Staycations: Why we must still look out for each other – Jayne Dowle

IT wasn’t until after I had shaken the hotel manager’s hand that I thought about it. Was I really allowed to do that? We’ve been in Norfolk for a few days. Me, my husband and the dog, George.

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Should I have offered this chap an elbow-bump instead? Given that I had just thanked him for his calm intervention following a scrape with another dog-owning guest, who was on the point of hysteria and about to call the police following a minor canine altercation at breakfast, an elbow-bump would hardly have sufficed. Especially accompanied by that bashful little shuffle and wink and click of the heels that always seemed necessary somehow.

Seizing the chance to escape the daily grind, it’s been quite the eye-opener in these nervous times and not quite what I expected from the first few days in which restrictions have been lifted.

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What are the social conventions as we emerge, blinking into the (very bright) sunlight? The big divide, obviously, is whether you choose to wear a face-mask, or not. Double-vaccinated, under 60 and thankfully with no massively major underlying health conditions, we’ve decided to generally ditch, unless visiting a hospital or care home, or if it would be illegal not to.

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However, I am entirely respectful of those who choose to continue to cover their faces. My mother, father and mother-in-law, all in their seventies, have announced that they won’t be entering any shops or taking any form of public transport without masking-up. If this gives them the confidence to go about their daily lives, who would begrudge them? Certainly not me.

What I would like to see, however, is the same level of respect for personal choice offered in return. I’ve caught ‘that’ look in the eyes of masked-up individuals as we’ve gone about our travels, even as we strolled down the bracing mile-long boulevard that links the town of Wells-next-the-Sea to the beach.

I know this sounds harsh, but if I was quite so anxious about my health, I would perhaps avoid crowded seaside towns for the rest of summer and find somewhere quieter to take my exercise. It’s not as if England is lacking.

Up the coast at Brancaster, we walked out to the sea at low tide, leaving behind the hundreds of families building sandcastles. I made a point of turning back to look. From this isolated vantage point was this a country which had just undergone the biggest social upheaval since the Second World War? Distance is everything, I concluded.

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‘Freedom Day’ had scattered my little family to the winds. My son, Jack, hopped on the Megabus from Meadowhall to London to visit his girlfriend. He’s had one Covid vaccination so far. And daughter Lizzie decamped to Devon with family friends to enjoy two of her favourite passions, body-boarding and BBQs on the beach. She’s 15, so still unvaccinated.

As I agreed to their plans, I tried not to think about the possibilities of how and where they might possibly contract the virus far from my direct care and what the consequences could be. Loosening of restrictions also means loosening the bonds which have wrapped us so tightly into households and bubbles.

It’s been such a relentless and miserable year for teenagers, their education disrupted, plans cancelled at the last minute and, for Jack, month after month of part-time work on the frontline in our local supermarket.

As a parent, I’ve decided that we can’t keep our young people locked indoors forever. If 140,000 motor-racing fans were allowed to mingle at Silverstone, with Lizzie amongst them – she took part in a dance performance – surely I couldn’t begrudge them a few days away from the four walls at home?

As we pootled down the A1, I worried that we might be wasting our money. We undertook a similar adults-only jaunt to the Cotswolds for our wedding anniversary last September. Whilst the food was superb and the architecture mostly inspiring, the hotel was edgily unwelcoming. Greater Manchester had just emerged from a local lockdown at the time. We tried not to think that it was because we were Northerners.

We found none of that reticence in Norfolk last week. If anything, almost everyone was embracing our new freedoms, perhaps to enjoy them whilst we can.

Although hotel and bar staff wore face masks, there was little overt evidence of coronavirus sanitation measures. I did actually find this slightly unnerving, after a year and a half of laminated edicts pinned to walls. Back to normal? Whatever that is.

What else did I learn from my ‘Freedom Week’? That it’s surprising how quickly we’ve gone from ‘all in this together’ to doing our own thing and making our own judgements. And that allowing dogs in hotel dining rooms is one consequence of the pooch-obsessed post-pandemic world we could probably all live without.

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