Have you ever wondered how many photographs you must have appeared in, over the years? I don’t mean those taken by friends and family – I mean total strangers’ photographs. After all, a great many have had walk-on parts in mine. I often wonder this when I see old postcards or newspaper pictures of events/places I remember attending/visiting. One day, I’m going to see myself staring back, or at least someone I recognise – I just know it! 

In the meantime, I feel sorry for the man whose photos I accidentally photobummed last weekend. Yes, that’s what I said. I was leaning right over, taking close-up pictures of flowers, as I like to do, at one of our favourite places – Loseley Park, in Surrey – prior to it closing for the year.  Seems only a couple of weeks since it was able to reopen, but hey.  It’ll be Christmas soon enough. The OH made some feeble joke about eclipses, but I was embarrassed to spot the poor man nearby, politely waiting until my gigantic bum had finished fannying about in the shrubbery, so that he could finally take some cute and endearing (and huge-bum-free) pictures of his very sweet toddler son.

Talking of the C-word, my neighbour has just told me her family are having a very early Polish Christmas dinner (her husband is Polish). Usually, of course, there are many more family members involved and invited, but not this year. 

Last year, we finally did something we’d been talking about for years. We volunteered to help out at a local church’s Christmas lunch for people who would otherwise be on their own that day. Such a lovely idea!  We were particularly impressed with the organisation involved, the time and effort (and money) people were so willing to give, the cooks who did a fantastic job and, in particular, the services of one couple, who were ferrying people back and forth to and from their homes all afternoon. We had an excellent meal, a sing-along around the piano, crackers, presents and chocolates on all the tables.

We were hoping to do it again this year but, of course, it may not be happening now.  I feel for all those people at home alone and hope they can get through it somehow. It’s really tough to be on your own when you know (or imagine) everyone else is having a great time, even if you firmly tell yourself it’s often far from the case.    

Mind you, some people don’t even try to find a little bit of the Christmas spirit and join in. I sat next to a man who loved the sound of his own voice but didn’t once ask anything about me. When it eventually came to the cracker-pulling, he waved a hand and said, “I’m not a cracker person.”  I replied, sharply, “Well, I am!” and shoved the offending article in his face, leaving him no choice but to pull it with me. I sniffed the end after the “bang”. Of course! Doesn’t everyone?I’ve done this since childhood. I love that smell. (My sister still does it, as well.)

A friend of mine who regularly attends his local church with his family was amused to be told by their vicar that some of the congregation are not as well behaved as one might expect.  When the church first re-opened, certain people were most put out not to be able to sit where they always have done, wailing and pointing to their favourite seats: “But I ALWAYS sit there!” “Not any more, you don’t,” the vicar responded crisply. “Don’t you know there’s a virus going around? You’re sitting over THERE.” Apparently, they now have to book their seats, too, favourites or not, and there’s a strict rota in place so that nobody misses out.

At a different kind of church, our local spiritualist church, very well attended for its first big gig after lockdown, we weren’t able to sing, so, sitting suitably spaced apart, we hummed along to Morning Has Broken instead, followed by The Lord’s Prayer, which we were allowed to speak. Unusually, the OH didn’t join in with the humming and when I asked him why, he said he was too choked up, as it was the song his father had requested for his funeral. 

I breezed into my local bank the other day, not wearing my mask, then stopped in my tracks, apologising profusely. The woman behind the counter said not to worry, we’ve all done it.  She told me of a customer from the day before, who had come in, used the hand sanitiser, worn gloves and wiped the counter pen before and after using it, yet he wasn’t wearing a mask. When the Lloyds lady questioned this, he said: “It’s not the law, is it?!” 

I read about an American couple who contracted the virus (he survived, she died), believing all the conspiracy theory nonsense on social media. If they had followed the basic rules, she might still be alive today. The numbers of people tested positive for the virus in our area have risen sharply recently and large parts of the country have gone back into lockdown. 

In Waitrose last week, I noticed that the tinned fish supplies were well down on what they have been, reminding me that this was one of the commodities in very short supply during the first lockdown. This is how it starts, but I didn’t panic-buy before (though I did get a bit nervous at times) and I’m not going to do so now (I always buy two of everything, in any case).  Hopefully, if it does happen, the shops will be able to handle things a lot better than they did back then, when it was all frighteningly new to everyone.

I really felt for the exasperated woman who was in there with her husband.  With barely suppressed fury, she told him he was driving her nuts, slowing her down and putting things into the trolley that weren’t on her list. “We already have these things at home!” she hissed at one point. “Just let me get on with it!” I don’t know why he was there, really. Far better just to have parked him in a café somewhere, the in-store one still not open at present, so that she could whizz round unimpeded.  It’s always worked for me.  However, it could just have been that she was as scared as the rest of us, wanting to get out of there as quickly as possible.  For her, any pleasure she may have once taken in shopping had long gone, and her aggravating husband wasn’t helping.

For everyone who feels slightly panicky, breathless and sweaty when wearing a mask (holds hand up), there’s someone who has completely forgotten to observe the distance rules (the woman in the checkout queue in Waitrose, who, ignoring the clearly signposted distancing spots on the floor, stood very close to the woman in front, who really should have said something to her). The joy of shopping has deserted some people altogether, and many of us just don’t feel like browsing at all.  

The OH hates going into our local large shopping centre, where nobody appears to be social distancing, especially outside the more popular cafes. I enjoy being among people again, and getting out and about a bit more, myself, but I’m not enjoying wearing my mask indoors and I don’t like people coming too close. I don’t linger in shops, either – even my beloved bookshops. The shops are bound to see all this reflected in their sales – although there’s always online, of course. Online shopping was already noticeably killing the high street and the virus has taken up the mantle.

A friend tells me that, when her local branch of  “The Works” re-opened, it had a wall of drawings of their regular customers, welcoming them all back, and she spotted herself on it. You wouldn’t get that online, now, would you?

In my nearest garden centre, I noticed you are expected to hand-sanitise your own trolley, now. Is it that dreaded word, again? LOS(S)? Otherwise known as “Lack Of Staff?” Nobody wins that one! In other places, they are still doing it for you.

We met up with a couple of friends for a meal out, last week.  We haven’t seen them since March.  Working from home has suited them both very well and he is continuing to do so; although, being a teacher, she is now back at work.  He certainly doesn’t miss the early-morning commute, and neither does the OH. We had a good catch-up and a good laugh and it perked us up no end. When ordering the drinks, I excused myself, saying I rarely drink, not enjoying the taste that much, with the odd exception. I added that, if someone told me I could never drink alcohol again, I’d say, fine, no problem with that, BUT, if they said the same about cheese or chocolate, I’d be in deep despair. Our friend agreed, until her partner reminded her that he’d never heard her say: “I need a cheeseboard, and I need it NOW!” as she collapsed through the door after a particularly heavy day at work. 

While the restaurants and cafes seem to be thriving, it’s sad to see how so many pubs are struggling for survival, with some having to close their doors forever. We passed one the other day, bravely trying its hand at running a farm shop inside, as well. Good luck to them. 

The pub we visited for lunch last Sunday is another I frequented in my youth, when a gang of friends and I traipsed around the county, following a local band.  The pub is still doing live music (hooray) but, when I enquired, they told me, with some regret, “Not this year.”  As with another youthful haunt I revisited on my recent birthday, I was hoping to get a rush of memories and emotions – but remembered and felt nothing. 

The lane which runs behind the pub was beckoning us to walk along it afterwards, and I tried to remember the times I walked our dogs and rode friends’ ponies along there but, again, nothing clicked.  Still, it was a very nice walk and we have already booked ourselves in for another excellent lunch (the best we’ve tried anywhere, so far).  A large notice outside declared it to be fully booked that day, despite the briefest of menus, and there were plenty of happy locals sitting outside, enjoying the sunshine.

Although, one or two still seem confused by the latest Government rules. I know I am! One anxious-looking customer quizzed a member of staff about the number of people allowed in. “How are you going to survive,” he asked her earnestly, “if you can only have six in at a time?” Patiently, she explained that it wasn’t quite like that, adding how happy she was to be back working again. 

The new rules state that pubs and restaurants are now having to close at ten pm. I think we could all have predicted something along these lines.  Encourage people to get out and eat out, start opening up businesses and venues again, etc, and what the hell do they expect?! As it is, under the new rules, New Year’s Eve is going to be a bit of a damp squib this year, for many. Those of us with FOMO (fear of missing out) and FONN (fear of noisy neighbours) will be relieved, though!

Two women sitting behind us in the pub were making quite a bit of fuss about where to sit at their table. They were friends, not family. Should they sit opposite each other, or side by side? The waitress patiently waited for their drinks order, while they fussed, fidgeted and clucked over the safest way of sitting together, but apart.

They would probably have felt far happier eating out at a brand-new restaurant, specifically built and designed for social distancing. Part of a hotel, it’s the UK’s first, apparently. The drawback – for them, anyway – is that it’s down in Cornwall.  But it’s a start…

Eat out to help out has, not surprisingly, been a huge success, with disappointed diners being turned away from some fully-booked places. Also not surprisingly, the most expensive dishes on the menus were the ones to sell out first. It’s been so good for some places, they have decided to extend the deal.

Meanwhile, closer to home, a local pub has a sign outside, informing us all that Santa’s elves are gearing up for the festive season, so hurry up and book your table now. Yes, hurry up, for goodness’ sake, before the rules are changed yet again and the entire festive season is cancelled…

Author: Hampton Caught

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

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