After almost exactly two years without any visitors, we finally broke our duck in early September when two of our UK blacksmithing pals, Bill and Monica, came to stay for a few days. It was strange how nervous we felt before their arrival, how worried we were if we could even remember how to entertain visitors, if the guest room was up to scratch, if we still knew how to cook for more than two people. It was all nonsense of course. The instant they pulled onto the drive, the nerves dissolved beneath the huge wave of joy at their being here, with us, in our space that washed over us. And, needless to say, we also found that looking after visitors still came as naturally to us as ever.
So just a few weeks later as the arrival of our next visitors started to draw closer, we found ourselves now free of those first night nerves and simply looking forward to David and Samantha’s long-awaited visit with almost childlike, counting-the-days-down excitement. Fellow members of the informal Friday night ‘Sundowners Club’ at our local pub in Lincolnshire, we had first got to know each other by letting off steam together at the end of the working week, sharing in the general silliness and banter bouncing back and forth between a gas fitter, a pilot, an estate agent, a mental health worker, two RAF members, two primary school teachers (David and Samantha) and the two owners of a blacksmith’s forge (Mr Blue-Shirt and me). But over time we grew closer, spent more time and did more things together as we found that we had much more in common than frequently maddening jobs and a taste for real ale and prosecco. Slightly improbably, we even ended up working together when David, then a primary school deputy head, was involved in a national art project for schools that led to us running drawing workshops and then forging workshops with his pupils and the work they produced with us subsequently being included in an exhibition at the National Gallery.
Their jobs naturally mean that they can only come over in the school holidays, and when they do, they just need to switch off and stop for a few days. So after fifteen months in and out of lockdown, a succession of school closures and re-openings, dealing with on- and off-line teaching, bubbles, staff and pupil absences – and all while still trying to meet the requirements of the national curriculum – that need had become more pressing than ever, especially since they had already had to cancel what had become their regular spring half-term trip right at the start of the pandemic.
For our part, it had simply been way too long since we had enjoyed their company, swapped stories and put the world to rights together, laughed together, eaten together, drunk too much together, and just been silly and mucked about together. So in the run-up to their trip, we had thought about what we could do if the weather was good and what if it was not, which restaurants we might want to go to, what sights we could show them, what dishes we might cook, which walks we could do, what events we could take them too. Whatever we did, though, we knew were just going to have fun re-connecting and just being together again.
Three days before their arrival Samantha confirmed they’d both boked their pre-flight Covid tests required for entry into Italy, downloaded their digital proof of vaccination and completed their passenger locator forms. They were all good to go.
A couple of hours later, though, David let us know us that a colleague he’d shared a car with a few days earlier had tested positive with a lateral flow test. Not a problem, we reasoned: lateral flow tests are known to be a bit unreliable. And the colleague had surely been vaccinated. Plus David had done a lateral flow test as soon as he’d heard and that had been negative, so…. It’ll be fine. No need to worry.
Mr Blue-Shirt’s phone pinged again while we were having dinner; it was David. He’d been picked up by the NHS tracking app: his colleague had received a positive PCR test result and so he too now needed to take a PCR test. It’s no big deal, we told ourselves. It’s just how the system works. The app is bound to be messaging loads of other contacts. He and his colleague can’t have spent that long in his car together anyway. It’s precautionary: he’s been double vaccinated. It’ll be fine. No need to worry.
They had both already taken their PCR tests earlier that day as part of their pre-flight routine, so it was just a matter of waiting to get their thumbs-up and smiley-face emojis confirming what we all already knew. It’s just a formality, the ever-Tiggerish David assured us: he didn’t have any symptoms and felt as fit as a fiddle. It’ll be fine. No need to worry.
The ping we were waiting for came the next morning, almost exactly 48 hours before we were due to be picking our friends up from the airport. David had forwarded the notification he’d just received from the NHS Covid-19 app: “Your coronavirus PCR test (or other lab test) result is positive. It is likely you had the virus when the test was done. ….. Self-isolate immediately for ten days to avoid infecting others.”
In his succinct accompanying message David spoke for all four of us.
Image of Raffaello Sanzio Airport, Ancona courtesy of http://www.structurae.net