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How idyllic life was turned upside down by coronavirus chaos

Features | Published:

Former Express & Star reporter Helen Barklam moved from Lichfield to Spain last year. Here she reveals how her idyllic lifestyle in the sun has been plunged into chaos as she finds herself in the middle of a Coronavirus lockdown in Fuengirola.

Police officers have been sent to stop people wandering outdoors

I am sure many people will be saying “oh boo hoo, I can think of worse places to be stranded”.

In many ways they are right. I am currently writing this piece on my terrace. The sun is shining, there isn’t a cloud in the sky and I am watching the beautiful blue sea lapping on the beach.

But please allow me to delve a little deeper and help you to understand how scary and utterly devastating this pandemic is panning out to be.

I run my own online business retailing nutritional products.

When I came to Spain I decided to get a job here to help me settle into Spanish life and meet new people.

It has worked brilliantly. In just a few months, I have an amazing group of close friends, I have started to learn the language, my social life has been fantastic and I have been working in the tourism industry – talking to people about holidays on a Spanish resort every day. Perfect!

Now, all of a sudden, I feel like I am living in a weird sci-fi movie and I am not sure when it is going to end.

I am here in Spain alone. My husband has been working in the UK in the exhibition industry, and it has been a busy time. He was due to join me here at the end of April.

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The church is closed and the streets are deserted as the public stay at home

He had several weeks of work and nice pay days lined up that would help get him out here with no pressure to find something in Spain urgently.

Last week he was laid off as every single one of the exhibitions he was working on was cancelled. We quickly fired out CVs to companies in Spain and lined up interviews.

The interviews were all cancelled on Friday as news of a potential lockdown in Spain started to circulate. Jet2 cancelled flights to Spain, EasyJet announced the same and then Ryanair followed suit. My job relies on people coming out to Spain on holiday, so without flights coming in I have no work. Could it get any worse? Oh yes!

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Police tape across the entrance to the beach

Saturday was a strange and confusing day. The Government advised that people stay at home, and bars and restaurants should close.

But I went to the shops at lunchtime and it was business as usual. The police had closed the beach, but everyone was packed into the local establishments without a care in the world. So Spanish!

But as the day went on, police were working their way along the sea-front closing bars and restaurants. The streets were getting quieter.

The deserted esplanade with not a soul in sight amid the spread of Coronavirus

By 5.30pm, the esplanade, which would normally be buzzing with dog walkers, runners and families enjoying the early evening sun, was deserted. Fuengirola suddenly became a ghost town. There was this weird feeling in the air. It is hard to describe. Almost a fear of impending doom.

Then that evening it was confirmed that everyone was to go into lockdown from Monday for two weeks. We were only allowed to leave our homes to go to the shops. Only supermarkets, pharmacies, petrol stations and tobacconists (you can’t buy cigarettes in supermarkets in Spain and there would be riots on the streets if the Spanish couldn’t get their smokes) would be open.

The next day was when it started to hit home. This is actually happening. Sunday is a huge family day for the Spanish.

They come out in force, all dressed up in their Sunday best for walks and meals at the little chiringuitos (beach restaurants). The sea front is usually a hive of activity.

Not today. It was deserted. I walked down to the local family-run supermarket at the bottom of my street. George, one of the brothers, was standing outside donning a mask and gloves. The police had been along that morning and told them to only allow three to four people in the shop at a time.

Everyone queuing outside had to stand four metres apart. In just a few minutes, three police cars drove past at super-slow speed, windows down and staring – like a gang in a movie doing an intimidating drive-by. It was surreal!

When I was allowed inside, there was a table filled with boxes of surgical gloves and I was told to put them on to do my shopping.

Helen Barklam in lockdown on her terrace in Spain

As I left the supermarket, I stopped to enjoy the view of the sea and sand, taking my time in returning to my apartment prison cell. Another police car came past and one of them shouted into their loud speaker “a la casa, a la casa” (go home, go home). The police in Spain are intimidating. You really don’t mess with them. I almost ran back to the flat. I woke up on Monday with the prospect of two weeks trapped indoors. I know, it was only day one, but I was already starting to feel claustrophobic.

I started to plot how to pass the time. I have downloaded a home workout app. I am supposed to be training for the Marbella 70.3 Ironman at the end of April and I was thinking that I might get away with some bike rides.

How would I be of any danger to anyone on my bike? But no! Others have already been stopped by police roadblocks and fined for going out on their bikes, and we now understand drones will be dispatched along the beach-front. A couple of us had discussed driving to a secluded area to go for walks and keep active, but the police roadblocks and threat of drones have also scuppered that idea.

I decided I would start my incarceration (is that a bit dramatic?) with a walk to the big Spanish supermarket to stock up with essentials and hoping panic buying hadn’t affected the supply of Mercadona’s rather fine 1.95 euro Cava. I was expecting shelves bereft of toilet paper after some of the scenes from the UK. But no! Not in Spain. Loads of toilet rolls, but no…olives. Only in Spain would people panic buy olives. Hilarious! (The 1.95 Cava had gone, so I treated myself to the 3.75 euro one – I thought I deserved a treat in these times of trouble).

So here I am.

Two weeks locked up alone in Spain. Wondering where the next pay cheque is coming from. Wondering how I am going to pay my rent. Wondering when I will see my husband next.

Thank goodness for 3.75 euro bottles of Cava and the view from my terrace to keep me sane.

Stay safe everyone.

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