Country pile or city home? How do you corona?

original article in Irish Independent 

When it comes to lockdowns, there’s no place like home – unless you have a country pile, then there’s no place like a country pile.

Having a second home during these awfully boring, depressing times offers some respite, as chef Gordon Ramsay, who relocated with his family to his €4.5m Cornwall beach-front home, and the Beckhams, who are sitting out the lockdown in a €7m bolthole in the Cotswolds, may find.

In an online clip, US TV host Ellen DeGeneres discussed her lockdown situation in her €15m mansion with her family as “like being in jail”.

I watched DeGeneres try to make a 1,000-piece puzzle (I was bored), meticulously turning over the pieces for hours, before asking “who gave this to me?” in a “I’m going to have words with them” kind of way, before giving up when she realised it was simply too big for her massive table.

I feel your pain, Ellen. I’ve been struggling with a 126-piece ET puzzle my mother gave me in 1983.

Not to worry, I’ll grab my dinghy and head off to my island in my second home to take my mind off it.

Oh no, wait. I don’t have a dinghy, an island or a second home – but it seems quite a lot of Irish people do.

Not wanting to restrict themselves to just one lockdown location, many headed west to Connemara or Co Kerry, where brisk walks, local seafood and wine on the porch beckoned. Some were caught along the way by checkpoints before Easter, others escaped in the middle of the night. A friend in the west of Ireland reported “toffs looking for capers, mussels, lemon curd and other Protestant items” in local supermarkets.

Obviously, relocating is reckless and could spread the virus to places where it is otherwise non-existent, resulting in death and keeping us all locked down for longer.

Hence gardaí insisted that the blow-ins will have to stay for the duration, whether they like it or not.

The words from ‘Withnail and I’ – “We went on holiday by mistake” – spring to mind as Dubliners endure cold country cottages with no wi-fi for endless weeks.

Locals, needless to say, haven’t taken too kindly to the Covid-exodus trend. According to the ‘Daily Mail’, a woman who works at the butchers near the Beckhams’ home in Great Tew, Oxfordshire, said: “The Beckhams and these other fancy folks who think it’s a good idea to self-isolate in the country are just being selfish.”

A local councillor added: “Showing off your beautiful country mansion on social media and telling us all what a wonderful time you’re having is just rubbing our noses in it.”

Ouch. Begrudging much?

How dare they work hard and be rich?

The ‘Withnail and I’ references keep jumping into my mind. I can imagine wealthy celebs combing the countryside in fashionable tweeds from Savile Row and shiny wellingtons accosting John B Keane-type local farmers: “Listen, we’re bona fide. We’re not from London. Could we have some fuel and wood?”

You can’t blame them. The countryside is infinitely better than London, as Prince Charles will surely attest. He convalesced at Birkhall in Scotland after his coronavirus diagnosis, much to the chagrin of angry Scottish nationalists.

I’m envious he managed to leave the country. Before the lockdown got prison-like, I thought I’d high-tail it to Austria for some sneaky cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, while admiring an Alpine vista, rather than endure the tedium of suburbia.

Then the Austrian government closed the mountains and the trails.

I also pondered South Africa, where my daughter and I could go for walks, have barbecues, drink wine from the winery. Then they closed the off licences, and locked everyone in.

There is no escaping corona.

Dorothy was right, perhaps there is no place like home.