This weekend is the closest to ‘normal’ we’ve done since the start of Lockdown. On Friday afternoon we went down to Broadstairs, the traffic as congested as any other I can remember on the first weekend of the school summer holidays. We got there about six, just as dog restrictions on Stone Bay beach lifted and and we could go down for a heavenly swim in the sea.
After so many months barely ever venturing beyond the confines of our little corner of south London, the vast expanse of sand, sea and sky was almost as shocking as the cold water. How wonderful to be able to see beyond a few hundred feet without bricks or rooftiles; how beautiful the long shadows stretching out across the sand as the sun dipped behind the cliffs.
We stayed with much loved friends and, of course, we couldn’t hug them when we met, but we had a whole evening and the next day to catch up, listen, share and feel supported in ways that Zoom meetings and phone calls never manage to do.
Our first experience of a meal in a restaurant under Covid conditions was at Prezzo on Friday night. We had booked an outside table overlooking the sea. There were floor markings and hand-sanitiser at the door, a one-way system for moving around and instructions from the staff on how to navigate it all.
To read a menu, you had to take a photograph of a QR code with your phone, scan it and enter your table number. We were laughably rubbish at using the technology, not helped by having only 12% battery left on the phone we were using. There was no time for prevaricating over whether to go for pasta or pizza; choose something quickly or the phone might die.
The next day we were up early for another swim on an almost deserted beach, breakfast and then a walk with the dog to Ramsgate. There we stopped for lunch where the cafe was much more low-tech: paper menus on the outside tables and order at the bar, a much more relaxed (and risky?) approach to social distancing perhaps.
By the time was got back to Broadstairs, Viking Bay beach was busy – but still with space for people to stay 2m apart. The pavements in the town centre were crowded, though, with clusters of people snaking from side to side trying to stay apart.
Despite the summer season being so vital to local businesses, not all the bars and restaurants in Broadstairs have reopened. Notices in some windows said social distancing was too difficult in the space and owners weren’t confident they could keep staff and customers safe.
So summer at the seaside this year feels almost, but not quite, normal. What was totally new for us was leaving both teenagers in the house alone for a night while we went away. What state would they – and our home – be in when we got back? “If it’s unnaturally tidy you’ll know they’ve had a party,” warned our friend.
But, it wasn’t. We returned to find the kitchen a mess of take-away cartons and unwashed dishes and the bathroom floor buried under smelly clothes and wet towels. Eldest son was out at a friend’s; youngest was on the X-box. All is normal in SW2.