The toilet paper drama has become a distant memory. Earlier today my (soon to be) 15-year-old son said he had been watching YouTube videos, of people around the world fighting in shops over – toilet paper. During dinner, we talked about the Coronavirus (which dominates so much right now), and the experience of shopping. Earlier I’d been to the local supermarket, to buy provisions for the evening and weekend. I’ve been registering the impact of the virus through many sources, my favourite one is a daily trip to our local supermarket. It’s a short bike-ride away and with a compromised knee currently the case (a small operation scheduled for 2 days ago was, of course, cancelled). With a bike, movement is easy and painless. A hiking rucksack has replaced the shopping bag.
Enough of the preamble – this blog is primarily about the way our local supermarket is contributing to the combat against the Coronavirus. A week ago saw that first wave of panic buyers, empty shelves, with toilet paper and pasta frenzy, spearheading the absurdity. I never saw these ridiculously selfish, and panic-driven shoppers, do their dirty work. Only the increasingly almost empty (and then completely empty) shelves, of certain products, was evidence these people existed. Those early days were surreal. A supermarket with empty shelves was odd. One read about the toilet paper and pasta disappearing, but didn’t get it till seeing it with one’s own eyes. The surrealism was under the surface. The shopping baskets and shopping trolleys were still available and whilst the numbers of shoppers had reduced – it was still shopping as usual. Except for the plastic crates piled up in front of the meat counter /ensuring the 1.5 meters between shop-assistants and customers. Signs were in abundance asking shoppers to maintain a 1.5-meter distance, between each other. One evening I saw almost all the frozen food containers empty. How could people eat so many frozen pizzas and chips? And all the frozen vegetables? There must be more deep freezers in the area than I thought. I heard one man holding a running monologue/dialogue with himself “no wonder those arseholes needed so much toilet paper “ he muttered, as he passed all the empty frozen goods containers. Witin 2 days the shelves had been restocked and there was no shortage of anything – except Scottish shortbread (from Walkers). 4 shelves had been emptied over a week ago (with the exception of 4 packets of Gluten-free ones), and evidently there are none left in stock. We like a nibble of shortbread with our morning cappuccino. No – I had not panic-purchased shortbread!
The atmosphere in the supermarket is becoming more relaxed by the day. The people who work there are under less pressure, because there are fewer shoppers. The shoppers have been giving off a relaxed vibe, and the sense of surrealism has been replaced by a sense of calm. Things have slowed down. 2 days ago, the shopping baskets were taken away – now shopping trolleys were on offer, and there was a lady cleaning the trolleys handles after they were returned. The bread rolls that were usually loose, were now tucked away in sealed bags. There was a nice man, standing near the check-out registers, ensuring that the shoppers kept a distance from the check-out. Day by day measures were being extended to combat the spread of infection. There was a queue of people in front of the entrance – a good meter between us all. The number of people being allowed to enter was being controlled, and it was working nicely. Everyone knew and accepted why this was this way. The slowed-down tempo of shopping was releasing and shaping a new atmosphere. There were queues at the check-out, as well as plenty of smiling faces, and of course, the smartphones took care of anyone needing a distraction.
There is milk and vegetables in the fridge, and some other food for the weekend. I count myself lucky I can afford to buy food, and have a home to take it back to, and a wife and son to cook for and be cooked for.
People see the virus in different ways. Some question the need for reducing contact with others, believing it is an overreaction. The peak of this bleeds into conspiracy theories. Others are quite strict and are only be in public with a mask. Not only to protect themselves but to protect others. Personally, I favour as much physical reduction in contact as possible. This makes the most sense to me. Staying at home as much as possible. Reducing working situations, as far as possible, to essentials. Those who are able to work from home doing so as much as possible. Short of an absolute emergency, I don’t want to go into the underground system. It would be great if a stringently imposed curfew is avoidable, and I guess it is, so long as a vast majority of citizens go along with the idea, a radical reduction in people contact can help combat the spread of the virus. Public figures would be well advised to lead by example.
We appear to have moved on from toilet paper and pasta to the very real and pressing issue of how do we, together, fight the spread of the virus. The clock cannot be turned back. Now is the time to ask this question: How can I/we slow-down the spread of the virus? I feel millions of people, where I live, are going through a deep (and quiet) process of reflection and questioning. I see this as a very positive effect of the virus. The daily impact on our lives is filled with minor and major details. We all know how much people don’t like change. Many people are not only slaves to their routines and habits, they feel at home with them and this ‘feeling at home’ is being exposed to a mighty disruption. And there is nowhere, and no one not affected by this. Even now it is not only a case of how to get through this but also what happens when the virus is no longer an issue. Can life ever return to the way it was? Does it have to?