Away to Whitstable for the week: a summer holiday so unambitious we could have popped home to put the bins out without too much inconvenience. But still, away from home for the first time since March and with low risk of ending up in quarantine immediately afterwards. The weather was too hot for us during the day for much of the time, but the chance to swim in the sea seven days running – with high tide conveniently arriving with the warm evenings – made up for it.
We’d originally thought we’d use the place as a base to explore other parts of Kent, but in the end didn’t get much further than Canterbury and Margate, and found enough to do around Whitstable with various friends either living nearby or visiting for the holiday.
We had no real idea of how busy it would be or how it would feel pandemic-wise, but the weather meant we were outdoors almost all the time we weren’t in the rental cottage and didn’t need to linger in shops or restaurants. How this all works when the weather changes, I don’t know. It was clear that the Eat Out To Help Out scheme was really generating business Monday to Wednesday, but Thursday and Friday felt much quieter, particularly in Margate which felt subdued compared to past visits. Dreamland being closed seemed significant; we saw one amusement arcade open but gave it a very wide berth.
In Canterbury the restaurants seemed busy but the shops were largely deserted. From what I saw this week, I think the food and drink part of our service economy will return fairly strongly unless we have a new surge of coronavirus cases, but the future for retail looks pretty bleak and it’s hard to be optimistic about the future of our high streets and town centres as a result.
It was interesting seeing all the different adaptions to the new way of ordering and paying: standing outside a fish’n’chip shop on the high street trying to phone in an order while four other parties stood next to us attempting to do the same was novel, but not particularly effective. Elsewhere, places were using a mixture of JustEat/Deliveroo and their own homegrown apps; eventually I guess some of these will become standardised and second nature but it all feels a little interim at the moment.