After five months away, three hours waiting at UK immigration control feels decidedly long, especially now I’m homeward bound, inches from the British border, and my flight to glorious Guernsey just a few hours away.
This stint in Heathrow Airport is the longest and most uncomfortable I have suffered in the last year, despite flying through several third-world countries.
And it is to get worse!
For the moment, though, I am happy as Larry, whoever the hell he is, because I recently discovered the joys of Spotify. I use the airport’s free Wi-Fi to download the premium version and now I have more music than I know what to do with.
I bob my head along to bands I haven’t heard in years, deaf to the fatuous arguments people are having with clueless hi-vis humans patrolling our slow-moving queue.
There are either one or two or no immigration officers manning the 20 or so stations at the border, and they are taking their sweet time with asylum seekers and entrees from red list countries.
At length, I am summoned by an immigration officer, to whom I hand my passport.
“Good afternoon, sir!” I say, brightly.
“I am flying onwards to Guernsey in a few hours. I have my PCR test and locator form on my phone, if you want to see them.”
“I might not even need to see them,” the officer replies, looking at my passport.
“Can I see the ticket for your flight to Guernsey? Ah yes, you have plenty of time to get there,” he reassures me. He pauses. “Just one second.”
The fellow stands up and walks into a back office.
I wait, pacing back and forth, now unshielded by the huffs and puffs of the tired travellers around me. I feel sorry for them, but I feel more sorry for the staff suffering their complaints.
Ten minutes later, the fellow returns.
Surprise! You’ve Won a Free* 10-Day Stay at Hotel Quarantina!
*Terms and Conditions Apply
“I’ve just spoken to my boss,” the officer tells me, sounding apologetic.
“I’m afraid you cannot leave the airport, you will have to quarantine at a hotel.”
Quarantine at a hotel.
I explain calmly to the officer, and then patiently to the staff at the ‘exemption desk’, and then somewhat impatiently to the chief immigration officer, that I am travelling onwards to Guernsey, and can transit legally through the UK.
My argument is – or was! – that I am exempt from quarantine, for I am ‘transiting landside in UK and departing through England (England only) – Travel evidence required‘.
Mr Chief says, with folded arms and undisguised disdain, “You have arrived from a red list country, if you don’t fly onwards from the port of arrival you have to quarantine for ten days.” Full stop. I am not allowed to go to London Gatwick to catch my flight.
After some time arguing the concept of exemption, explaining what and where Guernsey is, that it is not in England, that it is part of the UK, that I will be quarantining for 14 days upon arrival there, it suddenly occurs to me arguing with disdainful bureaucrats is a mug’s game. Mr Chief is hardly going to have his decision nor his disdain swayed by the scruffy, smelly, underslept guy from an island he hasn’t heard of.
So I save my breath.
Plus, I could be wrong, for all I know.
I am told to go downstairs to collect my hold luggage and check into ‘hotel quarantine’, being 1984’s obverse to the Brave New World of Hotel California.
I make my way down the escalator.
I see an exit ahead.
Feck the bag.
I make to escape with a power-walk, still time to catch my flight.
“Can I help you sir?” A stand-around hi-vis asks me, blocking my route.
“No, just – just going to the toilet,” I say, only the exit behind him.
“The toilet is over there, sir,” he says, leading me gently in the other direction.
Still, I dig my heels in a little further, in and out of conversation with one sympathetic member of staff, Ikra. As my Mum video-calls me, the poor love, expecting me home, I give the phone to Ikra who explains the situation. I tell Ikra I will agree to quarantine if she can find me a 5-star hotel and comes with me. I get a laugh. A worse rejection than a simple ‘no’.
After about three hours of deadlock, Ikra is tired and tells me bluntly, “Look, you can pay for the hotel now or you can pay the £10,000 fine for not quarantining. The police won’t let you stay in the airport.”
Tired, out of ideas, out of energy, I fold.
I am gonna be livin’ it up in the obscenely expensive Hotel Quarantina.
And so it is… here we are everybody!
Here I am, in a hotel room in Heathrow Airport, forcibly and benevolently quarantined for 10 days at my own expense, before I will be released back into the wild, by then well prepared for 14 more days of quarantine awaiting me in glorious Guernsey.
My Last Two-Week Quarantine
The funny thing is, I was excited for the quarantine in Guernsey. Very, very much so.
Returning home almost a year ago, I had to suffer two weeks of quarantine.
Well, hardly suffer, for I found it to be a much needed and much enjoyed decompression after many weeks away from home.
I spent that quarantine trying to ‘level-up’, spending time exercising, fasting, meditating, reading, writing.
Basically, recommencing all the rituals and routines I once enjoyed, once upon a time, when in full-time employment with predictability and regularity to my life.
I recommenced these rituals anew, afresh, everyday, religiously, with full focus.
One week is not a lot of time. All adults grow to realise this. Dare you blink, or forget to take a deep breath, you’ll miss ‘em.
But two weeks? Two weeks is a considerable chunk of time.
What, that’s 4% of a year?
This is not trivial, to have such a percentage of a year carved out and protected from the calamity and distractions of society – if the most is made of the opportunity.
What I learned last quarantine – and why I was so excited for this quarantine – is that quite a bit can be achieved in two weeks.
For my two-week quarantine last year, I ate no processed foods and drank no alcohol. I meditated everyday. I exercised intensely and often. I fasted. I read books and wrote articles and journaled. I did the things that I thought I should be doing, things I missed and neglected whilst off-island.
I made use of an opportunity that enforced confinement presents all those who are forcibly confined. I focussed on myself. I focussed on what I can change and improve and enjoy. I focussed intensely enough that I was productively distracted from things I cannot change, like the uninteresting and rather moot modern reality of benevolent house arrest.
After those two weeks, I felt glorious! Chirpy, chipper. Renewed. Fresh inner momentum. Generally fresher. Healthier, stronger, more centred. More vigour, more drive.
To celebrate the conclusion of that quarantine, I hopped into my car at one minute after midnight, belted it down to Bordeaux harbour and treated myself to a midnight dip. I bathed naked in the sea, drinking in the moonbeams, all but howling at the moon.
Revivifying is an understatement.
My Upcoming 3+ Week Quarantines
For this 2-for-1 double-decker quarantine, what shall I do?
The same. But different.
“The same”: meditation, exercise, fasting, reading, writing. I want to learn and to share and to grow, and be chomping at the bit for my release back into the wild, with maximal chirp and optimal energy.
“But different”: intensity. I will exercise harder, fast for longer, read more widely, write and publish more.
After my first two-week quarantine last year, I was in such a glorious state upon release that I have felt genuine and sustained excitement over the prospect and possibilities of quarantining again.
After those two weeks I felt and saw noticeable improvements in my body and mind and spirit.
Physically, there is an opportunity to recalibrate, to sleep comfortably and regularly, to recommence routines, to recoup strength, to eat cleanly, to detox.
Mentally, dare I say emotionally, there is an opportunity to decompress, to assess, to integrate. To reset.
The things one puts off – because “I’m too busy / distracted / whatever” – can be attended to when you have nothing else to do. Two weeks, even ten days, is ample time to gather momentum with adequate focus and intent.
For me, it stands to reason that if things worked well last quarantine, I should tweak things only slightly, which I will.
I want to be a bit more intense with the whole thing. In fact, I think I need to.
I want to go to sleep at night feeling content, happy, tired.
I know I will not sleep soundly without having accomplished something physically and mentally challenging each day, here in a hotel room in Heathrow Airport, with no friends or family in sight.
So, it is ‘go hard or go home.’
Well, go hard then go home.
Then, go hard at home.
For 14 more days.
Life is short. I’m not going to shorten anything any further by doing things by halves.
Do Me A Favour? Ask Me Anything
Hello there, brothers and sisters of all colours, chirpers of all creeds, humans of all shapes, shags of all sizes.
Finally sort-of returning home, I thought an ‘Ask Me Anything’ about my travels would be great fun and of general interest.
I was away for a modest 5 months, in that time visiting the following six countries:
- Kyrgyzstan 9 weeks
- Uzbekistan 3 weeks
- Lebanon 3 weeks
- Georgia 3 weeks
- Turkey 3 weeks
- Iraq 2 weeks
I am intending to answer at least one question every day of quarantine.
Ask me anything, anything you like, there is no subject ‘off the table’: the destinations, the people, the activities, the hitchhiking, the couchsurfing, the camping, the cultures – whatever.
Just comment below or send me a message on Facebook or Instagram. You can ask questions anonymously, if you wish.
For ideas, these are the questions that have been fielded so far, which I shall endeavour to answer in the coming days:
- Jabar and Esmeal: How did you see Kurdistan? Overall, what is your opinion about Kurdistan and Kurds as a nation?
- Kay: Did you ever feel unsafe or endangered, threatened in any of the countries visited? Do you think a sole female traveler would be able to travel as freely? Do you think the people living outside of the main cities without access to mainstream media have any idea what’s actually going on in their own country?
- Cathy: Where did you see the most beautiful smiles? Where did you see the most interesting flowers and wildlife?
- Matt: How expensive is it to travel out there? (Kyrgyzstan)
- Rob: I used to travel with travellers checks sewn and concealed in various places, no cashpoint, cards, etcetera. How did you get by ?
- Annie: Is smartphone usage as prolific in these countries. Or do people actually make eye contact and talk to each other?
- Jordan: Could you discuss your perception of the impacts of COVID on your travels? How were those societies were surviving and thriving in the midst of a global pandemic? Because honestly, from the window you have provided through your posts and pictures, they seem to be functioning as norm.
Check back tonight for my first answer to an AMA question.
And Happy Sunday, shags.
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