This blog is supposed to be about financial independence and retiring early (FIRE). So how does a post about Covid fit into that? My answer: it fits because financial independence (and retiring early if you choose that bit too) provides the opportunity to do much more of what we want. If I want to write about Covid this week, I can - there's no boss telling me, hey, that's not your job. If less people read this post, that's OK too, like I said, it's not my job. This probably doesn't make much sense, but I'd argue that this is a FIRE post, precisely because it's not FIRE post.
Some time back, I posted about keeping an early retirement journal. I used to think that keeping a journal sounded incredibly dull and boring, there's no way you'd catch me doing that! Well, I've realised that my blog can be similar to a journal, and it turns out that keeping a journal can be a lot of fun. Who'd have thought? So, if I'm already kind of keeping a journal, surely if should say something about Covid. After all, it's dominated our lives for more than two years.
Plus, I've recently joined the Covid club - yep, I've tested positive😬. Statistically, it was likely to happen at some point, but I'd tried really hard to avoid it, spending 27 months being careful and diligently following the rules. I wore a mask before it was mandatory to do so and after the requirement was dropped, I avoided crowded places, heck, I even held my breath when I ran past people. Bizarrely, I felt I'd somehow failed when I tested positve. How daft is that?!
I woke on 21 May 2022 with a slight sore throat and the beginnings of a cold. Nothing major, I still headed out for a 32km run. Over the next two days, the sore throat disappeared, the cold continued, and a tickly cough developed. I was to meet up with my eighty-three year old Dad so, to be on the safe side, thought I'd take a test. Grrr, positive!
Even though I felt pretty much fine, I cancelled the plans with my Dad, contacted some people I'd been in contact with to let them know, and isolated as best I could until a negative test twelve days later. Sally never got it - wine must be a Covid buster!
Covid has taken millions of lives, many multiples more have been ill but fortunately recovered, although some are still battling longer term effects. In addition to the physical symptons are the mental and economic impacts. I'm fortunate. My measure of Covid's impact is in terms of reduced freedoms for a few years, feeling very slightly under the weather for a few days and having numerous conversations along the lines of "remember last year when we..." when in fact what I think happened last year, was actually two or three years ago.
In part, early retirement prepared me well for Covid. I haven't had to worry about losing my job. The income from our rental properties has remained consistent. I wasn't instructed to adjust to a new life situation such as working from home because I'd already made my adjustments at the time and pace that suited me. I've been able to continue many, if not all, of my early retirement activities, and they've kept me reasonably occupied. Plus, because I'd previously made a big life transition, I had the confidence and mindset to make adjustments and add new activities to fill any gaps.
Since January 2020, Covid has dominated conversations (something that's frustrated me no end) and changed daily life. Our mind has a great protective mechanism, it's great at forgetting the worst aspects of something and looking back through rose tinted glasses. I'm sure I've already forgotten some aspects of the last two and a half years - but I'm figuring that a journal entry now, while not quite a contemporaneous record, will be a closer recollection than trying to remember it twenty years from now.
So here's my Covid journal entry, from when I first heard about Covid-19 in January 2020, through to catching Covid at the end of May 2022 and getting my negative test in early June 2022.
We first heard about this Covid thing
I have a vague recollection that I heard something about a SARS type event in China. But my stronger memory is hearing of a case in a French ski resort, Les Contimines-Montjoie, in early February 2020. As the crow flies, that's not so far from where we live, which is presumably why I remember it.
Wow, that escalated quickly!
From there, either things moved quickly or the story suddenly got a lot more news coverage. The answer is probably both. We had a holiday booked to Dubai for 7 March 2020, and in the week before I was trying to decide whether it was still sensible to go. Clearly I decided it was, because we went, and had a good time meeting up with friends in our old stomping ground. But each day we were in Dubai, things were changing quickly. Being away from home no longer felt sensible, and in an instant we determined to change our flights to come home the next day, three days earlier than scheduled. Thank goodness we did - if we'd kept to our original flight schedule, I don't think we'd have been allowed back into France.
New daily life - living in a Covid world
We got home on 15 March 2020, two days before France's first lockdown started on 17 March. It was scheduled to be 15 days, extended to 30 days, but actually went on for almost two months, until 11 May 2020. When the French say lockdown (actually, they say "confinement", but with a cool French accent!), they mean it. Our town was closed other than the pharmacy and grocery stores. The ski lifts stopped, the tourists had to stay away. We were allowed out of our homes for one hour of exercise a day, but only within a 1km radius of home. Outside of that, essential medical appointments were permitted as well as things like essential grocery shopping. Leaving home required a formal document ("attestation" in French) declaring the time, date and purpose, and this was policed. Other than my hour of running, I probably left home once a fortnight, and still I was stopped twice by the police, and often saw police patrols and checkpoints as I ran. It felt much more serious than a lockdown I subsequently experienced in the UK.
Fortunately, the weather was glorious and I could sit on the deck rather than cooped up indoors. I enjoyed the sunshine, writing my blog, doing life admin and perhaps occasionally reading a book. With the help of YouTube, each day I did some yoga (30 days of yoga with Adriene) and short workouts (Workout with Eamon and Bec). And of course I did my permitted one hour run most days, backwards and forwards within my permitted 1km radius. For groceries, we went once every week or ten days, Sally and I taking turns to have a little freedom - people queued patiently at the supermarket, two metres apart, and when four people came out, four new people were let it. Writing this today, it didn't seem too bad and I don't think I found it too difficult. Perhaps that's a false recollection, but I'm good at complying with rules and, so long as we did that, everything would soon be back to normal...right?!
Back to normal? The end of lockdown
It did feel close to normal after the lockdown ended in May 2020. I have a feeling that masks weren't even compulsory, that requirement came later in July, although I'm fairly certain I wore one - perhaps I liked the off-duty surgeon look? We were again able to see our daughter, who lives in Switzerland, and I remember having a lovely day with her in Annecy, we even went to a cafe! I don't believe we were yet able to see our son though - travel to the UK was not yet permitted.
That eventually changed, and in early October 2020, we travelled to the UK - I believe because we are British citizens rather than because of a full relaxation of travel restrictions. We went on 5 October with plans to return to France on 13 December. I'm trying to recall our trip - the UK had rules, something called a Covid bubble that defined who could mix. Our son and Sally's sister were in our bubble, so we could see them. My father and my sisters weren't.
A lucky escape? Not quite...just a different lockdown
On 30 October 2020, France entered it's second national lockdown, and we congratulated ourselves for being in the UK which was lockdown free. That didn't last long, six days later, on 5 Novenber, the UK also went back into lockdown. But the UK lockdown seemed much easier than the French version. We were still able to meet up with Sally's sister, I could run or walk for exercise without limitation, and there were no attestation forms to complete in order to leave home. Sally and I both asked "is this really a lockdown?"
Figuring out Christmas 2020
We're not a religious family, but Christmas is a big deal for us. We always spend it together, Sally, myself, and our two (now adult) children. I guess this will change at some point, but we weren't ready for that yet.
There's always an element of logistical dexterity required based on Sally and I living in France, our daughter in Switzerland and our son in the UK. Covid took the logistics to a whole new level. The plan was that we would all meet in France, but did the rules allow that? The bigger issue though, was not what the rules were at the time, but trying to factor in what they might be in a week or two's time.
Eventually, we concluded that we couldn't all travel to France - Christmas in the UK was the best bet. Sally and I were already there, as was our son, and the rules allowed our daughter to travel from Switzerland. So that's what we did. Only, the UK changed the rules at the last minute. Rebecca travelled from Switzerland, but then had to isolate for six days, and then have a PCR test to end the isolation. Then Switzerland changed their travel rules! Rebecca did make it back to Switzerland, with more tests and plenty of paperwork. We still had a lovely Christmas together, but I don't know that we'll ever have a more stressful one!
Our son headed back to university, well, online lectures and isolation in his student accommodation. Sally and I returned to France on 15 January 2021, able to travel as returning residents, accompanied by negative Covid tests, attestations and lots of paperwork. That reminds me - life was not normal.
Back to a closed town. More, but not complete, freedom
In 2020, our ski resort tourist town essentially closed part way through the ski season. In 2021, it never opened. Arriving back in France in mid January 2021, the good news was the second lockdown had finished and we no longer needed to complete an attestation to leave home, so long as you weren't going further than 10km. Yay...my runs could go further than 1km in each direction and, although the ski lifts were shut, we were allowed to be on the mountain on our randonée (backcountry) skis.
There was, however, a curfew between 6pm and 6am, and of course we wore masks (it seems surreal to write this - who'd have imagined that our life would be subject to lockdowns, curfews and face masks?!). I'm fairly sure most shops were shut (grocery stores and pharmacies excepted) but don't recall whether that was the rule or simply because a tourist town with no tourists made opening pointless.
Getting back to normal, or at least the "new normal"?
May and June 2021 saw further progress towards a return to normal, or the "new normal" as it was often termed. We were allowed to travel beyond 10km from home, more shops could open, cafes and restaurants could serve to outside seating, and subsequently to indoor seating at reduced capacity. The nightly curfew hours were pushed back to 9pm, then 11pm and eventually abolished. Interacting through perspex screens and repeated applications of hand sanitiser came with the territory.
Tourists came back to the town. It was quite busy, French tourists replacing the normal international tourists, and the lifts operated for the mountain bikers.
I had my first vaccination on 17 May 2021 and my second on 7 June 2021, both Pfizer (Sally went to a different clinic and had Moderna). In the UK, I'd have received my first vaccination earlier, but my second one later. After a slow start, France seemed to get their vaccination act together quickly. Just as well, from August we needed proof of vaccination (passe sanitaire) on our AntiCovid app to go to a cafe or restaurant, as well as for travel.
Travel was easier. In May, we were able to visit our daughter in Switzerland (an exception because we live in a border region), the UK in July and Germany in August to run in the Mauerweglauf with some friends. We then took the campervan to Italy in October. This really did feel something closer to normal.
Christmas 2021 to now
Normal turned out to be a little premature. The Omicron variant appeared in the UK in November 2021, just in time to confuse our plans for Christmas 2021. Like a year earlier, we tried to figure out a plan A, B and C to have our family Christmas. As it turned out, plan A was scuppered by travel prohibitions, but plan B, having Christmas in Zurich worked. It was the first Christmas hosted by our daughter - it was lovely, but wow, that makes me feel old!
Just ahead of Christmas, on 23 December, I had my booster (third) vaccination, this time Moderna, so I was all set with my updated Covid pass/Passe Sanitaire. Ski season 2022 happened, and it seemed quite normal. The lifts were open, the bars and restaurants were open. I diligently wore my mask and avoided busy bars and restaurants. In January, we took a family trip to Finland to see the Northern Lights. Travel stress is multiplied when trying to coordinate four people, coming from three different countries, and all needing negative Covid tests for both the outbound and return leg. Somehow, it came off, and it was an awesome trip. To have a family holiday after the kids are grown and have left home is a massive treat.
I think in March 2022, the need to show our vaccination status via the Passe Sanitaire was withdrawn. And in May we travelled to the UK without needing any Covid testing. Other than having to prove our vaccination status to go to the UK, I can't think of any Covid restrictions that I now come across in daily life. Actually, there is at least one, many shops still have perspex shields at the cashier.
Then I got Covid😬
How ironic. Now that life does seem to be back to normal, I got Covid! I've no idea from where, nobody I know had it around that time, and I don't seem to have passed it on to anyone else. Other than a slight cold and a bit of a cough, I wasn't ill - I went running most days without any issue. But it did mean that I didn't visit my Dad or my sisters before returning to France which was a shame. My first symptons appeared on Saturday, 21 May, my positive test was on Monday, 23 May, just before my birthday🤷♂️, and my negative test came on 1 June 2022.
So that's it. My Covid journal entry from the time I first heard of Covid in January/February 2020 until catching Covid in May 2022 and testing negative on 1 June 2022. I suspect the passing of time means I'm already viewing this through rose tinted specs. I'm incredibly fortunate that I didn't lose any family or friends, I don't even know anyone who was particularly sick, but millions of others can't say the same. In addition, we had lockdowns, curfews, travel restrictions, weren't allowed to gather with family and friends, I was twice stopped by the police, businesses closed, we had to prove vaccination status to enter places, and who knows how long the economic costs will be a burden? Yes, rose tinted specs for sure.