July 1st

We’ve finally made it home. It is our Great Reward for enduring London’s interminable Winter Lockdown, a shapeless blob of despair punctuated by muddy walks on the Heath. Here now in, or should I say, above, Pitt Street, I can hear Sydney’s Town Hall clock and the call of a magpie flying past our very own bird’s nest on the fifty something floor. Twenty-four hours is a long time in a paper face mask and I don’t recommend the curry option for dinner. It will haunt you. I’d forgotten quite how long the flight was, having flown precisely nowhere since December 2019 thanks to a Bat Out Of Wuhan. On this occasion, luck was with us and miraculously, on the 28th of June, we had permission to fly. Cue frenzied packing, paperwork, PCRs, passenger locator forms, temperature checks, holding pens, queues and eerily quiet airport terminals. When we finally touched down onto a rain soaked Mascot tarmac glimpses of what was once our dear, friendly city revealed instead a biosecurity scene from a dystopian film, set somewhere in a future far too bleak to be ours. Confronted by armed police and military personnel instead of friendly airport ground staff we faced more clipboard wielding officials, temperature checks, medical questionnaires and saggy queues but were finally, mercifully, deposited onto a bus where a jovial but exhausted bus driver announced that NSW Covid protocol contained more ‘Don’ts than Do’s’ and that a policeman would be climbing onboard to take us through them before our departure. As we waited and watched as even wearier masked passengers mounted the bus, we listened to the garrulous military personnel and armed police on the curb side; there’s something intrinsically Australian about the sounds of casual banter and mirth in a health crisis. After being read the rule book by a sweaty policeman, with a lurch of gears we were finally on our way out of Mascot, grubby, tired and masked but one step closer to our end goal: reunion with family and friends. We were the first allowed off the bus in Sydney’s CBD, was this a promising omen? Strange to be escorted past an officious reception area more hospital than hotel and after a (never-ending) ascent, the lift doors opened and we were escorted to our room by a cheerful young woman in naval uniform. We clocked the security guard stationed outside our apartment door as we dragged our luggage inside. We were not given a key, as we were not allowed out.

Nothing makes sense but melatonin and shut eye, but I’m pinching myself that soon, very soon, I will be able to hug my parents. Dad has been unwell and as he is soon to turn 88  I’m desperate to be with him.

Our eldest child, who is 18, has stayed back in London and is in the process of getting her second jab. She included me in a group FaceTime with her friends tonight, they are all miserable and suffering from the Delta variant following their Year 13 Leavers Do. Edie is fine, though, as we all had Covid (the o- g Wuhan variant) in March 2020 so have natural immunity. Right? Anthony and I had antibody tests way back then too, which prove we’ve had it, not that I needed telling, as I lost my sense of taste and smell for months and then enjoyed Long Covid symptoms which included stabbing pain, general bewilderment and fatigue and now, hoorah, a permanently altered sense of smell. The kids had fevers and coughs back then that fitted the Coronavirus brief, but I do wish now that we’d done the tedious antibody test on the kids and not just the adults (this involved lancets, drawing and then ‘milking’ blood from your fingers into a tiny vial and posting it off to a lab).

Sydney Harbour is grey and silver, threaded with an endless cycle of yellow and green ferries. I’m overwhelmed with relief and gratitude for being home, finally home, knowing soon I will see the grounds on Old South Head Road where the kids used to play rugby enjoy fish and chips on a hill above Bondi Beach. I will even dive into the freezing ocean.

July 2nd

It has now become evident, that in the intervening hours between leaving (deserted) Heathrow and landing in (heavily policed) Sydney, that when we finally get out of quarantine it will be difficult to go anywhere. We’ve traded London’s Pingdemic for the NSW Delta Health Crisis.  I swear Sydney had been a veritable utopia till the precise moment we touched down; an endless stream of BBQs and parties via social media reminded us of Australia’s rare freedom during our long months of UK winter lockdown. Now it seems this utopia is dissolving into something more like The Day Of The Triffids. I’m now trying to wrap my head around how I actually get to Newcastle to see Mum and Dad. Anthony is here to work and to reconnect with all his colleagues he has not seen since Feb 2020 but it seems he too will be ‘working from home’ in the manner we have been doing up till now in London. At least he will be working in the same time zone, right? Silver linings? Anyone?

We wake to fog surrounding our bird’s nest above the Town Hall, the clocks strike six, but every single timepiece in this quarantine apartment tells a different story. By the bed its 2.20, my Aussie phone says its 3.33, my UK phone says 9.28 and I daren’t look at my Fitbit. I feel a little like I’m in the pages of Orwell’s 1984.

A news bulletin last night sent shock waves of panic, something about potential flight restrictions in and out of Oz to stop the Delta variant spreading. Could this affect our ability to get home for our daughter’s all important A Level results day? We’d timed our trip home with such precision and that all seems to be flying out of this stratospherically high window.  Guilt has me in a grip, as I wanted so desperately to see my parents. Now I’ve put all four of us at risk of getting stuck. I woke at 1am with anxiety but another internal voice told me that everything would be alright. I vow to not watch the news and to include a bottle of wine in the grocery order, all of which will be delivered to just outside our door by heavily masked men. A weary security guard is perched outside all night. They don’t trust us to do as we’re told and stay inside for 14 days? The sun struggles to break through the fog up here and Jack says ‘look, Mum, it’s the apocalypse’.  

Clocks continue to tell their different variations time reminding me that in England they are inching towards Freedom Day, but here, the  NSW Lockdown is just beginning. Snakes and Ladders come to mind; we’ve slid back in a hole in time to the beginning of restrictions. This afternoon, PCR tests were administered by two nurses in PPE. The PM is cutting international flights by half to stop the influx of the new variant. Our eldest son complains of hay fever and I call a chemist to request delivery of antihistamine and Soothers for his sore throat. The lunch is ghastly but we are boosted by flowers from our oldest friends and a care package of Twisties and Violet Crumbles from another. What a lift a Violet Crumble is to flagging spirits. I lie on the bed and listen to the hum of cranes and jackhammers and sirens. There are few cars on the road in the CBD. I will never witness the city of Sydney so eerily still again. 

3rd July

Woke up at midnight and banged my wine glass half-full of water into the bedside light where it made a loud gong. Last night we had Friday Night Zoom drinks with our best friends. I made a stupid joke about needing one of them to be my Covid bitch, my witty pal corrected me saying she ‘identified as Covid Sherpa’. Edie calls in from London asking whether we’d taken all the paracetamol. I’m worried she’ll get the Delta variant as it is rife, but convince myself it’s not possible. She’s double jabbed. We’ve all had Covid. Doesn’t that give you lifelong immunity? I listen to BBC Radio 4 every morning, I think I know what’s what! The boys get up early to watch the Euros after a lot of fiddling about for the platform which will deliver it. Dongles are required! Then the right usernames and passwords. Ick.

External news that trickles in via smart phones can so easily trigger stress when you’re, for all intents and purposes, locked up. Something about the batch of Astra Zeneca vaccine used in Anthony’s jab not being recognised for Covid travel passport purposes? The thought buzzing round my head like a stubborn fly involves filling up the car with petrol in order to drive to see Mum and Dad and then being exposed to someone with Covid in the service station. Even though I’m double jabbed and have antibodies, I still worry. The Anzac Bridge to the west is eerily deserted. It feels raw and strange to be here, jetlagged, desperate to see family, but locked in.

4th July

Early this morning a phone call on the landline. Anthony answers, and I hear his monotonal response. Okay, he says. Okay. Okay. Okay. That is one too many okays.

‘What was that?’ I ask, still in pj’s.

‘Our PCR test results are back,’ he says. ‘Tom has tested positive for Covid. We have to leave here. They’re coming to get us to take us somewhere else. Pack up everything. We don’t have long.’