Panic at the country feed store. Panic in the horse and pony aisle. I wonder to myself: could life ever be sane again? With apologies to Morrissey and Marr, I started singing a version of their seminal hit on the way back from getting the horse and dog food and I have been humming it ever since. I feel very jaunty, all of a sudden. I know I’m supposed to be paralysed with fear and hugely depressed, but I’m not. Sorry.
I arrived at the feed store just in time, getting the last space in the car park before the place became besieged. A little old lady behind me in the queue reached out as I lost control of my trolley. While holding on to her own trolley heaped high with cat food, she grabbed the handle of mine with one tiny, wrinkled hand before I could do anything to stop her and pushed with a freakish strength, sending it back in the right direction.
The fearless force of that little wrinkled hand made me proud to be British for a split second. It moved me more than any passive-aggressive poster boasting hero this and thank you that. She couldn’t give a damn for Covid, she said. I didn’t argue. We shared a moment as we grappled with my trolley. Then we went back to standing silently behind our masks.
In front of me, a big man in wellies pushed his trolley up to the cashier. ‘Hello, Frank, you all right?’ said the manager as he rang through cartons of dog food. ‘Yeah, I’m still on the furlough from last time,’ said the customer in wellies. And he shrugged, as if the whole thing had become meaningless. No matter what the government said, it no longer stirred any emotion in him, nor interest, nor curiosity.
This is a dangerous place for a country to be.
That morning, the builder boyfriend put £100 cash in my hand after I said I was going to stock up on food. He knew I would go straight to the country store, and drive past Sainsbury’s. He won’t be cross, I thought, when he gets home to find my Volvo stacked to the roof with feed sacks and only sardines on toast for dinner.
‘Get some tins,’ I told him as he went off to work. The BB is brilliant at foraging. Last time, when the village shops emptied out and the queues at the mostly empty supermarkets went all the way round the car parks, the BB brought supplies home from south London every night. After a hard day’s graft, he frequented the Islamic and Polish shops near his builders’ yard and scored every kind of unusual cooking ingredient so that nightly our kitchen was like an episode of Ready Steady Cook as I racked my brains over, for example, three lamp chops and a can of okra… a jar of frankfurters and a tin of sweetcorn… stuffed vine leaves, two courgettes and a tin of ham… and so on.
If he came whistling into the kitchen with a packet of pasta and a jar of celebrity passata he was greeted like a returning war hero. Poor old Jamie Oliver will be marooned on the almost empty shelves again in the coming weeks, I bet. It’s nice he got so unpopular because it means there is always something left for the latecomers.
I don’t mind making do on the food front. The bit I’m furious about is the way it is assumed we can all just live online, as if that were a viable solution.
I look around me, while humming a jaunty tune, and it strikes me that we are bolstering our already dangerously spreading belief in the efficacy of doing nothing. It’s all right to get fatter, drunker, lazier, more despondent and depressed, because we are doing it together to ‘beat the virus’.
Apathy is the new normal. Little old ladies who help someone steer their trolley are just being irresponsible.
The responsible thing is to sit at home stuffing your face and drinking wine, because no one has said anything about not doing that, have they?
We have not had a slogan saying: ‘Lose Weight. Stop Boozing. Survive the virus!’ So we must assume that approach is futile.
Isolating produces its own moral anomalies. There are those who seem to have people to stay for lockdown. New cars always appear outside days before as visitors arrive, as if some resourceful folks actually enjoy the shutdown now, like a national holiday. They make an occasion of it.
I can’t seem to get into the spirit of things. In contravention of the national Covid effort, as well as getting happier, I seem to be getting thinner.
I have lost my appetite, which is handy because all we’ve got to eat is pony nuts.