Don’t worry. Be happy
STONEHAVEN, Scotland — The longest queues outside the local shops have been at the butcher’s and the sweets’ store. There are signs in most windows that only three persons are allowed inside simultaneously. Masking is prevalent.
A reader can go pages into the local newspapers without seeing a story on anything unrelated to the coronavirus — the Queen’s cancelled Christmas plans, warnings to the hoi polloi against large gatherings, shifting official restrictions from 10 Downing Street, ominous Omicron variant statistics, postponements of soccer’s Premier League games. We almost truncated this two-week Holiday visit to the United Kingdom when I was “pinged” — alerted by the National Health Service that I was “a contact of someone with COVID-19.”
That was just two days after arrival from the Across the Pond. “You do not have to self-isolate,” the email said. “You should take rapid lateral flow tests for 7 days….You may become infectious even if you’re fully vaccinated or do not have symptoms.”
We had just tested ourselves with the home kits widely available in the U.K. but it took four days before we got an email confirmation that I was negative. (We would not have been allowed to fly here in the first place without being fully vaccinated and providing negative tests two days before departure.)
Our daughter, her husband and their 19-month-old live in London and her husband’s mother is in this village on Scotland’s East coast. They convinced us to stick to our original itinerary, so after five days in London we took a sleeper train to Scotland.
We’re here, still healthy. Or, anyway, asymptomatic. Amid the bracing chill, wind and rain, far enough North that the sun doesn’t rise until quarter to 9 and sets at 3:30, it’s a fine adventure. At least when varying waves of anxiety subside a bit.
On the sleeper train segment, some malfunction — very likely a staff shortage precipitated by COVID positives or contact-tracing protocols — had forced our transfer to a standard commuter train still two hours short of Stonehaven. No worries; the trip was completed without further incident. But the fear of widespread cancellations of train and air travel theoretically could get us stuck here past our Dec. 30 return date.
Already, Stonehaven officials have cancelled their annual Hogmanay festival, a fireballs ceremony in the town square to ring in the new year. Worse — to me, anyway — COVID’s impact on employees has temporarily closed the Bay, twice named Scotland’s best fish-and-chips shop.
What to do? Have some giggles with the grandson. Marvel at the hardiness of the locals — my son-in-law’s mother swims in the North Sea, even this time of year when the air temperature barely reaches 40 and the wind howls incessantly, taking the chill factor down below freezing. My morning runs are slowed and shortened not only by the slanting rain but by the hilly landscape. We Yanks, frankly, are comparative wimps (although my wife has matched the locals’ sturdiness with her typically long daily walks).
And we’re working on a stiff upper lip.