Lockdown Diaries: End of Week 1
It's been a strange week for us all.
Personally, I've enjoyed the best part of 40 years of unrestricted access to the outside world. I also spent a sizable proportion of those four decades watching sci-fi movies about apocalyptic plagues, the likes of: Outbreak, 28 Days Later, I am Legend, 12 Monkeys, The Andromeda Strain, and Warm Bodies.
Evidently the current situation with C-19 is a million miles away from zombie apocalypse, or even just 'normal' apocalypse; I have no doubt that it's a shot across the bow, that we'll be through it soon enough and that we'll (fingers crossed) learn from it.
Buuuutttt..... it's still the nearest thing that I, and probably most people born after 1950, have ever experienced to social dystopia.
Earlier today I headed out, for the first time this week, to do our family shop. Where I would usually have jumped in the car and sped off without ceremony or second thought, today I adopted a different ritual. For a start, I didn't just try and memorise what my wife was telling me to get, while all the time relying on the contingency that I could phone her if I forgot and she could text me any additional stuff. Instead I took a list, and I also spent some time considering which order I was likely to encounter the items in, so to minimise my time in the store. I also briefly considered what I would say to the cops if I was challenged on being out in public. Kafka anyone??
For entirely sentimental reasons, I then said goodbye to everyone, kissed my wife and hugged my boys. Why? I've no idea. It just felt as if I was about to take a risk and I needed to express it somehow. Then I washed my hands(!), before hopping in the car and taking off.
At the shops I parked as close as possible and moved, if not quickly, then at least with greater purpose than usual. I put on a pair of disposable plastic gloves that I'd schemed from the adjacent fuel station; it didn't seem a weird thing to do, others were doing exactly the same, and nobody else batted an eyelid.
I couldn't just enter the store as usual of course. The crowds of early morning numpty stockpilers had made sure of that. Instead there was a 'queuing aisle' defined by temporary barriers, which I had to navigate first. And once inside it was a sombre experience. The store was virtually empty and those who were inside were wondering up and down the aisles like wraiths, uncertain where they were meant to be, highly suspicious of one another. I joined them.
Perhaps the most sobering moment was when I rounded the end of one aisle to be confronted by a line of four fellow shoppers each wearing a face mask, spaced the regulation two meters from one another and with the same pensive look in their eyes. It actually stopped me dead in my tracks. Why? Because I'd seen similar things before. In films.
I made it out alive. And overall I was pretty comforted by the experience. Why? The store was open. There was no shortage of supplies. Yes there were quantity limits, but these were well in excess of what the average person would need. The store had adapted, providing social distancing measures and cues, protective equipment for its shelf-stackers and protective screens for its checkout staff.
Most of all though there was no panic amongst my fellow shoppers. It was business as usual, with all the typical acts of courtesy, just at greater distance. Hope springs eternal.
And when I got home my first action was to wash my hands thoroughly. It's a strange thing, but in a time before C-19 this would have been a sensible thing to do anyway after visiting a public place where people routinely pick everything up, inspect it and then put it back. And yet we never would have. Will we now?
I won't bang on about the other things that we've done this week as a family. That's for another blog. But I'll finish by saying that I've learnt a great deal more about being human, and what it is to be human, this last week than I have for a long time.
Week 2 of lockdown has got a lot to live up to.