Hello, how are you… it’s been a while. As you know I’ve been away from my desk for the last week staycationing in London and Newcastle which means today’s post is going to be a catch-up (and it’s a bit of a long one so pour yourself a drink). So what was it like to go away just as the lockdown began to lift?
Staycationing in London post Covid 19
We started our journey on a very quiet train with a carriage all to ourselves which was novel. It was our first experience of wearing a mask for any length of time and there’s no denying that it’s pretty unpleasant but it’s something we’re all going to have to get used to. And my first mask wearing lesson came when we ripped them off as we emerged from Euston station and I found mine was covered with make-up on the inside which was a bit grim – a new beauty challenge lies ahead.
I think I told you that when I booked our stay I found that only about a third of London hotels were reopening. I narrowed it down to a choice between one of my favourite but expensive hotels – The Great Northern at Kings Cross for a treat or a simple Premier Inn bang in the heart of Leicester Square. Knowing that my hair was going to be quite an outlay I decided to offset my indulgence by opting for the more economical and central option. So we walked through the eerily quiet streets from Euston to Leicester Square only to find the hotel looking very deserted with the door locked. We pressed the buzzer and thankfully somebody let us in, telling us that we were the only guests and the reason our room was so cheap (£40) was because we were the reopening guinea pigs. That was fine but of course we soon discovered that a post-Covid hotel room is a pretty barren experience. Anything extraneous has to be removed so there were no throws or cushions, no spare pillows or towels, even the pictures had been taken off the walls.
It didn’t matter though because we weren’t there for a luxury experience, we headed straight out to make the most of our time in our much loved city. First stop was a Chinese restaurant just behind the hotel in Chinatown, we went to the first one we found (Superstar) and it was excellent. The staff were abiding by all regulations with temperature taking and detail registration, paper menus and napkins, hand sanitiser on each table. And this is where we really relaxed – a glass of rosé in warm sunshine meant that we instantly moved into a holiday mode and actually the first glass of London tap water with its strange plasticky tang is always something I enjoy too.
With a free afternoon ahead of us we just walked. I wanted to get a feel for London at this very unusual point in its history and it was all very alien. Everything was deserted; the store windows were filled with summer sale signs screaming 70% off – and yet they were empty. I wasn’t really interested in shopping but Mr MC wanted to make his usual pilgrimage to Cos which is pretty much the only place he ever shops. In fact I lost him there because he found a basement filled with their heavily discounted summer menswear range. There then ensued a slightly panicky dialogue on our family Whatsapp group because I had no idea where he’d gone – and of course he had no signal down there so he was oblivious to my concern. When he reappeared he was laden with bags and you’ll notice I had one of my own… it contained the cobalt halterneck dress that I featured on here a couple of weeks ago. If you’re looking for it you need to go up a size, it’s an odd fit.
And of course sale shopping is thirsty work and so as we passed Petersham Nurseries and saw that not only was the terrace empty but they were also offering two for one on cocktails, we felt we should support them. Here’s one last photo of my lockdown DIY haircut for posterity.
And so we carried on walking in the sunshine and absorbing London in this extraordinary state. I feel quite privileged to have been there just as it’s emerging from the crisis. Here’s The Odeon in Leicester Square that we’re all so used to seeing at movie premieres with red carpets and crowds and paparazzi…
… it really does feel quite post-apocalyptic, as though time stopped for a while – cinemas and theatres are still showing their programmes for the week before everything stopped…
… and the famous Swiss clock usually surrounded by tourists waiting for the chimes is still tracking winter time. It obviously wasn’t put forward to British Summertime at the end of March – which threw me into a panic the following morning when we set off for my hair appointment and I thought I was going to be late. See how empty the road ahead to Piccadilly was at 9.45 am.
We walked from Leicester Square to Berners Street, stopping off for breakfast on Carnaby Street and I then spent a few hours at Hershesons as they unravelled my creative attempts with my hair. Premlee was full of stories of some of the very entertaining hair disasters he’d been dealing with and other than him wearing a visor, it didn’t feel like an overly Covid experience. The salon was quieter than usual but still buzzy enough to feel like a treat.
While I was being pampered Mr MC had been busy with Zoom meetings. They’d all gone well and it gave us a glimpse of how much easier our life could be post-Covid. We were very early adopters of the flexible lifestyle and so it often hasn’t been easy – clients have always insisted on face to face meetings which is tricky when our customer base is split between London and the North West. We often end up feeling that we’re at the wrong end of the country at the wrong time but now that everyone has adapted to online meetings it should be much easier. He said that over the course of the afternoon his NW clients had been particularly entertained by the fact that he was talking to them from Leicester Square and were more interested in what was going on around him than the work he was talking through with them!
So in a way a new world is opening up for us and it feels as though when work gets closer to normal, meetings at least will be easier to manage. We met up back in town and walked through Soho, stopping again for a cocktail – this time in honour of my hair. This is Old Compton Street and as you can see, it’s now fully pedestrianised as part of the new al fresco zone. It was lovely during the day as the photo shows but actually when we went back there to eat in the evening, it was quite daunting. All of those tables were packed, there were crowds of people standing in large groups and it was hard to walk through. No social distancing was going on at all, there was loud music inside the bars and they were heaving.
It felt slightly surreal, a bit like when there’s a flashback in a movie to a bygone era. In one way it felt so familiar and yet fundamentally you felt it was wrong. I’m not judging the people who were there, it’s their choice and their risk but we swiftly moved away to the outskirts of Soho to find a quieter restaurant.
By this point we’d left Soho and we were wandering through a much quieter Covent Garden where there were plenty of secluded spots for a glass of wine. As you can see I’ve had my hair cut quite a bit shorter. I discussed it with Premlee and we both agreed that it’s going to be hard for me to plan my trips down to London so I may need to go longer between appointments.
The next day was Saturday and I’d booked a train back for 1.30pm so that we could have a lazy morning but I was conscious of Mr MC metaphorically drumming his fingers at 7am. He was ready to go home so we had a very early start and walked back to Euston again. If you missed this navy and gold dress the first time it’s now been restocked and it’s in the sale, available in most sizes.
How would I sum up staycationing in London right now? Starting with the downside, it’s looking shabby and dirty. Without the bustle of the crowds you realise just how worn it is and of course all work has stopped for the last few months so it’s all a bit Miss Havisham’s feast. The lights are still shining but that adds an almost garish cast because apart from a few hotspots there’s no life there.
The upside is that London is still standing and you can somehow feel its pilgrim soul. It’s been through far worse than this and despite the current throb of desperation, you know it will survive. I love London but I came away feeling as though I’d seen it through new eyes; it was a bit like the moment when you realise that you’ve fallen out of love with a boyfriend and the things you once adored now appear as flaws. I’ve been so looking forward to getting back there but I know now that I won’t hurry to go back – I’ll hold meetings on Zoom and stretch out my hair appointments until its heart shows signs of beating again.
Staycationing in Newcastle
Staycationing part two! As you know, we then had a long awaited reunion planned with mum-in-law in Newcastle. She gave us the dates that she wanted us to go and we’d spent a bit of time on the phone with her discussing it because we were a bit worried about the timing given that we’d just have come back from London. However she insisted that (put your Geordie accents on now) “ah divvent care aboot the virus – ahm fed up wi it an ah want to see the bairns.”
So, we were looking forward to it, she was looking forward to it and then she called to say she’d fallen in the garden and broken some ribs. She was still determined that we should go but she’s on heavy pain medication which is making her very tired so she suggested we pop in and out for short bursts. We booked an AirBnB and as I mentioned, Mr MC was planning to show the middle boy around his hometown with his forthcoming move to university in mind… which of course brings me on to that. First of all I want to say thank you to everyone who got in touch with information, suggestions and offers of help, either directly or through the comments. If I haven’t replied to you yet please know that I’ve read what you said and I will, it’s just been such a mad week. Let me give you a quick update.
I tried various ways of contacting the university, acknowledging that as a parent I knew that I had little sway but asking them to at least acknowledge my correspondence and let me know that they’d talk to the boy directly. They didn’t speak to me at all and so I can’t say I hold Northumbria in very high esteem for their courtesy. However they did contact the boy with an offer to present the Powerpoint slides that they’d sent through live online so that students could ask questions. As this was due to happen on the day that we were travelling to Newcastle we had an early start on the Monday and went straight to our AirBnB to check in.
We were staying on the other side of the river just by the Baltic Art Gallery which is one of my favourite spots so there was time for us to walk into town for some lunch. I love Newcastle, it’s a beautiful city in a brutal way and there’s a real Northern honesty to it – it doesn’t dress itself up to be anything it isn’t.
Again it was quiet – I wouldn’t usually be able to walk up the middle of this road but there were no cars around in the centre. Forgive the next few photos, I was feeling self conscious because for some reason I’d woken up with a puffy face and my clothes feeling as if I’d put on a stone overnight. I don’t know whether it was water retention after the salty restaurant food we had in London or if it’s a new midlife challenge… and you’ll probably say you can’t tell but I could.
Anyway, we had a good chat with the boy about his course while we ate and wrote down the main questions we wanted to ask. We then headed over to Grandma’s for the online session which took a bit of setting up because despite a Covid flirtation with a new smartphone, she tells us that she’s had enough of all that nonsense and still doesn’t believe in the internet!
I won’t say too much because it’s only interesting if you’re wrapped up in it. Fundamentally, Northumbria are saying that as the future for jobbing actors is looking uncertain, they’re making the course more entrepreneurial so that by the end of it students should be skilled at finding funding and putting on performances themselves.
We asked our questions and finished the session. The boy then let off steam with a rant about the unfairness of Covid happening now and the whole world changing. We could only watch as he expressed his despair, slumped and then picked himself up again. I think every one of us will recognise that post-Covid realisation that some things have suddenly changed forever and we’ll all cycle through it again and again over the next few months. In the end he decided to sleep on it and so we left it at that. Looking at these pictures I can see the strain on him, he’d been worrying all weekend and had even cancelled the post lockdown haircut that he’d been so looking forward to.
Poor mum-in-law had had a bad night and was in quite a lot of discomfort so we did a few jobs for her and then left her to rest. We went for a walk along the quayside, coming across By The River Brew Co, a relatively new brewery based in shipping containers with an outside bar that made Mr MC very happy as you can see. I was wearing the blouse I mentioned last week, I love it, it’s jersey so it’s as easy to wear and wash as a t-shirt but the fit is more svelte.
Hunger finally persuaded him away but by that point it was 9.30pm and all of the restaurants were closing so we booked a pizza delivery back at the apartment which went down well with the boys.
The following morning was the day of Mr MC’s grand tour. The boy was still undecided so we headed straight over to see the halls he’d booked himself into (not any of the seven that we’d taken him round back in September!) and then walked towards the Northumbria campus.
At this point I had no idea what he was thinking but as we walked, he talked…
… and talked… and talked until at this point his brother was perhaps losing sympathy?!
Those of you who know the city will see that we’d reached Newcastle University campus by now which is one that’s on the youngest’s list (oh yes, we’re just starting to go through the decision making process again…)
We stopped for lunch and then popped into Fenwick’s because it’s one of my favourite stores in the UK and I’m aware that they’ve been struggling. This was obviously before masks were compulsory although I had been wearing one, it’s just that I’d been trying mask-proof primers and glow givers in the beauty hall (I’ll give you my verdict next week) and I’d forgotten to put it back on. Discounts were running at 70% again and I was very taken by this bargain Stine Goya dress but I had to ask myself how long it would be before I’d ever wear it… and back on the rail it went.
The boys were clearly less impressed by the flamboyant world of designer fashion…
… so we headed back to see mum-in-law and spent the afternoon with her. While we were there I noticed the boy quietly poring over something on his phone. It was the course transfer form for Northumbria, he’d made his decision and was moving to the new course. It isn’t what he wanted to do but he’s accepted that the acting future he’s dreamed of is probably never going to be the same post coronavirus. At least he’s willing to be agile and adapt if he has to. It seems like the best approach right now, none of us knows what’s going to happen and so we can only base our decisions on our instincts.
It was the best news his grandma could have had and she suggested he should stop wasting money by cancelling his place in halls and live with her instead. He gently replied that he might be a nuisance with his late nights and his new actor friends – plus his video lectures would make it difficult for her to watch her TV programmes. She quickly agreed, happy in the knowledge that at least she’ll see him more often.
We travelled home feeling glad that he’d been able to make his decision while he was in the city that’s going to be such a big part of his future. As we followed the road that we’ve driven along so often it occurred to me that although we’ve been to Newcastle countless times over the years, we’ve never really taken the time to see it. Our visits are usually filled with family events and so we pass through the city without noticing. I’ve returned with a new affection for it, somehow it seems to be coming out of Covid better than London is, perhaps because it’s never traded on glamour or prestige. Going back to the boyfriend analogy if London is like the lover that has lost his gleam, Newcastle is like the faithful friend that’s been there all along and who you suddenly see with new eyes. I wonder if we’ll all see places afresh after lockdown and perhaps summer 2020 will bring the perfect opportunity for rediscovery and reacquaintance with places we’ve overlooked.
Disclosure: ‘Staycationing in London and Newcastle post Covid 19’ is not a sponsored post
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