Hostage: The Covid Caper Chapter 3, Lyndey Milan

Lyndey Milan heading to Sydney

Some disappointing food at the Hilton

Some disappointing food at the Hilton

Lyndey, one of Australia’s most beloved food personalities, became a focus for many Australians, curious to know what this new idea of forced isolation by the government was like.

Her blog, detailing her thoughts on her experiences with her partner John was eagerly read and discussed by many, taking over from Lyndey’s normal musings and teachings on food and its importance in our everyday life.

The blog is presented here, pretty much in its entirety, painting a fresh and personal picture of what was really happening in her (small) corner of the world as the outside disappeared from view temporarily.

Lyndey Milan’s trip back from the UK was not without its hiccups and stress, as this first part of her story details. It seems that many of us were flying home at the same time, oblivious really to what lay ahead.

In Lyndey Milan’s words:

The Background

“I feel like we’re living in a re-make of the movie based on Neville Shute’s novel On The Beach. (Ava Gardiner, the star, famously commented that Melbourne was a very good place to make a movie about the end of the world, and as our stay in London is quickly drawing to a close, we aren’t sure where we’re headed, but we’re hoping it’s eventually Sydney, our home town).

“In London, everywhere we pace on our daily, allowed walk, people skirt each other, masks in place as we stroll through the streets and into Regent’s Park. Elsewhere the streets of Central London are deserted. Buses have one or two passengers.

I wonder about the ongoing effects of this and if a new generation will grow up with a distrust of others. 

Depends how long it goes on for I guess. My granddaughter is 3 – how do you explain to her that she needs to keep her distance from others when she is a warm, spontaneous child? But I digress.

The world has been changing hourly, not daily. We are experiencing a time of great change, with no prior reference points. It is all uncharted waters. I feel like it is our version of being at war. It’s the only thing I can compare it to, though I have no idea what that was like except from reading, movies and what my parents had said.

The calm before the storm
We had a fabulous trip to Egypt from 24 February to 8 March. We were then remarkably removed from the constant barrage of coronavirus updates. We returned to London as the pandemic grew but still thought as recently as only 10 days ago that we would stay in London to ride out the storm.

We have a lovely light apartment with a terrace and spend at least half the year working here as our Flame TV business is global and London? A very important centre. However, things are moving at a rate of knots.

My partner, John, who is CEO, is working furiously to restructure our business to weather the storm. Quite a challenge with TV production closing down with staff unable to travel, along with all the ramifications of staff needing to work from home and managing this globally. It dawns on us that with no possibility of face-to-face meetings, the need to be in London is evaporating. Moreover, we have better access to good health care in Australia should we become ill.

So by Saturday 21st March we think we should book to return to Australia and do so, to leave London on Sunday 29th. One day later and we’re panicking that this is perhaps too late but to move our flight forward even a little is going to cost us double what we have already paid. We investigate various options and decide to pay some extra to fly out on Friday 27th.

I do quite a bit of research and with airlines cutting routes all over the globe, I decide that British Airways with only one stop of about an hour or so in Singapore, with the same plane through to Sydney, could be the best option.

We spend the days before we fly out following isolation guidelines and only going out to walk every day and buying food when needed. We have fun with a friend, coming up with a cocktail a day, going through the alphabet and posting online. I’m incredibly moved by the nationwide “Clap For Carers” initiative where people come out their front doors and on balconies to show support for the extraordinary NHS (National Health Service) workers including a rare video of the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge’s three children doing the same.

(Note from Christine here: We joined in with this in Brazil, on our one night stop over in Rio de Janeiro – it was an incredibly uplifting experience to watch, and be a part of. So it must have spread world wide.) 

Will we go or will we stay?

However, we wake to the news on Friday 27th (our fly out date), that any arrivals into Australia from midnight Saturday 28th will be put into enforced 2 weeks’ isolation in hotels. This really sets us back and John’s reaction is that maybe we should stay in London where we have comfort,  space and freedom to move in our apartment. However, I don’t think any of us know where this will end, so I still prefer to return to Australia.

We know the airport terminal will be deserted and indeed, when we get there, the Boots Chemist is the only shop open. Lounges are closed and we’ve been advised to take our own food if we have dietary requirements or if we wish to.

A very stream-lined flight

However, once on board we find out there’s even more limited service than we thought – only soft drinks and tea or coffee in disposable cups and a plastic bag with an unappetising wrap, water and chocolate bar in it for meals.

I’m told that it was because British Airways is unable to get its usual deliveries of alcohol from its suppliers. I’m somewhat dismayed this has not been communicated to us, along with the food advice, prior to our flight. Nor has the fact there are no amenities, tooth brush, eye mask or ear plugs. Luckily I’ve packed the last two, just in case, but not the toothbrush.

Aside from that it’s a great flight. A pretty empty plane and delightful, apologetic staff and we have little interruption. We stay on the plane during the stopover in Singapore and arrive in Sydney around 7am Sunday morning the 29th, unsure of what awaits us.

Despite British Airways making the usual announcements about onward flights (which makes us think things may not be so restrictive), when we land, we’re told to stay seated and about 10 minutes later an Australian official comes on board and advises what will happen when we disembark.

There are No onward flights and it’s forced isolation for all. Deflated, I had hoped that perhaps the curfew may not have kicked in and we would be able to go home, but this is not to be.

There’s a big sign: No photos or videos – an ominous portent for things to come.

We  disembark keeping 1.5 metres between us, line up, are given masks if we don’t have them and first have our temperatures taken and then have individual interviews about our state of health.

Then we join another line to go through immigration. We glean the information that we will be going by bus to hotels. I ask how that’s social-distancing and they they tell me, “Oh, it’s only 20 to a bus.” We then collect our bags, all by 7.30am.  So far so good.

Then the disorganisation becomes apparent.

We’re told to stand in line 1.5 metres apart prior to going through customs and not given any more information. An official self-importantly dashes about, giving orders to staff, carrying his mask in his hand and sometimes passing close by us, as are others. We’re rather concerned about this breach of new rules.

One passenger who takes a photo on his phone is reprimanded and made to delete it.

Finally we’re told that we’re lining up until everyone from our plane has collected their luggage and then we will be boarding buses to go hotels. Another flight lands and we begin to collect our luggage.

Picture this: a snake of people in a queue – like a conga line – around all the carousels in the arrivals hall, all waiting, waiting, waiting. I’m perplexed as surely letting 20 out at a time to get on their bus would have solved this, kept people separated, got them from the airport more quickly and been more efficient?

After two hours, we’re finally through customs and join yet another queue outside to find fresh-faced young members of the Army Reserve and cheerful, friendly police officers standing around as we walk to the many buses lined up.

We’re lucky to be in the first 20 and wait to board our bus with strict instructions to put our bag on the seat in front and sit behind so that we’re apart. Great in theory.

However one woman in front of us has so many bags she needs two flight attendants to help her get to the bus. So that means only 12 can get on that bus. This becomes the new number for each subsequent bus. Clearly the authorities are finding their way, as we’re only the second flight to come in since the curfew for this new ruling.

We wait another 15 minutes while they decide which bus we can get on. Although the bus driver told me we’re going to the InterContinental, someone else (I think perhaps a plain clothes policewoman, she doesn’t say) advises us that the Hilton has capacity and we’re going there.

I breathe a small sigh of relief and start texting chef Luke Mangan who has Glass Brasserie in the Hilton, to find out what he knows.