Life on lockdown in Amsterdam

Cannabis café closures. Designated social areas in public parks. Police patrolling on bikes and boats and hefty fines for breaking the rules. Georgia Boal-Russell – the newly self-titled “Erin Brockovich of hygiene” – reports from The Netherlands.

Six weeks ago, I contracted a horrible case of the flu. I spent the next week locked in my apartment, feverishly Googling How do I get tested for coronavirus in Amsterdam?” and watching a worrying amount of hysterical pre-global pandemic news. Two weeks post-quarantine, life in the Netherlands continued to be pretty unaffected. Turns out I had tonsillitis. The lesser of the two shite evils.

After that dark week of inhaling insurmountable Covid-19 reports, I decided to stop reading the news to save my sanity. I got back to living my shiny new British expat life in the Netherlands: working as an art director, seeing my mates, and living a pretty lovely existence. But this time, I knew that we were going to be hit by what I’d watched unfold in China, Spain and Italy via BBC News (god bless VPNs). I became the Erin Brockovich of hygiene. During one eventful trip to my local supermarket, I asked a man who was elbow deep in croissants to kindly remove his sweaty palms from the baked goods. He screamed in my face and told me to fuck off. After this, I began a five-day juice cleanse to avoid supermarkets. Yes, quite extreme, I agree. However, being able to control something so simple made me feel a lot less anxious.

A week later, we began a light version of lockdown: schools, cafés, restaurants, sex clubs, cannabis cafés, saunas and sports clubs were closed. Since then, we’ve received weekly updates from the King and the prime minister on maintaining 1.5m distancing from others, WFH-ing, going to workplaces only if it is deemed essential” (a 50-shades-of-grey-area), and staying at home as much as possible. Currently, the city is the best version of itself – it’s like it’s just met the right person and decided to settle down after years of being fucked over and getting inexcusably high. It’s quiet, beautiful and free from tourists.

In general, the level of respect people are showing is reassuring. We have strict trolley systems at all supermarkets; sociable areas of parks are taped off with huge signs; and there are police patrolling on bikes and boats. Until now, I wasn’t sure if NL police were more of a state of mind than an IRL presence. I hate myself for saying it, but seeing them everywhere makes me feel safe (maybe not how I would feel if I were back in the UK). Police are fining people who break social distancing and fining companies £4,000 if they break the rules. I witnessed a man in Westerpark being fined for hosting a drinks party in his bar. I felt mildly bad for him, but it’s important to know that these fines are not just a warning. My message to my party pals and business buds: do not risk it. It’s not worth the safety risk, the money or the humiliation.

Dutch people are mostly great at following rules, which is maybe why they aren’t as strict here. This, however, does lead to a little confusion around what makes a trip essential. Is your mental health a reason to go for a beautiful spring bike ride? Is cycling 15 minutes to the wine shop essential”? No, but we’re all figuring it out and trying to do the best we can with the knowledge we have accumulated from watching other cities shut down entirely.

Personally, I have never been busier. Last week, I was rushing. Rushing to do the big shop” for Easter Sunday lunch, rushing to get on a Zoom family call, rushing to make the kombucha I never made. I had planned an early lake swim with a born-and-bred Amsterdam friend this morning, but cancelled because she is feeling overwhelmed by it all. (“It” being: work, finance, relationships, the killer virus.) I feel the same. I’ve gone into overdrive…


6am: Wake up. Check the government site for the Covid-19 update, Instagram and do a bit of online window shopping – is there a word for that? There should be. I decide it’s irresponsible to spend money on non-essentials at this time. Then, I ponder whether it’s ok to keep small businesses alive by bulk buying candles and burning sage while crippling myself financially. Buy something, feel terrible about someone having to deliver it, regret it.

8am: Write this, consider how a serious dyslexic probably shouldn’t have put herself forward to write a diary entry.

10am: Mimosa Zoom with a long lost dear friend. Loving an online reunion. Not yet spoken to anyone I haven’t wanted to catch up with post-quarantini.

12pm: Make a salmon en croûte to eat alone.

3pm: Start to read one of the six new books I have bought from anywhere but Amazon. Choose the cheeriest to begin with, likely anything David Sedaris.

4pm: Try to do (read: inevitably don’t do) some homework for my online Dutch language lessons that I started taking last week – something I had not had time for before the apocalypse.

4.30pm: Sit 2m away from a friend by an empty canal and eat the cake she has to get rid of because she has also started to bake her way out of loneliness. Sidenote: imagine we found out that the cure for Covid-19 was, in fact, banana bread. Case closed. Panic over. Everyone’s a hero.

5pm: Call my Grandad aka Papa Boal. Have a cry after thinking of him all alone in his house in Northern Ireland. Begin The Papa Project”, setting him challenges and art projects with deadlines to keep him motivated. Still open for suggestions of what he should make next.

7pm: Easter Zoom pub quiz with pals from back home. Miss my knowledgeable friends, get drunk, laugh until my face hurts, then maybe a little cry after the call when I realise I don’t know when I will see their faces IRL next. Try to forget that I should have been on the Eurostar coming home for an Easter weekend spent with every loved one :(

10pm: Go to bed drunk re-watching Curb clips, thinking about the kombucha I will never make.

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