While many unlocked themselves and stumbled up and out, blinking rapidly into the modern minefield of crowded pubs, clubs, beaches, fast food outlets and other metaphors of normal life, we celebrated ‘super Saturday’ with a cautious, almost prim maiden trip across the county border to Surrey to see our friends Paul and Elise for lunch. I didn’t even break the 50mph speed limit on the old dual carriageway (A24) north in contrast to the 70mph limit on the scary M23 and M25 (are there any roads in the UK with standard 60mph speed limits?) We brought our signature lettuce cornucopia with us and had an eloquent lunch cooked by Paul and project-managed by Elise who was initially attending an urgent summons at something called the ‘hairdresser’. Their sons Toby and Leo were in polite attendance while silent drizzle tousled the tidy garden. We turned the wrong way out when we left, spending 20 minutes double de-clutching to and fro the winding hills of Surrey behind thousands of sweaty cyclists in late-afternoon lycra.
Ella and Sam visited us briefly before taking a plane to Malaga to spend the rest of the summer (including Ella’s birthday) working and holidaying at Sam’s parents’ house in the surrounding mountains. Some of the Luxembourg Mileses, namely Anthony and Oliver, arrived to heighten our spirits and do some useful jobs around the house and garden, helped at some stage by my niece Sophie and nephews George and Joe. Anthony and Oliver karchered most of the stone slabs on and around the terrace, painted fences and coal-hole covers, dug trenches and holes, moved large truncated trunks of wood around, and cleared out the garage which we had used as a domestic rubbish dump while access to the town dump had been restricted. They also weeded and cleared the vegetable garden, where the excess production of lettuce is falling due to high local consumption as well as usain-bolting. A steadier output of potatoes, courgettes and beans has been established. By the end of their labours it seemed from the photos as if a TV-style makeover of house, garden and garage had taken place. Jessie came down for the weekend to help with the tasks, bringing back a wheelbarrow load of lettuce as fair compensation. Alli and I went up to London with more garden produce later in the month to see Jessie and Jurrat and pass a great afternoon with them including a beautifully prepared fish barbecue in their garden in Gipsy Hill. They came back to Broad Oaks twice more for short visits to look around Brighton and see their uncle and grandparents.
I stayed with my sister-in-law Julia in Brussels for a few days and caught up with friends Laurence, Claude and Corentin in Rixensart over excellent food, wine, and society. I also went with Julia to have lunch with old friends the Bentleys in Ottiginies, and to a socially distanced Indian restaurant in Rue Stevin, the first restaurant I had visited since March. I then spent a few days near Toulon in the Domaine Coulombaud, the rustic residence of friends Mike and Marie-Paul, who welcomed me and a couple of other guests with exceptional hospitality. The invitation coincided with the first open weekend during which the wine from the domaine’s vineyard could be tasted and bought on site by the public. We gave moral support in our chic corporate tee shirts whilst being entertained generously, touring the grounds leisurely, and socialising harmoniously with other visitors and friends including Marie-Paul’s family and friends, and some nearby dignitaries including a hilarious local mayor. It was a weekend to remember and savour, an antidote to the frustrations of the lockdown and a comedy extravaganza. The wine wasn’t bad either. https://coulombaud.fr/en/wine-shop/
A strange thing occurred on my way back from Brussels. Before the trip I filled in the UK’s new Public Health Passenger Locator form, a key element in the government’s world-beating track and trace system. I filled in what I could including, after hesitating, my mobile number. At the front line at UK passport control in the Gare du Midi in Brussels, delays and irritation were caused by confusion over this form in the lengthening queues of mostly young people. Having shown the UK customs official the document that I had already filled in and sent online, I received back a torn slip of paper with the code number from the same document scribbled on it, although with a 7 that looked more like a 1. I was told to hand it in when I got to the UK. For the record, my Eurostar seat was changed to 6/66.
As soon as we emerged from the Eurotunnel into the steel-rimmed Garden of England I was phoned with a recorded message that I had been named in a fraud investigation and must dial 1 to get legal advice. An identical call came 30 minutes later. Another the next day informed me that I could evade the charge if I became a client of Palladian Finance. Another call numerically close to the previous ones exhorted me to invest in magic money, claiming also that I was legally obliged to do so. Knowing that the track and test process was one of the dozen or more public data and health contracts in the past 9 months awarded without due process to recently created companies linked to Dominic Cummings and Michael Gove, I concluded – perhaps wrongly – that my data had been compromised and given to Palantir, recently appointed devil’s advocate to HM Government. When I got to the arrival area in St. Pancras I counted 16 unmelodious security officials and police scowling at us as if we were an unchained gang. I found nowhere to hand in my slip of paper with the scribbled code number before I made it out to the shoppers’ paradise in the forecourt. But I do now have experience of the UK’s track and trace system – threatened, extorted and my personal data stolen. Useless. I can’t wait for the draining of my bank account and the inevitable online questionnaire. I started making plans for a longer exile. We also bought a car.