There are worse places to be locked up than in a charming four-bedroom farm in the Lake District. Whenever Simon Rayner-Langmead looks out the window of his 17th-century house, he encounters undulating hills as far as the eye can see.
Simon, who runs a PR company and whose wider family founded the famous Lakeland kitchenware company, has no problem staying at home. There is a garden to care for – the spring bulbs are currently blooming – and plenty to repair and beautify among the many outbuildings.
He is only too aware of his happiness. But even for Simon, the ending was quite an ordeal – or even something closer to a nightmare. After all, this should be a party moment: at the age of 39, Simon became a father for the first time. His daughter, Matilda, was born happy and healthy a few weeks ago with the help of IVF.
Video star: Simon can only see Matilda – who is in Glasgow, 120 miles away from the South Lakes, with her mother Victoria – on his phone during the coronavirus lock
But due to the pandemic and subsequent blockage, he never met his baby and has no idea when he will do it. To date, his only contact with Matilda has been through a screen – the kind of distant relationship many of us get used to, but must be heartbreaking for a new dad.
“I feel like something has been taken from me,” he says. “You spend years building an idea of what something will be like, and if not, you need to refocus everything.
“I thought I would be there when Matilda first breathed and I was allowed to hold her for the first time. When I found out I was not allowed, it was terrible. ‘
Simon’s position is unusual, and not just because he has been an unexpected victim of the health crisis.
In fact, his decision to become a father was decidedly bold in the first place: Simon is married to fashion editor Jeremy Langmead. And Jeremy, who has two adult children with columnist India Knight, does not want anymore.
So Simon found a radical solution: he agreed to father and raise a child with his close friend Victoria, despite living in Glasgow – 120 miles away from the South Lakes.
But it feels completely natural to them. Victoria, who is single, had always wanted to be a mother and, as Simon explains, they had laughed together at what exemplary parents they could make. They even made a half serious pact that if neither of them had children at a certain age, they would have a baby together.
In the spring of last year, the logic seemed clear.
“One day we thought, you know what – why don’t we do this?” He says.
“It was the perfect solution for all of us. We agree on everything and we are very similar, so it just seemed like it fit. ‘
And so it was agreed that Simon and Victoria would be “co-parent” – and share the duties with Matilda who would travel between their two homes.
They started IVF in June with Simon’s sperm, and Victoria soon discovered she was pregnant.
Separated: New father Simon Rayner-Langmead lives in limbo. He agreed to become a father and raise a child with his close friend Victoria, despite the fact that she lives 120 miles away
They were very excited, but also cautious, because they understood that they had to be clear about each partner’s rights and responsibilities. They consulted lawyers and drafted a contract.
“They said it’s important to discuss a lot of things – things that traditional parents don’t discuss,” says Simon.
“Very often, when people have children, they come to a crucial time in that child’s life and realize they don’t know what they think about it. It can be about education or religion or something else. And it is only then that they discuss these huge things, when we had to talk about them earlier.
“It is important to find out how you feel about things in the beginning. But we couldn’t imagine either Covid-19. That was definitely not in our birth plan. “
As the severity of the crisis grew, so did their fear. At the end of March, about a week before Matilda was due to arrive, Victoria was told she should be resurrected for safety reasons.
“Victoria was still in Glasgow, so she could only take her mother for the birth,” says Simon. “When Matilda was born, her mother had to leave.”
Simon had expected to be present at birth from the beginning of the process. Neither he nor Victoria had been ill and had no symptoms of the virus. But the hospital was adamant.
“I told them I was isolating myself, but they told them to follow government guidelines. It was terrible, “Simon recalls. “That was the first blow.”
When Victoria left the hospital a few days later, she called in with even more bad news.
“She called me and I heard she was devastated. The doctors said I couldn’t see the baby until after the closure. I was speechless.
“I’m 39 now and I’ve wanted to be a father all my life.”
He could barely process the information. Alternately angry, helpless and sad, Simon frantically consulted the doctors he knew, desperate for another, more positive answer. No one could give him one.
The rules were the rules, he was told, and he had to stay away from his baby. It left him in some sort of fear.
“I have no idea when I will meet my daughter,” he says. “We don’t know when this will end. She can be three months old. I can’t really put that in my head. I still feel like I wake up from a strange dream. ‘
Simon’s husband Jeremy with his ex-wife. Jeremy, who has two adult children with columnist India Knight, no longer wants children
It meant that Simon first saw his baby through the blurry medium of an iPhone screen. He remembers a dizzying wave of emotions when he looked at Matilda so far away in Glasgow.
“On the one hand, I am very grateful for technology,” he says. “Can you imagine that we lived in the time of a photo?
“But at the same time it was painful. I wanted to reach her and touch her, but I couldn’t.
“When a baby is small, you want to protect, feed and feed it. If they are very small, you just want to hold them.
“I think one of the fundamental things for boys is the very first time you hold your child. At least for a woman, they carried the baby for nine months. While I think there is something very crucial for a father, and for the band experience, the first time you are holding your child. ‘
Since then, he feels like he’s living in a strange movie, he says. “I know that I am a father, but it feels abstract. I recently spoke to a friend and said there is almost a small part of me that feels like a friend of mine had a baby and just sent me a photo. It is really bizarre. ‘
He has tried to distract himself as much as possible by working obsessively to improve his already beautiful home.
“I do gardening, I’ve repaired things, and I now have the most organized outbuildings and closets I’ve ever had. Everything is labeled down to an inch of his life. ”
In addition, he knows that the crisis and his own predicament will end, reflecting how happy he is to be trapped in the countryside.
“The garden comes back to life and I have planted vegetables. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in an apartment somewhere without doing anything. I think I would go crazy. I know I am extremely lucky in that regard, although it is no substitute for meeting your firstborn. ‘
None of this is exactly conventional, with or without the virus.
Simon, above, who runs a PR company and whose wider family founded the famous Lakeland kitchenware company, has no problem staying at home
The plan is that Matilda will live with Victoria in Glasgow most of the time, but will take regular trips to stay with Simon, an arrangement that suits both.
But the loss of these first crucial weeks has hit him hard. “The first few days, weeks, months of a child’s life are extremely important,” he acknowledges.
“I should have been there. She had her first bath yesterday and I wasn’t there. There are so many things I will not be there for. ‘
He says that his own childhood on the banks of Windermere had been idyllic, and he is partly driven by the hope of recapturing it. “It was a nice education. I want to be able to recreate that for a child. ‘
And he never doubted he would, even though many believed that being gay made all hopes of a family impossible.
“I remember when I was 19 years old, people said,” You are gay, so you will not be able to have children. “I knew that was wrong. It was never something I thought would be priceless. Today there are so many different types of families, and the most important thing for me is that a child is loved and protected. It doesn’t matter what that family looks like.
“Matilda has Victoria, me, my husband and all our parents. She is bombed from everywhere. So many people will watch her. ‘
As the shock of the locking situation subsides, Simon is more than aware that he is trapped in a strange, beautiful prison while waiting to see his baby. “I don’t feel so upset, but I still feel like I’m in some sort of movie – a movie where if you were reading the script you’d think they went too far,” he says.
He has barely missed a moment of the government briefings and finds himself awakened at night by strange and vivid dreams.
But he does his best to learn some patience and says, “I found myself getting more anxious by acting against everything.
“I can’t change anything, so I might as well continue. There are so many people in a worse situation than me. This is emotionally difficult, but we are healthy. There are parents who have lost their children and that is just terrible.
“I have to think about all the reasons why I’m lucky instead of why this is difficult.”
It made him realize something else.
“This pandemic has been a real leveler. It is not something people can pay for. You cannot buy an upgrade. We do it all together, regardless of your background or your job.
“And the people we rely on most are not the enormously wealthy. We rely on all the great key workers: the supermarket staff and the garbage collectors. It’s the people we all look at to keep us going. ‘
Simon is kept on his feet by something else: the prospect of holding baby Matilda for the first time – when it finally comes.
As he puts it, “I have the funny feeling that it will be like meeting someone I know forever.”