“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
This opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens expresses what we are all feeling 160 years after this book was written.
As Eskdale and Liddesdale face an extended period of lockdown with the rest of the UK, the E&L Advertiser speaks to residents, whose lives are being disrupted to a greater or lesser extent by the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is no doubt that communities are feeling fearful of this deadly new virus which is indiscriminate in its impact and is affecting everyone from the Prime Minister to health and care workers.
But there is a great spirit of co-operation which is helping everyone to stick with self-isolation and make the best of these strange days.
Philip and Cathie Gunn have been doing lots of gardening during the enforced self-isolation at their Langholm home.
Philip owns Art Corner Gallery in the High Street where he sells his own and others’ works, frames pictures and works on commissions. He is also the instructor at the town’s karate club.
Cathie is a former health visitor and she has reregistered in case she is needed for nursing but she has not heard anything yet.
Philip, who is 70, said: “We’re both at home. Cathie is shopping and I’m staying in. It’s more dangerous for men around 70 than for women.
“We’re gardening; we’re doing lots of gardening and I sorted out my training room so I’m doing lots of training.
“A couple of my instructors, one in Staten Island, New York and another in Norwich, are doing online classes so I’m following them. “I’ve got to keep going and keep fit; otherwise, it’s very easy to sit in front of the TV and Netflix.
“The Langholm club is not doing anything online but other clubs are so our members can follow them.”
Philip’s shop is closed and he’s done no business since mid-March. He has applied for support from the small business rate relief scheme but isn’t sure whether he’ll get it. “If I don’t get anything, I’m not bothered because I get my pension. There are other people in a worse state than me.”
Gardening has kept Philip from doing any painting during the nice spell of weather but, if it rains, he will get back to it.
He says the worst thing is not being able to visit their family and especially their two sets of grandchildren. Their son is a teacher in London and goes into work on certain days which is a worry for them. Philip said: “They live in a flat and we’re doing Facetime with them every day. “They love it when they come up here. At least in Langholm we’re remote and can go for a walk.”
Philip also has a nephew who is a police officer in Stoke-on-Trent and a big racing fan. He went to the Cheltenham Festival for a break and caught the virus.
Adrian Downey and his wife, Paula, who live in Newcastleton are both still working through this crisis as essential workers.
Adrian, who is a keen cyclist, and Paula, who is an artist and was last year’s Copshaw Tub, live with their younger son, Oli, 16, while Sam lives in Carlisle with his partner.
Life in lockdown is not so different for them. Adrian works for Metal Box in Carlisle which makes beer cans and is an essential part of the food supply chain.
He said: “It’s good to keep working; it gives you some normality. I’m still doing shift work and, as far as production goes, nothing has changed.
“Paula is still working because she is a practice nurse at the health centre and she’s also doing some community nursing because some of the nurses coming from Hawick are showing symptoms and can’t come down here. “She’s been going into elderly people’s homes and is quite enjoying the change.
“Sam works as a duty manager at the Sands Centre and has been furloughed, along with his partner, so they’re stuck at home in isolation, which is quite tough.
“Oli is at home. He started an apprenticeship with Rock UK in February and has been furloughed.”
Adrian says Copshaw is already a quiet place, apart from tourism, but people are walking, riding their bikes and going for jogs. He said: “I’ve not been involved in the community help but Paula is doing her bit with the resilience team.
“There are several houses around ours which she goes to twice a day and checks on the residents if they are vulnerable people living on their own.
“If they want help, they put a red card in the window so she knows they need assistance. “The resilience team is doing a good job; Newcastleton looks after itself.”
Paula’s parents, Jim and Moira Rowan, live in the village. She can’t see them but they are being looked after with food deliveries. Adrian’s parents live in Carlisle and he hasn’t seen them for a month. He acknowledges there are a lot of good things going on all over the world.
He said: “It’s good that people are using their common sense to do whatever is necessary whether making bags for nurses or using technology to make face masks. They’re doing it without being told.”
Adrian goes cycling every day and, after posting a ride to Kielder Dam on Facebook, he was asked why he had gone to a different county and country.
He said he was on his own, not in a group, and he was not even stopped by a police car which passed him.