Since March, two Royals – Etaoin Knight and Katie Morris – have been trapped in the Northern Hemisphere as COVID-19 roared across oceans, international datelines and borders. 3:43AM, 5:23AM … the time stamps on their Slack handles scream out the night shift hours they work from Ireland and the US. So, we asked these two now-nocturnal Royals what the experience has been like and what they are most looking forward to when it’s over.
So close, but so far. How did you get caught overseas and when?
Etaoin: I flew home for a family party pre-COVID outbreak, I left Australia when there were 110,000 cases worldwide, and over 90,000 were in China. Australia had just a handful at that stage, look where we are now six months later!
I got caught as the border closure announcements were made, with less than 24 hours notice – and it takes at least 26 hours to return from Ireland to Sydney. I tried to change flights but couldn’t make it before the 9pm deadline. I was meant to arrive back in Sydney at 6am the following morning, regardless of border closures.
Katie: I had tickets to SXSW along with a handful of other Royals. So when the event was cancelled, and the airline refused to refund my tickets, I rerouted my domestic flight in the US to Kansas City so I could spend a week with family. I was due to take off from KC back to Sydney about 48 hours before the lockdown went into place. I called my airline (RIP Virgin Australia) to change my flight within 10 minutes of the announcement, but the soonest they could get me back was still eight hours too late. I was trapped.
If these walls could talk. Describe your iso surrounds?
Etaion: I’m really fortunate to live on the east coast of Ireland and beside the sea, so a quick walk gets me down to some stunning scenery of the Irish coast. If I squint enough, I can almost see the UK.
Katie: I’m staying at my mom’s house in a suburb of KC. Nothing’s walking distance, but it’s summer here, so I’ve been teaching myself to skateboard in the local drainage ditch and getting as tanned as possible in preparation for my imminent melanin loss in hotel quarantine.
You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. Who are you living with? And how’s that going for you?
Etaoin: I’m lucky to be at home with my parents and spending more time with them than I have in about 10 years. It’s almost like being a child again, surrounded by my old things in my bedroom and being treated like I’ve never grown up! My sister lives in London but came back for a few weeks earlier in iso, and it really brought back the teenage memories.
Katie: I’m with my mom and stepdad, who are wonderful. And their two cats, who are not. They’ve been super helpful and understanding (staying quiet late into the morning so I can sleep, letting me use their cars and buying me food). But at the same time it’s still living with your parents, so it kind of feels like taking a step back. I never wanted to be that person who moved back into their parents’ guest room, so I feel pretty … lame.
As the Commodores sang … “on the night shift”. What’s it like to be working here – while living there?
Etaoin: Due to the time difference it is quite challenging to work remotely (Australia 9am-6pm is my 12am-9am). My body clock is all over the place as I try to adjust to normal Irish time over the weekend, but I’ve made it work. There is a lot of sleeping and napping during the day to get through it, but the timing is actually quite peaceful. And I feel more productive as there are no distractions in the house because everyone is asleep! I have a new earned respect for shift workers who have to do this permanently, but I don’t recommend it. There have been times where delirium appears and the simplest tasks become the hardest to finish. I’ve also learnt that at some point your voice gives up on you. I thought this only happened after a night of drinking.
Katie: While my hours are nowhere as bad as Etaoin’s, it has been really challenging, and not in that way that builds character. I work from 6:30pm-midnight technically, but in that way everyone works until 5pm (as in, you don’t really finish at 5pm every day). And that’s ok when it’s 5pm, but it’s really hard when it’s 1am or 2am and you’re just waiting on ONE file to upload properly. I’ve experienced firsthand one TINY aspect of the hardships that shift workers like nurses and doctors are working through right now, and let me just say – pay them more money.
Perspective check. How has your take on the world changed?
Etaoin: Early on, I thought it was great that each country was looking out for its own – when you saw repatriation flights and incentives to bring back doctors/nurses to help in their home countries manage this fight against COVID-19 – but it seems to have taken a dark turn where borders are being closed, citizens can’t leave their home countries and those are non-citizens but temporary residents of countries can’t re-enter.
A real positive, though, is that I feel a majority of people have taken a step back and paused their active/hectic lifestyles and reconnected with lapsed friendships and family.
Katie: I think for a while I was in a pretty dark place. Being turned away from somewhere I’ve worked and paid taxes in for seven years was really hard. I compared it to being a long term relationship, then waking up one day and deciding not only are you breaking up – you’ve got to move out today. I’ve now transitioned to EXTREMELY cautious optimism. As long as I’m working for The Royals, I still maintain some sense of normalcy. But if I wasn’t working, I think my headspace would have moved into just giving up and staying here to start over by now – so I’m really thankful for that.
Change is as good as… What do you do more of in iso than you ever did here? What do you do less of?
- More Walking. In Sydney, I drove, got public transport, Uber’d absolutely everywhere. Now looking at places I would have driven to – that are a 10/20 minute walk away – I can’t believe I used to drive there and I won’t be doing that anymore.
- And exploring Ireland. I had never really explored my surroundings around the country. Any annual leave or holidays I would take used to always involve going abroad. Now given the time, I get to see stunning parts of the country that I didn’t even know existed.
- Less exercising and F45-ing. The restrictions have kept gyms closed over here and to a minimum. The walking counts as exercise though, right!?
- In Sydney, I live in Surry Hills so I walk to work, to restaurants and bars, the dog park, and the library. Where I live now you HAVE to drive, so I feel like I’m not using my legs at all.
- More reading. I would be doing this in Sydney, too, during COVID. But without anywhere to go (or people to see) I’ve been going through a lot more books than normal.
- More exercise. Without the ability to walk or run around with my dog, I’m very aware of a lack of exercise, so I’ve been doing my workouts every day instead of once a week. I do them while watching Forensic Files, so it motivates me to outrun my attackers.
- Less seeing my friends – as an extrovert this has been especially hard.
- Lastly, my skincare routine has gone from three steps to about 17. It’s the only thing I have control over.
Spotlight on. What have you noticed and or what are you more conscious of?
Etaoin: The mental health of everyone, more than ever. Regardless of who you are or where you are, everyone is struggling right now. COVID-19 affects every single person worldwide, and we should all be more conscious of how it affects everyone differently.
Katie: More conscious about my general health. Stuck at home leads to weighing yourself more. Not eating out means I’m watching every carb. No walking the dog means I’m forcing myself to work out. Seeing myself in much less dirty mirrors means I’m taking better care of my skin. My most obvious motivation is to get back in the country, to my dog (the lease on my house in Sydney is done, and all my stuff sold except clothes and shoes) and to the life I worked so hard to build.
Worlds apart. Do you feel lonely or more connected?
Etaoin: Sometimes a bit of both. Lonely in the sense that there are only a handful of people that really understand what we’re going through being stranded overseas – our lives essentially in limbo until we can return. But also connected, in that being stranded in my home country, I get to reconnect with people I haven’t seen in years or have grown apart with lapsed communications. And it’s great to have this extended time with them.
Katie: Definitely more lonely. My work comms are very similar – I’m on video with all my Melbourne teams already so that wasn’t an adjustment, and I normally video chat with my friends in the US. But I have been so physically cut off from my friends back in Oz. We message every day but I can’t bring myself to video chat with them as it just upsets me too much. I’m also really missing my dog. I’m living with the same amount of people but feeling very isolated.
Central casting. Who would play you in the movie about you in iso?
Etaoin: LOL. Tom Hanks, ‘cause he’s got the isolated, life-in-limbo experience on his CV from Castaway and The Terminal, so my iso life should be a breeze for him.
Katie: Etaoin, she’s the only one who truly gets it.
Finish these sentences…
- Life in iso be like … saying ‘good morning’ at any time day, or night.
- The first thing I’ll do once out of iso is … drink the biggest glass of Ink Gin on my balcony looking left and right every few minutes, smiling (left is views of the Harbour Bridge and right is views of Bondi Beach).
- Iso is good because … I get to spend extended time with family and friends.
- Life in iso be like … is this day over yet?
- The first thing I’ll do once out of iso is … hug my dog so hard.
- Iso is good because … I’ve been fostering puppies!