrying about catching something, once I've done my three weeks.


It's very quiet in the village. I have been back for three weeks now and I can count on the fingers of one hand, without needing the thumb, the number of people that I have spoken to. Two. It might have been three but the postman has been quarantined following someone at the Towcester office being tested positive so my usual morning chats with him haven't been happening. Each day sees a new person who just gets on with the job and leaves me alone. 

My friend Andy Groome died while I was away. That was quite sad and a big surprise. He wasn't, it's fair to say, someone with the healthiest of lifestyles but I would not have predicted that he would actually die just yet. You tend to think that the hospitals will keep you going whatever's wrong, at least for a good while. So for Andy just to have left this world in a matter of days is quite a shock indeed. He used to pop round and I'd take him to the shop for whatever he needed and we'd chat cheerfully on the way there and back. He talked a lot of sense and he genuinely cared about what I was doing and liked Olga, who he had met last year and she had made the most wonderful portrait of his dear dog Megan. Goodness knows where she is now.

I guess he won't be suffering any more or having to do the diabetes injections but I will miss the old bugger and his straight-talking and real friendship. 

So that was someone I probably would have had a chat with about this and that but no, it's just been two and those were for a total of about two minutes at most!

I have seen other people. I collected some Corgi Toys that I won at auctions in Leamington Spa and a village just outside Leicester but that, again, was a mere sentence exchanged. The post office at Greens Norton and Tescos in town I have visited a few times but barely more than a few words were exchanged there too.

What does seem to have happened is that I have had really long phone calls. By chance a stream of friends have called up since I got back and this week I can think of five - almost one each day - who have rung me and we've chatted for about an hour! That's a long time and I do know that each day my plan for what I'd get done in the day never quite worked out as expected! So that has kept my voice operational but I am not sure how I'll managed prolonged engagement with a real person!

I chat with Olga every Wednesday and Sunday evening which is a bit closer to real conversation but even that is a bit odd, watching each other on a screen. It is quite remarkable to think how all this is free these days. It doesn't seem long ago when I was dreading my previous wife's calls to family in Sri Lanka. Despite our having various cheap rate cards and discounts, a call of just 10 minutes would add a hefty amount to the telephone bill and it was quite normal to have several hundred pounds to pay each quarter. Now, she could speak all day and see them all too and have to pay nothing. Amazing. So different.

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