The Quarantine Chronicles: Episode 3
Day 3 - Monday 3rd May to Thursday 13th May - Holiday Inn Heathrow Airport, London
We woke up on our first full day of government quarantine with fairly positive attitudes. The bed, whilst a little small in comparison to our super king at home was clean and comfortable and with the added bonus of us having each brought our favourite pillow from home, had made for a good night's sleep.
On arrival the previous night, we had been made to choose our meals in advance for the whole 10 days which in our tired and dazed state meant that we basically had no clue what we'd be eating from one day to the next. What we did know was we had ordered the full english breakfast for every day we were incarcerated as this is and will always be my favourite meal in the world.
About 9am there was a knock at the door, mask on, I went to see who had come to visit. I opened the door to find nobody standing there but two brown paper bags sitting on the floor. This was how every meal was served for the entire stay: knock, knock / answer / bring food trays into room and eat. This immediately brought home the harsh reality that we were actually prisoners. I looked down the hall to see brown bags and various rubbish strewn in the hallway outside each of the cells and a large Indian chap dressed all in black with a luminous yellow safety tabard guarding the escape root to the lifts and stairs. That was it, we were in Alcatraz for the next 11 days.
Breakfast was good and was made up of Sausages, Bacon, Scrambled egg, baked beans and came with yogurt, fruit and fruit juice. So far so good on the food front although I began to wonder how a full breakfast, lunch and dinner every day with minimal movement would work with my weight loss kick. I later discovered the answer to that question and it is: It didn't ,at all, I'm fat again!
I had done a fair bit of forward planning for the trip so the rest of my morning involved hacking the hotel TV with a new TV stick so we could watch Netflix. Setting up an Amazon Prime account so we could order in basics like tea and coffee and fresh milk and get it delivered the same or next day for free (the screws learned to hate us for the constant online shopping deliveries they had to bring up 9 floors!). I ordered one of those small portable fridges to keep the butter, yogurt and milk cold which would later make a great present for my best friend who is into 4x4ing who we'd be visiting after our release, it ran on 12 volts so I figured he could use it to keep his beer cold on camping trips.
Then I setup a Deliveroo account to get groceries and alcohol delivered, there was no way I was going through this nightmare sober!
By the end of the first day I had set-up our entertainment, food and refreshments and a private wifi connection so we could connect all of our devices without having to worry about the hotel wifi kicking us out constantly. I also had procured a couple of UK sim cards with unlimited free calling and data so we could at least communicate with the outside world.
By the afternoon we were reedy from some fresh air (and some not so fresh air for Mrs H who was gasping for a smoke). We phoned down to reception and asked to be put on the list for some "Yard Time". About 10 minutes later a knock on the door came and for the first time it was an actual human being. A security guard escorted us to the back door of the hotel where there was a security desk with an older chap who clearly ranked higher than the average screws. Let's call him Adolf. Adolf was responsible for checking prisoners out and back in form the yard (the hotel car park) and loved the authority of his job. I took an instant dislike to Adolf when he demanded my name and room number and then had to have my name (which is not complicated) slowly mouthed to him phonetically as he couldn't seem to understand my northern English accent, which I felt was fairly ironic being just 200 miles from my birth town as I have no difficulty being understood in SA which is 10,000 kilometres away!
Needless to say, We felt even more like prisoners after being belittled by Adolf but we had managed to navigate his nonsense and were released into the yard under the instructions that we had 20 minutes. I was keen to get some level of exercise so after a starting smoke for Mrs H we proceeded to start walking laps of the car park, people watching and observing the other inmates whilst trying not to get "shived" (I may be exaggerating a bit there). I quickly figured out that one lap of the car park was 300 steps so Mrs H and I made a pact that we would do 10 laps on every outing so that we could at least get 3000 steps a day.
The pact lasted 2 days as the boredom kicked in and slowly dwindled to us going outside for 5 minutes while Mrs H had a fag and then went back inside as the weather was typically English and it rained for the bulk of our confinement. We even had some days when we didn't bother to go out and Mrs H took to locking herself in the bathroom for a smoke and I ordered some super-strong air freshener from Amazon!
As you can imagine the next 11 days were largely the same, I watched Youtube and analysed every element of my finances and did tons of research and Mrs H worked mostly on video conferences. We "knocked off" at 5pm every day and the wine was opened, dinner came around 6:30pm and we watched films on Netflix so that was every evening sorted. Evening meals were pretty mediocre as we were in the last room on the 9th floor so food was inevitably cold. 90% of the inmates were Indian, I assume because they were fleeing the COVID-19 flare up their so whilst 6 you had 2 choices of evening meal, one was always Indian. I don't mind Indian food but not every night and not when I'm barely moving each day and locked in a 4m x 6m room for close on 2 weeks. The alternatives were things like beef pie, mac and cheese, chicken and veg etc. so whilst edible, were carb heavy and everything I had avoided to lose a bunch of weight. I decided just to get on with it and worry about it later.
The weekend and half way point seemed to come by quickly and Friday night lifted our spirits a bit and we celebrated by having Doner Kebabs delivered which are a British classic usually consumed after heavy drinking and are shavings of lamb and salad in pitta breads with a spicy chilli sauce, street food at it's finest.
Saturday and Sunday were simply torture and in more ways than one for Mrs H. She had developed an abscess in her gum and by Saturday was in agony. No problem, the hotel has a 24x7 paramedic on site. I phoned down to reception to say we needed medical attention and was told to ring 111 which is a phone line to speak to someone with absolutely no medical qualifications whatsoever, answer a million questions and then a 17 year old call centre agent decides if you're sick enough to see a doctor. I'm not going to bore you with the 15 phone calls and messages and emails but needless to say, she never saw a medical professional and it took until Monday at 8pm to get basic antibiotics to treat her pain. Imagine 4 days with toothache brought on by an abscess whilst being locked in a hotel room in a foreign country. The girl deserves a medal. It would seem things have gone severely down hill with the National Health Service in the UK since we left 7 years ago. For the first time in my life, I actually appreciated the fact I pay for my Medical Aid and can see a doctor within hours in SA.
We had managed to pass the time with emails and video-conferences and general work type stuff for a lot of the weekdays but with nothing going on over the weekend, minutes felt like hours and we were getting a little stir crazy. To give you an idea of the boredom, Mrs H proved she cold still do handstands on a bed and could spin around herself 3 times on the office chair with one push. It had come to this!
On days 2 and 8 we had to get COVID tested which was a complicated affair. First one of the screws came and gave us 2 boxes and said he'd bae back to collect them in an hour. The boxes had a swab, a test tube and a bunch of bags and stickers. First you had to swab the back of your throat for 10 seconds (making you gag badly) and then you had to stick the same swab up your nose for 10 seconds (making your eyes water). Once this was doen you had to break off the swab into the test tube, seal it and place it in an airtight bag and put a sticker on it. Then you had to put everything back in the box and seal it with another sticker. Once this was done, you had to take a picture of the box, log onto the UK government COVID website and register your test. Then the screw took the boxes away and the next day you got an email and SMS to confirm you were still negative. What a surprise!
Going into Monday we were counting the hours before we were going to get released and briefly toyed with the idea of leaving at 00:01 on Thursday Morning but decided we were too old for those kind of shenanigans and should get a good night's sleep before our onward journey. I spent several hours trawling the internet to get the best deal on a hire car for the rest of our trip and settled on Avis at Heathrow Airport and a Peugeot 3001 as a the best value deal. That turned out to be a Citroen C4 but was fine for what we needed.
Eventually Thursday morning arrived and we had our 12th and final full English breakfast in the room and then phoned down to security to let us out of Shawshank. A security guard / bell boy arrived to take our bags and escort us to the front desk. I checked out paying a grand total of R50,440 / $3,362 / £2,522 for the pleasure of our stay which included 8 cans of the most expensive diet coke ever and we headed to the exit. The temptation to go and punch Adolf in the nuts was overwhelming but I had a word with myself and decided that as I was leaving and he was still checking humans in and out of a car park for probably less than the cost of my diet coke to give him a break and take the win.
10 minutes later we were in an Uber on the way to the airport to pick up a hire car and head the 200 miles north to my Mother's house to deal with all of the admin and emotional activities associated with losing one's father. We were so glad to be out of that place and would strongly recommend not travelling to the UK from a red list country unless absolutely necessary. The quality of accommodation is poor, the food is poor, the health care is terrible and the experience is not going to help your mental wellbeing.
Mrs H & I however never had so much as a crossed word with each other outside of our now standard love banter like her famous affectionate line; "Shut up dickhead!" or my renowned exclamation adoration "What is your malfunction woman?". We must still be in love!
Until next time, keep living