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A month in lockdown

Andy writes:

Everything happened so quickly.

I had arrived in Madrid on March 1st to begin a month-long language teaching course at International House in the city centre. The first week flew by as my fellow students and I were bombarded with assignments. Nobody was really talking about what was happening in China and Italy, we were too busy trying to figure out what the 'zero conditional' was. But by the Monday of week two everything changed. Schools and universities were to close the following day and although our college wasn't obliged to, we were all discussing the possibility.

The following morning hand sanitisers appeared in the classrooms and we stopped taking the bus, preferring to walk. Everyone started washing their hands, a lot.

By Thursday some of us had decided to head home after a discussion with our tutors about restarting at some point in the future. Some had come from as far afield as Bulgaria and Ireland to study but most live either in Madrid itself or in the surrounding countryside.

On Friday (March 13th) the college announced it was to close and on Saturday evening at 8pm lockdown began.

Although I was lucky enough to come back to the open spaces of Extremadura to self-isolate most of my fellow students and all of our tutors are still stuck in their apartments in Madrid. Here are some of their stories:


Will, from England

I live alone in a small apartment in Chamberí, Madrid. I moved here a couple of weeks before the lockdown started. I’m here for a few months to do a language course and use it for work, but that has obviously been put on hold.. So with no job to keep me occupied for most of the day, the hardest part of quarantine is filling my days with something that is somewhat productive. There’s only so much drinking and Netflix a man can do.

My balcony, if you can even call it that, never gets the sun. I’ve never been so jealous of old men before, sitting on their balconies soaking in the rays with a beer in hand. It’s strange to forget what the sun feels like on your skin. I’ll even have a cigarette on the way to the store (which is only 50 metres away) so I can have 5 minutes in the sun. But the police have stopped me a couple of times to grill me on what I was doing, once even asking for a receipt while I was clearly on the way there with my empty bags in hand.

My friends back in England, who see that Madrid is one of the most affected areas, often ask me what it’s like here. To be honest, I don’t know either because I never really leave my apartment. You watch the news and you get the same information that the rest of the world does, even though it’s happening all around you. But for all the loneliness, boredom, and existential dread, 8 o’clock is is always a nice experience. Madrid suddenly, just for a couple of minutes, transforms from ghost town to full and vibrant city again.

Gökçe, from Turkey

My cat and I live on a busy street by Retiro Park. The streets around here are usually bustling with locals and tourists but lately they appear to be totally abandoned. You see the odd person now and again, walking their dog or dragging an overflowing shopping trolley, but that's about it. The air is incredibly fresh and you can hear the birds all day, it’s so tranquil, peaceful and quiet. Even the rain smells different. I could get used to this!

The best part of all of this time at home has been spending some quality time with my cat. Despite not being allowed to go out most of her life, she's never complained, not once. I’ve always admired and respected her for that, but I guess I empathise with her now more than ever. She lives in the moment, doesn't worry about the past or what's to come, and is so tolerant and wise. There is a beautiful quote by Charles Bukowski, "Cats tell me without effort all that there is to know,"

Clare, our tutor, from England but a long time resident of Madrid

People are taking things very well in general. Last week there was a heart-stopping moment for many when it looked like the government might remove tobacconists from the list of essential services (finally they didn’t). The queue last Sunday was round the block, though very orderly and everybody keeping their distance!

Going outside, whether to buy food or take out the rubbish (the only justified trips out we can make), involves gloving and masking up. It isn’t even an effort now. I’ve become an expert in recognising my neighbours by their hair!

We spend the afternoon counting the hours until 8 pm like a child counts down the days to their birthday. This is the time we all hang out of our windows and applaud health workers until our hands hurt. In our house we have a speaker set up in the window where we blast out Resistiré, the song that has become the Covid-19 anthem over here. For many, this is the only time of day they see other human faces. The solidarity is amazing. Thanks to our amazing health service, police, and so many others, for most of us, todo saldrá bien (everything will be OK).


Andy: Usually, when I return from a trip away from home my first port of call is Bar Avenida. Over a couple of glasses of wine I catch up with what’s been happening, and find out if the rain that’s fallen was the right type. Invariably not.

This time I was returning from a few weeks in the city, it was the day before the lockdown started and I drove straight home to begin my self isolation. That was a month ago and besides my wife I haven’t seen or spoken to a single person face to face.

Our finca is tucked away down a well-rutted dirt track. It’s quiet. On a normal day maybe five or six cars pass by but now there is just one—Antonio going to tend to his cows in the dehesa. He beeps as he passes and we wave. The dogs don’t even bother to bark at him anymore.

Once a week I walk across the fields to check on and take a picture of our neighbour Fidel's rows of potatoes. Fidel is quarantined in the village and unable to visit his finca so I send the picture to him and report on anything else that might interest him. He’s in his eighties and has been at his finca pretty much every morning since the mid 1960’s, so being stuck at home for so long must be particularly hard for him. But he’s very upbeat and philosophical about it all, and of course “the rain isn’t the right sort”!

To be honest being isolated here isn’t very difficult. Life goes on pretty much as normal: the animals still need mucking out, the fences still need fixing and the huerto (veg patch) still needs rotavating. And the calves still come over to see us in the evenings. The only real difference is that this year we are having to grow everything from seed. Normally we buy ‘sets’ from the market. We see what’s there and plant accordingly, but the markets are closed and no-one knows for how long. The potatoes, broad beans, peas, carrots and runner beans are already coming up and the luffas, tomatoes, and peppers have sprouted in their trays.

The only stockpiling we did was to buy four more chickens to ensure our supply of fresh eggs. They have now settled into a life of grubbing around in the compost looking for bugs and chasing the kittens when they don’t observe social distancing.

It’s been a warm winter and a fairly wet spring, the wild flowers are starting to put on their annual show and the mushrooms will soon make an appearance.

There are still some weeks of lockdown to come for us all but I hope for everyone’s sake that by July and August, when the temperatures are nudging 40 degrees, we will be allowed to find a quiet spot by a river to cool down. Will we be allowed to use the lake? What about the beautiful village swimming pool? Who knows. But if masks become compulsory over the summer, which is being talked about, there will be some amusing tan-lines this year!


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