It appears we’re going to be on the move, sporadically, for a good deal longer than we thought.
We were lucky to get out of London at all. We hit the first blockade when we’d barely passed Brent Cross. As the ‘Slow’ signs and flashing sirens emerged from their forest of cones, Sue narrowed her eyes and said, “Well, so much for getting out early.”
Ahead of us, a steady stream of traffic was guided through the central reservation and back towards London. There was nowhere to go except up to the checkpoint, where one of the three armed police officers approached my window and asked where we were going. I told him we needed to get to Windermere, and he looked at me like I’d just told him I was aiming to fly to the moon.
“You want to go on holiday in the middle of a National Crisis, do you, sir?” he said.
I thought about pretending we couldn’t go back home because of an outbreak, but luckily I thought better of it, even though we didn’t know about the quarantine camps at this point – nobody did except those who were in them – I just had the feeling that going back to any major centre of population wouldn’t be wise at this juncture. Instead, I said, “We’re trying to get home – we’ve been on holiday, and we need to get back to my elderly mother.”
He went off and spoke to his superior officer, then murmured an incomprehensible stream of words and numbers into his radio and listened intently to the incomprehensible crackle that returned.
“You can get to the M1,” he said, “but you’ll only come up against another road block before you get past Birmingham, and I don’t fancy your chances of getting there tonight.”
“We have a caravan,” I pointed out.
“Well, you can’t camp on the M1.”
The whole country was in the process of being locked down, and he wasn’t having any argument. He said we’d be given somewhere to park the caravan in the city.
“Go back to Brent Cross, and they’ll escort you to a safe waiting zone – I’ll let them know you’re coming.”
He opened up the near barrier and pointed us through the gap to the southbound lanes, while flashing sirens warned us from attempting to go further North. But as soon as we were underway, Sarah looked up from her handset with other ideas.
“Get off at Junction 4 and take the A41. We’ll see how far we can get out of London avoiding the motorways,” she said, with more confidence than I’d expect of somebody who I was initiating into the arcane art of road navigation less than three months ago. “Set the W4PS to check for updates from UKfluweb for towns that’ve been locked down,” she told Sue. “It looks like we can still make it past Birmingham tonight if we hurry.”
Despite my little deception, this level of civil disobedience hadn’t quite occurred to me. I wasn’t sure whether to be shocked or impressed, but I was definitely a little wary at the suggestion we actually go on the run. Sue made the necessary decision.
“We didn’t just pack two months’ supplies into a dilapidated caravan so that we could be herded into a secured scout hut to die within a week”. She’d been silently catching up on socnet statuses from her cousins in Wood Green, where the clampdown on travel had come in quickly and ruthlessly that morning. They’d been at their grandmother’s when what they called “pigs in spacesuits” came door-to-door, grabbing anybody who so much as took a breath deep enough to cough with. They were demanding to see everybody registered at the address; thankfully Kelly had the presence of mind to hide, but Tracey had stomped out to give them a piece of her mind when they began interrogating her gran, and they’d been dragged into a van full of aged neighbours. They were given face masks for protection. “It looked like they were being gagged” was what Kelly said after peering through the curtain to see her sister and elderly grandmother bundled into a police van. Sue shared this with us sombrely as I followed Sarah’s directions.
For the first three hours, I drove while Sarah tapped away in the back with a workset, the W4PS and a road atlas, negotiating a route around the exclusion zones. Then Sue took over the driving and I did the navigation, while Sarah kept track of newsnets, having been refused a turn at the wheel.
That’s taken us as far as here – a field in “Wedgnock” which is precisely the middle of absolutely nowhere, identified by Sarah as being set far enough back from the road or any inhabited building that we can safely stop for a few nights without being reported. Our assessment is that we’re in for the long haul. I’d never appreciated how much geography is bypassed by simple means of a motorway. It could take us another two days to get as far as the Lakes, and that’s if a) all these little roads are traversable with a trailer, b) no extreme weather makes them impassable and c) no more of them get closed off in the meantime. Then there’s the possibility of hitting traffic again. We’re not the only ones who turned refugee just before it was too late. What will they do if the roads get blocked with us? Herd us into quarantine camps? Leave us to walk home or starve?
But I’m getting morbid, and that does none of us any good. So, it’ll take a little longer than we thought. It’ll be a journey to remember, whatever happens.