Getting Out More

Things are starting to return to some sort of “normal” for me. I met a friend for lunch at her house last week and another for lunch at her house this week. It was lovely to see them both again and we had plenty to catch up on, of course. I also finally had an appointment with my chiropodist, who came to my house. He says he has been taking on new clients, because they don’t want to have to go out to get their feet looked at and would prefer someone to come to their home instead.

At a garden centre last weekend, I was impressed to see a very well-known scented candle company are now also producing a nice little sideline of hand sanitisers and wipes, etc. How very astute of them!

The young man in the café there said he’d been bored at home and was glad to be back at work. Elsewhere, a young woman in another cafe said much the same thing. She added that she loved her job and there was a limit to how many days she could loaf around in her pjs without going loopy. However, some of the staff there are apparently too scared to return to work just yet.

In a village shop we popped into over the weekend, there’s a clear notice on the door stating there should be no more than four people in the shop at a time and that masks should be worn at all times. While we were there, with four of us in the queue, two men came in with their children and friends, bringing the total of customers up to 12; the OH and I being the only ones wearing masks. The woman behind the till should have said something, of course, but didn’t.

On the day it was made official for everybody to wear a mask indoors, I was the only person wearing one in the cafe where we pick up our regular Friday night takeaway – including the staff.

Meanwhile, in Sainsbury’s a few days after the new rule, one man wasn’t wearing a mask. He didn’t have one around his neck, either. It seems that, for some people, even a hefty fine isn’t enough to make them kowtow, let alone catching the virus itself. I have to confess, though, that I had completely forgotten to put mine in my bag, but thankfully the OH had his and I was able to use that. I read somewhere that hospitals are bracing themselves for a second wave as early as August. Meanwhile, some people on social media are posting their half-baked conspiracy theories. Me, I’m starting to build up my stock of “essentials”again…

I blew it in Boots, though. I marched in with my mask down by my chin, just as I had been wearing it in the street, then realised what I’d done as I was leaving the shop (the assistant hadn’t mentioned it) and promptly pushed it up my face, before realising I didn’t have to do this, as I was now back outside again. Oh dear.

At the cheese counter in Waitrose, there was a sticky moment when I was proffered a sliver of cheese to try (at my request) and I wasn’t sure whether to lift my mask up or down, so I could taste it.

I’m hearing the words: “Cash or card?” more in shops, now, whereas, of course, it’s been card only for many months. I’ve become used to not having any cash on me at all and it feels strange to be using it again. I didn’t even need to find change for car parks, during lockdown, since the ones we were using had suspended charging.

We always ask the Big Issue seller outside Waitrose if we can get her anything while we’re doing our weekly shop. She usually asks for water, but we bought her chocolate as well, this time, as I thought she looked in need of some energy. Not surprising, as she is pregnant with her fourth child. She travels to Cobham from Welling, every day! That’s a mighty long way, and not an easy journey. I hope it’s worth her while.

The OH knows one of the sellers quite well. He has a regular pitch in town and says competition for a decent pitch is high, and can even descend into fisticuffs at times, if another seller tries to muscle in. Not to mention the abuse they often receive from the charmingly-mannered general public. Lovely. The OH suggested the people who organise the pitches for the sellers may have considered our Waitrose seller to be safer there. Certainly, while we were talking to her, there was a very accomplished violinist busking nearby. How frightfully civilised!

On Friday night, I was kept awake until the early hours by various noises in our road. It’s a small but very busy road. We’ve had the sound of late-night delivery vans throughout lockdown, of course, and they are still continuing to deliver, day and night. I just wish it wasn’t quite so late! Now that more places are starting to open up in the evenings, we have people coming back from wherever they’ve been, as well; not bothering to lower their voices at all.

We visited a garden show on Saturday. I am so hungry for all the shows I am missing. My diary has been empty for months. There were not as many plant stalls as I was hoping to see, however. More food, craft, hats, clothes, wood-carving and that type of thing. One stallholder told me it had been a very last-minute, getting the go-ahead, for the organiser – right up until the morning itself, apparently. The stallholders just had to turn up and hope for the best. Everywhere you looked, there were bored-looking young staff armed with hand sanitisers. I watched as a group of friends delightedly greeted each other and “elbow-bumped” and thought how crazy it looked – and surely not that much safer?!

The OH and I had our egos massaged a little, when paying to go in to the show. We paid full price for our tickets, then I spotted the sign that said concessions and a slightly cheaper entry price. “Oh,” I said to him, “I guess we both qualify for that, now. I keep forgetting!” The lady looked surprised and said, “I wouldn’t have known. You don’t look it, either of you.” I said, “It’s worth paying the extra just to hear you say that. Keep it!”

A vintage dealer friend we were chatting to said he’d made more in a day at the previous weekend’s salvage fair (held in the same place) than in a month of teaching (his old day job). I said it didn’t say much for teachers’ salaries, then, did it?

On Sunday, we tried our first pub lunch in almost exactly four months (I checked in my diary). You needed to pre-book, as space was limited – it was outside only, under gazebos – and there was a one-way in-and-out system operating. Our cutlery and napkins appeared at our table in slim brown paper envelopes and it was Sunday roasts or nothing on the menu, with no starters, though there were a few puds available.

The landlady seemed very nervous, jumping out of our way whenever we ventured too close. We had to sign a register book on entering. The room was bare of any furniture and it was odd not to see the usual posse of cheery locals gathered around the bar, eyeing us beadily and muttering into their pints: “Not from round ’ere, are ’ee?”

On Monday, I had my first trip up to town, also in four months, for a much-needed and long-overdue haircut. I kept startling myself every time I looked in a mirror, and small children were bursting into tears when they saw me; their parents making the sign of the cross as they passed me by from a distance much greater than a mere couple of metres.

The train and tube were very quiet. I was travelling off-peak, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the tube so quiet in all the years I’ve been using it. I was tempted to get a taxi, to find out how they had been managing during lockdown, but resisted. Maybe next time.

I panicked slightly on the train, getting used to wearing my mask, so got off a couple of stops up the line and changed on to a faster, air-conditioned train and sat near the toilet. This instantly made me feel calmer, with the addition of listening to music through my player. (Fleetwood Mac, the older stuff, as Peter Green has just died. I prefer his songs.)

I was glad of the cooler, wetter day. The mask feels hot and clammy on my face. Thank goodness most shops are air-conditioned these days. However, more and more people I know are talking about not bothering to go out shopping at all.

Waterloo concourse was also blissfully quiet. Foyles wasn’t open but the ever-vital toilets were, thank goodness. A man was standing nearby with hand sanitiser, so I allowed him to spray my hands. He offered to spray my phone as well, but I declined. Notices everywhere exhort us all to keep our distance, wear a mask, wash our hands. Makes a change from notices about staff abuse and thieves.

At Leicester Square, it was one way in and one way out. Now, despite using this station a great many times over the years, for both my hairdresser and my favourite bookshop, I have always struggled to remember which exit I need, only finally getting the hang of it embarrassingly recently. On Monday, it was back to walking round the block in all directions, until I found where I actually needed to be.

It was very quiet in Covent Garden, where my hairdresser is based. I loved it, being mildly agoraphobic (all my life). I’m really not good with crowds of people and lots of traffic and am prone to dizzy spells and panic attacks at times. (Strangely, wearing a mask covering half my face seemed to help me feel less exposed. Maybe also because everyone else was doing the same thing.)

Some of the shops look as though they have closed for good, while others are still temporarily closed. My hairdresser told me the area gets a little busier at weekends but during the week it’s really quiet. I have never seen Neal’s Yard so empty! In the salon, where my hairdresser greeted me wearing a plastic visor and top-to-toe plastic overall, they are allowed just one customer per stylist at a time, but it was still fairly busy in there.

I guessed the regular Monday antiques market wouldn’t be there, but didn’t bother to check, as I wanted to visit my favourite bookshop on the Charing Cross Road, in the opposite direction – again, for the first time in four months. I bought three books. I would have preferred it to be four (or two, or six), due to my OCD and always preferring to buy things in even numbers, within reason (it can get expensive). Weirdly, as I stepped outside, I was confronted by a passing four-by-four with an “OCD” number plate. Now I just need to see another one…

Author: Hampton Caught

The rants and ramblings of an ex Deputy Fiction Editor of Woman's Weekly magazine.

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