But for me it was memorable. I reported the ceremony live from the windy roof of the Fox News building. It was perishing cold. Thankfully, my cameraman that day and for the next few weeks was the much-loved and sorely-missed CNN veteran, Mick Deane. Mick, who was later shot dead by a sniper while covering the Arab Spring for Sky News, had done it all, but still loved the life.
This made him, certainly at his age, relatively unusual. Many others in the TV news business are inexorably ground down by living out of suitcases. It certainly got to me in the end. As a foreign correspondent, half a year away from home was not unusual. It felt churlish to complain. After all, my late-wife was the one coping with small children on her own. And it wasn’t as if I was slumming it. We were put up at five-star hotels around the world, often for months on end.
I can close my eyes right now and picture my rooms at the Kuwait City Marriot and the Holiday Inn Islamabad. I spent a couple of months at both. My favourite was the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem, where my longest stint was in excess of three months.
TV reporters are far more umbilically attached to hotels than their print cousins. We tend to physically broadcast from them (the roof, unhelpfully, for those, like me, prone to vertigo). One way to avoid going stir crazy was by going to Mass. In Washington, for instance, I went regularly to St Matthew’s Cathedral, where Joe Biden took communion on the morning of his inauguration.
Even so, it sometimes felt like the walls of the hotel were closing in. But imagine, as thousands of people now no longer have to, being forced to stay in your hotel room. No access to the plush bar, restaurant, rooftop gardens, pool, gym. No excursions to local landmarks. No jumping into a taxi for a mooch around the bazaar or mall.
Imagine, as thousands of people now no longer have to, being forced to stay in your hotel room. No access to the plush bar, restaurant, rooftop gardens, pool, gym.
This has been the reality for anyone wanting to go Down Under since March 20 last year. Getting on for half a million Australians have had to quarantine for 14 days in a hotel room to avoid spreading coronavirus. Anyone arriving from abroad is not allowed to leave their room. Food is left at their door. Guards patrol the corridors to prevent escape. Britain is reportedly considering a similar system. Many of the travellers who face such restrictions on movement will never have encountered anything like it. In a world of endless lifestyle choice and freedom, the idea of surrendering one’s liberty and effectively being imprisoned – albeit for just a couple of weeks – will come as a psychic shock to many.
An Australian friend who wanted to see her elderly mother in Brisbane has recently undergone this experience. She found it strangely liberating. She hired an exercise bike. Wrote and read. Caught up with old friends via Skype. But not everyone will find it so diverting. Many of those who’ve had to hunker down in a hotel room have babies and toddlers with them. Imagine. One bedroom with an en-suite bathroom. That’s it. Maybe a balcony if you’re lucky. Many modern hotels don’t even have windows that open. So not even fresh air.
How would you occupy small children for a fortnight? Lockdown has put many families under unprecedented stress. The hotel quarantine scheme is lockdown on steroids. I can only imagine how some couples emerge after their detention, blinking in the daylight, gulping down the air, shooting daggers – or love hearts – at a partner who they’ve come to know differently.
How would you occupy small children for a fortnight? Lockdown has put many families under unprecedented stress. The hotel quarantine scheme is lockdown on steroids.
Of course, were this happening 20 or 30 years ago, the experience would have been very different. A hotel room now comes with the internet. There are films to watch, games to play, friends to FaceTime. But imagine how things might have been pre-internet. The whole thing would’ve been the closest many modern people would have come to life in the middle ages. It would’ve felt almost monastic, with only a Gideon Bible in a bedside drawer for company.
A lot’s been written about the alacrity of life in the 21st century. We have, we are told, undergone a Great Acceleration. Attention spans are shortening. We mentally fidget, reaching reflexively for our smart phones. Lives, pre-Covid, were in a state of perpetual motion. Movement has become a mania of modern living. Staying put is what unsuccessful, unfulfilled people do. Or so many of us intuit.
Being kept custody in a room – not your own bedroom in your own house – but in a hotel with a guard’s footsteps audible in the corridor outside, will represent quite an interruption to the flow of human progress for some. Others, those who champion the Slow Movement, who think society needs to take a breath, will be more sanguine. Two weeks in an unfamiliar room with no option to leave, save for medical emergencies. And the knowledge that this was something that those experiencing it have chosen to do. People who undergo this quarantine do not, in most cases, have Covid-19. They just want see an ailing parent or start a new job.
For some, the majority perhaps, this will be an experience of ennui like no other. Boredom will be held at bay only by record-breaking levels of screen time. But for some it will be an experience of unprecedented profundity, an inverted pilgrimage of the interior; of the mind and imagination and memory.
Colin Brazier is the author of Sticking Up For Siblings: Who’s Deciding the Size of Britain’s Families? (Civitas)
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