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…

“Exterminate!”

HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE

On a recent trip out, we spotted Woody and Buzz Lightyear toys dangling from the back of a campervan on the motorway. No doubt “To infinity and beyond!” was the joyful cry of so many, as soon as lockdown rules eased.

The services were fully open again; the car park fully crowded to prove it and, sadly, the road kill numbers had increased dramatically from our last trip out, with dead baby deer, badgers and foxes around every corner, it seemed.

We noted a flower, fruit and vegetable stall had changed to a burger and fries shack, which was proving to be a lot more popular. Another place was trying to cover most eventualities, by offering: Fresh eggs, potatoes, face masks.

One of our local stalwart cafes, who have been supplying us all with basic foodstuffs and even delivering them if needed, have now stopped providing fruit and veg boxes, as other places are slowly opening up again and, of course, there’s always Kingston market just down the road, which has kept trading throughout lockdown. Farmers’ markets are starting to open up again, as well.

More and more local restaurants and cafes are opening up again, although we are probably going to continue to stick to our “new normal” of a Friday night “date night” takeaway for a while longer, until things settle down.

Outside a local farm shop, two middle-aged men were using the hand sanitiser provided before they were allowed in. “We don’t even have to do this in Waitrose,” one of them joked.

Smell is so evocative, isn’t it? I mean, some hand sanitisers smell delightful, while others smell really strange to me.  The OH likes the hit of alcohol he gets with some, while I hate that particular smell. Ah well. I’m bracing myself for the new rule of wearing masks everywhere, from this week, and have already seen stern notices outside some shops: Not wearing a mask? Bugger off, then! Or something like that.

Talking of evocative smells, a greengrocer shop was doing a brisk trade in a nearby village as we passed it the other day. I didn’t need anything but I stuck my head in the door and inhaled. It’s such a poignant, nostalgic smell for me. My godparents ran a greengrocer shop in my home town of Henley for many years. One whiff and I’m right back there.

On passing the job centre window, I wondered how many of the jobs advertised would still be relevant…

BACK TO KINGSTON

On notices in shop windows everywhere: Welcome back, Kingston! We’ve missed you. Judging by the long queues outside T K Maxx, Vodafone and the Apple Store, we’ve missed Kingston, too.

It was good to see my favourite two cafes back in action, albeit with reduced numbers of tables and chairs. I bought lunch in one and our supper in another, to show my support. My third favourite café, in the church, was due to open the week after, so I will be making a beeline for that one first, next time.

Hoorah, the loos are open again in the Bentall Centre! As are most of the shops, though I was saddened to see one I used quite a lot, run by a lovely helpful couple, has vanished forever.

In Smiths, the assistant informed me he used to order in 70 magazines but has been told to order in just 40 from now on. That’s a BIG difference! I wonder what the unlucky 30 titles are? I’m worried for them all: the free Tesco magazine was painfully thin this month and Sainsbury’s (paid) magazine decided to have a joint July and August issue instead of its usual two separate ones. The Waitrose food magazine has produced an illustrated edition this month.  What will they do next month, though? I’m wondering which titles will survive and what they are all going to look like, if still around, a few months from now.

I couldn’t wait to get into Waterstones – my first foray into a bookshop since lockdown began. I have a long list of titles I want to buy but was so overwhelmed, I bought just the one – Jack Monroe’s latest, if you’re interested.  Very good, as all of her books are. The rule is to put any books you handle but don’t buy into a designated trolley. In my excitement, though, I’m afraid I forgot to do this (I only handled one or two).  I hope it’s not on CCTV and I’m banned from there forever. That would be too cruel. Their café isn’t open yet. I hope it’s soon – I’m rather partial to their cheese straws and am hankering for them again after so long.

Waitrose had a very strict system: in one way and out another, with staff checking you in and out at either end.

Some poor soul had painstakingly painted large “social distancing” dots on the pavements around town, although nobody appeared to be taking any notice of them. Interestingly, though, people were giving the tone-deaf busker quite a wide berth…

Talking of social distancing, I went into a clothes shop and out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone standing close by, so thought I’d better social distance from him. I waited –and waited – before eventually realising it was a mannequin. I do hope that’s not on CCTV, either…

In Sainsbury’s, I stood behind middle-aged twins at the till.  One was born three and a half (the all-important half!) minutes before the other. “Once she was out, I had to follow,” the (barely) younger woman joked. “She’s so bossy, she ordered me to!”

I’ve always wanted to be a twin. It would be wonderful to feel that someone is on your side and will always be there for you.  At least, I’m assuming that’s how it works. Do let me know if it isn’t! In any case, if you were identical, think of the fun and pranks you could play on people. Life would never be boring with another “you” around. Though God help everyone else.

We paid our last visit to The Medicine Garden in Cobham.  It closes forever next Wednesday.  You’ve still got time! The shop owners are on the lookout for what they call a “destination” place where they can all continue trading under one roof. One of them must be feeling very optimistic, as I heard her telling a customer she was starting to order in her winter stock. I wish them all lots of luck and am thankful I got to experience such a special, unique place for a few years, at least.

Finally, an alert for all those Dr Who lovers out there: a much-loved vintage shop in Penzance is closing its doors for good – another sad victim of the Coronavirus.  A Dalek has resided in its window for as long as we can remember, with a Not For Sale tag attached. Steady on and form an orderly queue, folks (drum roll): it IS now for sale! Can we dare hope that, once released from the confines of the window, it can help us “exterminate” the virus for good? Watch this space…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“A bit of a corker!”

I have a friend who often gets her words and phrases muddled.  She refers to “poodling” about instead of “pootling” and people who have been “furlonged” not “furloughed” during the current crisis.  Her latest one, though, is a bit of a corker: she explained how she had bought a “scratchcock” chicken from her local supermarket. I said it was only too clear where her mind was at the time. It should, of course, be “spatchcock” though I am surprised by how few people have heard of it (look it up). Spatchcock, scratchcock, or whatever, one lady in particular was overjoyed to see the hot chicken counter up and running again, so to speak, in Waitrose.

A woman in front of me at the till was practising what looked like ballet barre moves to me. It was the same woman who had been doing these movements while waiting in a very long outside queue the other week. I’d love to be so unselfconscious!

Chatting to the girl on the till about her forthcoming end-of-year exams revealed she wasn’t confident about the results. She’s doing her A-levels next year and said, due to there being no open days at any of the universities at the moment, it was hard to choose the one she favoured. I helpfully told her how upset I was, the other day, on re-reading my old school reports. But I’m not going to go into all that now. That’s for another blog…

It was lovely to see the Big Issue seller outside, again. We know she has a family but we don’t know where she lives. She said lockdown had been really hard for her. I wanted to hug her. I miss hugging people – though they might be relieved!

I wanted to visit the big Sainsbury’s just down the road, afterwards.  As we queued outside, a large notice prominently displayed reminded us that lockdown has not been a bundle of laughs and a nice rest for many, giving numbers to call for victims of domestic abuse or bullying at home.

Inside, a woman was wearing a sweatshirt that read: REALITY CONTINUES TO RUIN MY LIFE. Meanwhile, the staff were all wearing “social distancing” T-shirts.

A sign outside Esher cinema is announcing: We’re back!  Don’t  ‘mask’ your feelings. You’re going to (g)love it.

Meanwhile, an Esher householder has come up with an ingenious idea: they’ve cut their house number into the very tall hedge by their drive. No delivery driver is going to be able to miss that…

We noticed a betting shop was open. Wonder if it’s been open throughout lockdown? My heart is sinking at each further relaxation of lockdown rules, for personal reasons, and I have very mixed feelings about it. Many can’t wait to rush back to their old lives as quickly as they can, it would appear – even if they have been virtuously (and hyper-anxiously, in some cases) following lockdown rules to the letter and beyond for the past few months – but, equally, hundreds of people are still dying from the virus every day around the world and in this country, and many people I know are in no hurry to start socialising and shopping again. As for the hordes who headed for the beaches in the recent hot weather: did any of them stop to think that others might have had the same idea? Did they even care? And would anyone on here care to gamble on there being a ‘second wave’ (excuse the seaside-related pun) very soon?

 

 

 

TOASTED CRUMPET OR BAKEWELL TART?

Thoughts of moving house are becoming more pressing, for various reasons I won’t be sharing on here – for the moment, at least. It’s constantly on our minds. What we can afford, what we will need to compromise on and, most importantly of all, where we are going to end up…

We socially-distanced met a very nice man the other day. He and his wife recently moved to a detached bungalow set in three acres on the outskirts of a pretty town in Kent. They can walk one way into town (with the all-important good transport links) and walk straight out into deep countryside the other – it sounds like bliss to me. They also have three dogs. All in good time, Cooper, all in good time…

Anyway. Their land backs on to a popular path which leads from town to country and, during lockdown, they saw just a small handful of walkers a day.  The first day  restrictions were lifted, they counted nearer 200! I guess you can’t have everything and, although I know I wouldn’t like that many people trooping past my home, at least, in this case, there is some distance between their bungalow and the public path. Perhaps a nice screen of fast-growing trees is in order…

Now, all my life, pretty much, I have lived in places other people like to visit (we will draw a veil over Tooting, where I lived in a student hostel while studying at what used to be known as the London College Of Printing (now Communications) in the Elephant and Castle).  I was born in Henley on Thames and also lived in Salisbury. I now live in Hampton Court.

Perhaps it’s my age, but, suddenly, I have grown rather sick of living somewhere that’s always so damn busy!  Doesn’t matter what time of year it is. Or is it that, since lockdown began, I have come to appreciate the quieter roads and fewer people, while out and about? (Of course, they’re all coming back, more’s the pity.) Now, I’m yearning to live in the sort of place where people nod and smile and say hello, whether they know you or not (they’re not like that around here, with the odd exception, despite a load of talk online about community spirit, blah blah blah). The sort of place where it’s only other locals you will see tramping around the streets or fields or woods, or wherever.

We have always said we’d love to live near the sea but we’ve been re-thinking that one, recently, as well. Our favourite places, in Devon and Cornwall, are hoaching with tourists year-round. OK, it makes for a “lively” scene and is great for the local economy, of course, but I’m not sure I’m prepared to share my precious personal space any more.

During lockdown, for our daily exercise walk, we’ve been avoiding the main towpath down to the river nearby, but even our newly-discovered local walk alongside a different, not-quite-so-busy part of the river is no longer the peaceful haven it was. The other day, on our brief foray out during the OH’s lunch-break, we encountered plenty of naked flesh – ie, sunbathers – lying broiling in the direct sunshine. Our joint idea of hell. I jokingly mentioned something along the lines of toasting crumpet, but the OH came up with something much better: “Bakewell tart.” Bake-well. Geddit??

Moving swiftly on, we returned home via a small local cafe, where we ordered takeaway coffee for the OH and two paninis for our lunch. The owner has very kindly been giving us free food with our orders – one day, it was small custard tarts and on another, it was a chocolate wafer biscuit each. Very kind – and very good for business! We will continue to support them, in any case; free treats or not. Next door, the Indian restaurant’s menu in the window proudly boasts: Lamb cooked in a way as you have never seen before (sic).

In the meantime, our quest for a fairly local, uncrowded and relatively peaceful oasis to get away from it all for an hour or so, often takes us to The Medicine Garden, in nearby Cobham. Once part of the estate belonging to a huge old house across the road, it’s a very large, walled garden, with outbuildings occupied by a number of small independent businesses and a couple of cafes. The garden borders themselves are full of inspiration. Alas, the place has now been sold, although you can still go there for the time being to have a look around, grab a takeaway coffee and cake and maybe buy one or two of the many artefacts currently being sold off.

The owners of the small businesses are sad to be leaving, and all are keen to stay together in some capacity, so they are looking for alternative accommodation: a barn or some other building large enough to take them all, preferably not a million miles from where they are now. If anyone reading this can help them, do let me know!

Apparently, instead of the housing estate full of “luxury executive” homes I was dreading, it’s going to be turned into a day spa for the WAGS of the many rich footballers who live in the area. Sigh.

You have until the end of July, when it closes to the likes of the rest of us forever, to see why I love it so much. On your marks…

 

PLANTS AND BOOKS AND ROCK AND ROLL…

Oops. I’ve finally realised where most of my money goes: plants. Since the garden centres re-opened, we’ve visited several and the borders are looking crammed, just as I like them to, and all but two of my pots are full – unlike my current bank balance.

Yes, we’ve had to queue, but it’s been worth it.  We’ve also stocked up on bird food, and good job we did, as, when we returned a week later, the shelves had been cleared.  I’m gagging to get back to Wisley, but the queue for the plant centre was so long when we swung by recently to check it out, we didn’t even bother stopping the car. This was on a weekday, too. You can visit the gardens again, hooray, but only if you pre-book and the same goes for a nearby local beauty spot – Claremont, between Esher and Cobham – another favourite of ours.

A little bit further afield, the first garden centre we revisited after they opened up again was one we haven’t been near for over six months (long story) and I felt surprisingly emotional to be back there. The speed with which the staff were busily re-stocking the shelves from their plant-laden trollies was impressive and I managed to catch a passing agapanthus as it flew from trolley to shelf. It just fell into my hands, guvnor, honest…

As mentioned in a previous blog, I also love buying books.  Even though, bizarrely, I’ve been unable to look at one, fiction or non-fiction, since lockdown began.  (I tell a lie: I attempted to read some Winnie-the-Pooh recently, for comfort, but it made me cry instead.) I’ve even struggled to read my beloved magazines. Make of that what you will.

Despite this, I have been compiling a list of must-buys as soon as I can get to a decent bookshop.  Or an indecent one. I’m not fussy. Yes, I know I could have ordered these online, but I much prefer to walk into a well-stocked bookshop and inhale and, as far as I know, they haven’t invented “scratch’n’sniff” online ordering just yet. My favourite bookshop has re-opened, in town, but I’m in no hurry to get back up there, what with the compulsory wearing of masks and the lack of loos.

We don’t need anything else. We’re stocked up with all the essential stuff we’ve needed over the past few months (thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you to Boots, Superdrug, Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and the occasional farm shop).  Neither of us needs any new clothes or shoes.  A friend said how much she wanted to buy new clothes but didn’t want to go back into the shops just yet and didn’t like ordering online, either. Even though lockdown rules have been relaxed, a great many people I know aren’t going anywhere any time soon.  There is still a lot of fear out there.

Last week, we visited Kingston again, just before the majority of shops re-opened.  We will be going back there again soon, but hopefully avoiding those shops with the longest queues. I noticed that one of the shops still had its Easter display in the window. The car parks are charging again. They were busy, too.

I needed to go to the bank, for the first time since the day before lockdown, when I cried (I cried in Waterstones, as well. I’m sure they thought I was mad). The same woman served me.  We had a lovely chat and I said how much I was enjoying their choice of background music (lightweight disco) and would she care to join me for a bop around the counter?  I was getting funny looks from another customer nearby, and after she left, the assistant said I seemed like a bubbly, lively, upbeat, happy sort of person, while the other woman looked sour and old! I am pretty much all of those things, most of the time; just not very much right now, so I silently congratulated myself on keeping up appearances, despite everything.

The flower stand at the market was open again and it was lovely to see all the cheery colours, though I didn’t buy anything this time.

We paid a visit to my favourite Italian café, where the owner is hoping he will become a lot busier once the shops have re-opened. We bought pasta and takeaway coffee, and I was pleased to see another couple waiting to come into the shop as we left. We also bought cakes from my other favourite café, again. It’s got to be done!

It will be interesting to see what else will be open when we make our next trip there.

PS: I made the rock ’n’ roll bit up. I’m desperately missing the live gigs I love so much, but goodness only knows when those venues will be able to re-open and, while I’ve always preferred to have a bit of space around me when dancing, I’m not sure the venue owners/promoters will agree. Though I’ve just heard the pubs might be opening up again next month. Not entirely sure how that’s going to work, either. Oops…

 

 

OUT AND ABOUT AGAIN AND WISHING I COULD BE INVISIBLE

MOLESEY

We revisited an old haunt for a takeaway.  It’s another Italian restaurant and has been closed for many weeks, so it was lovely to see the owner back there again.  He said it was “crazy-weird” how he had had to close down so suddenly, but that there had been some positives to be had from lockdown; not least spending more time with his wife and young daughter. Some things are more important than money, he said. We agreed and I said my biggest positive was having the OH around all the time (though he may not entirely agree with this sentiment).

COBHAM

On the way to our favourite supermarket, we spotted a policeman taking down the numbers of cars parked alongside the main road. It seemed a bit of a fruitless thing to do. He would have been better off patrolling the heaving riverbank and green spaces in our area. Someone complained on our local facebook group about the number of people not social distancing. They said a police car had pulled in to one of the car parks near the river, looked at the crowds of people there and driven straight back out again!  Not very reassuring. However, it could simply be that there just aren’t enough police around to deal with all the crowds.

In Waitrose, I overheard one assistant saying to another: “My hayfever’s really bad atm.” Mine is, too, love. I expect a lot of people are suffering with it at the moment.  We’ve had no real rain for weeks, now, to tamp everything down. Local honey, as supplied by the beekeepers’ association nearby, helps a bit and I’m always recommending it.

The young assistant busily restocking the shelves looked blank when I asked him where the fish paste was. He asked if I’d bought it from them before, and could I give him a brand name to look up? Of course, my mind went completely blank at that point. I probably looked like a fish myself, as I stared at him, gaping, while waiting for the few remaining cells in my brain to kick in and supply the answer. Finally, I remembered two names and he was able to locate them for me. “Now you know what they are!” I said cheerily, barely believing he’d never heard of the stuff. It’s delicious on hot buttery toast, of course, or try Jack Monroe’s cheap and cheerful fish-paste-and-pasta dish some time. It’s yum. Anyway. It reminded me of the time, in Wickes, when the OH asked for putty and the young and very bored female assistant said: “What’s putty?”

I saw a post on Twitter recently, from someone in the music business, who said his mind always goes blank whenever anyone asks him what music he enjoys listening to at home.

Something similar used to happen to me, when I was working in the fiction department on my old magazine. People would ask me what I was reading, and what could I recommend? The best I came up with on the spot was: “Maeve Binchy.” Now, as it happens, I’m a fan of her work and would most certainly recommend her books – Evening Class and The Glass Lake being my top two favourites – but I just wish I could have come up with a few more names at the time! And please don’t ask me now, either. I’ve barely glanced at any fiction in the (almost) three years since I left my job. I can only dip in and out of non-fiction titles at the moment. Although, since lockdown began, I haven’t been able to do even that. I’m struggling to look at magazines, as well. So unlike me, a lifelong book and magazine addict! It hasn’t stopped me compiling a list of books I’ll be buying just as soon as I can get into my nearest bookshop, however.

If you’re interested, I usually tell people that Gone With The Wind is my favourite novel of all time. It has everything going on and, when I first read it around forty years ago, I stayed up until three am to finish it. It also has the best opening line – look it up.

Well, I say it has everything – it doesn’t have vampires. They may not have been around back in those days, or, if they were, they probably liked to keep themselves to themselves more than they do now. You can’t leave the house without tripping over vampires, these days, it would seem – or certainly judging from the selection of stories I’ve just read and reviewed for a prestigious annual award for new writers.

My theory is that the young writers whose stories I was reading (16-21 years) need to feel they have some sort of special power over a world that increasingly appears frightening and out of control; run by older people who, worryingly, seem as clueless as the rest. I’m scared for the world, as well, but I’m not a fresh-faced teenager with most of my life ahead of me. Most of mine is behind me, now, damnit.

The young writers had created new worlds and given themselves special powers in order to survive. It made for pretty bleak reading, in some cases, but at least it was of their own making and, like I said, they had some control over events. Even stories set in the past included characters with special powers. I’m sure we’ve all wished we had those, at times! Mine would be invisibility and teleportation. Together. Think of the fun I could have! Though I ought to try being a bit more imaginative – so far, I’ve only made it back to my old office, where I’ve been rifling through all the lovely freebie books that come in for review every day. How I miss those!

Talking of books, I noticed there were far fewer than normal on sale in the supermarket. They don’t have a very large selection at the best of times, though they really should, I think, but it was noticeable how few they had left on this occasion – unless they simply aren’t reordering any for the time being? Whatever, I’m pleased people are still buying “real” books.

The young girl at the till I chose was dreamily staring into space. In fact, at that time, there were several empty tills and I hesitated before disturbing her. She looked quite happy to be left alone.  I said to her: “It’s bliss, shopping like this. I don’t even mind the queues outside. Do you find it boring, though, not being so busy?” She replied: “Not really. I like to daydream and can keep myself entertained.” Sweet. I suppose they’re not allowed to look at their phones.

On my way out, I unthinkingly started to put my trolley back with all the others, only to be politely chided for doing so. It had to be cleaned first. Of course! They have an impressive system in place. Wishing I could be invisible, I apologised and scuttled off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOWHERE

Let me explain: not quite nowhere, but we didn’t actually get out of the car. We had decided to go to a garden centre, but out of the three we tried, one was still closed and two had long queues. The man at the gate of one of them said helpfully: “There’s only a 20-25 minute wait, today. Much better than it has been.” It was hot and sunny and neither of us do hot and sunny very well, plus this was taking place in the OH’s lunch break, and he had to get back to his computer within the hour.  A test email had already been sent round that morning to all staff from the office manager; to check they weren’t sunbathing in the park, we presumed.

Prior to going out, my hairdresser rang me and my first words to her were: “Yes please!” She laughed and said, “Sorry, I’m just ringing for a chat and to see how you are.” She lives in Kent, very near to one of our favourite garden centres, which was featured on the news the other day, but she hasn’t tried to go there yet.  She said she’d wait for a while longer. I asked her how her garden was looking. “Glorious,” was her reply.

Their grass wasn’t looking too healthy, though, so they splashed out and turfed the whole lot. Ours is awful at the moment, but looks slightly less awful when I’ve cut it, which I like to do. In fact, with so little rain recently, it’s turning a pleasing shade of brown, which I love, as it reminds me of the ploughed fields I used to see from my bedroom window as a child growing up in a village. When we all had that roasting-hot summer a couple of years ago, the grass stayed brown and close-cropped and I didn’t have to cut it for several months.  Others are so particular about their lawns, wasting precious water with sprinklers on day and night, but it all grows back in the end, so why bother? In any case, the plants need it more than the grass.

I digress. The salon won’t be open until July at the earliest, my hairdresser told me. I said I’d just have to wait, then. I’m not too bothered about my hair growing out. I was always a long-haired girl. It just means my curls will get pulled out with the weight, but it will be interesting to see what it ends up like, and as long as I have the OH to help me colour it, I don’t mind. She said she misses the chat at the salon. Her partner, a salesman, is now involved in distributing masks and one of her sons is delivering for Amazon, while the other is buying and selling on eBay.  Diversifying at its finest!

Talking of turf, on our way out to find a garden centre, we passed our local rose nursery, run by a delightfully bohemian and slightly eccentric couple.  It looked pleasantly busy in there, which is good, as they have been there forever and I would hate to see them having to close down.  One of them was helping to load rolls of turf into the back of a customer’s car. We’ve bought some beautiful roses from them over the years. They really do know their stuff.  They have remained open throughout lockdown, as well. You can do that sort of thing when you own the place.

Someone I spoke to on the phone at the weekend, from a chain of garden centres, said she had hated not working for so many weeks.  She loves her job and none of them had wanted to close but they had been told to do so by the government, of course. She was so happy to be back working, she said. I could hear it in her voice. We tried visiting there half an hour before closing, thinking we would be OK, but there was still a long queue outside, with no hope for most of those in it of getting in before closing time.

Also something to be considered: no point in queuing for half an hour or so, only to find they haven’t got what you want. This happens frequently in “normal times” let alone now. I do hope they are limiting people’s purchases, as well – a bit like the toilet rolls situation of a few weeks back. Though I like to think that gardeners are a little more civilised and wouldn’t descend into any supermarket-style shenanigans amongst the shrubs: brawling in the Berberis or punching around the Pittosporum.

We passed a flower shop open nearby. It looked busy outside, so perhaps it was selling other things as well. I couldn’t see. Or maybe people were just desperate for flowers.  You might argue that flowers aren’t an essential purchase but I think they are such a lovely, uplifting thing to treat yourself, or someone else, to. In fact, sod it, I’m going to do just that the next time we go out shopping. I’d love a separate cutting garden, here, for flowers only, but haven’t the space and I’d far rather see anything flowering staying out there. They last a heck of a lot longer, that way, in any case.

On one of the roads we drove down, there was a big sign that said: STAY ALERT. CONTROL THE VIRUS.  SAVE LIVES. So – an update from the previous signs we have been seeing everywhere, then. The STAY IN/STAY AT HOME ones.

We passed a pub, where a few people were sitting outside. I would never describe myself as a “pubby” person, since I rarely drink and only visit them for meals or to see bands, but I felt a definite pang when I saw those people sitting there; for all the world as though things were back to normal again.

On our way home, disappointingly plant-free but having had a nice little run-out nonetheless, we passed a police van blocking one of the roads in nearby Claygate.  Another case of domestic abuse, perhaps? As happened down our own road a couple of weeks ago. Or drugs, maybe? As happened in our area last week, when six men were arrested. STAY SAFE, EVERYONE!

 

 

 

 

SHOPPING:  PART THREE

ESHER

We paid another visit to the farm shop. No real reason; we just needed to get out and it’s a pretty drive. We could see the queue for the newly-reopened garden centre part wasn’t very long, so made a mental note to visit another time. I bought cheese and yoghurts. Very few places stock that particular cheese and I haven’t seen the yoghurts anywhere else, either.  Both are delicious. At least they didn’t turn me away at the till, crying: “These are not essential purchases, Madam!” (I would happily have bought more, but their prices are very steep.)

The friendly man on the till said it had been manic in there when lockdown first kicked off. I was a bit surprised by this, as it’s in a very posh and upmarket area and (cheaper) supermarkets are nearby. He said people were sweeping their arms across the products on the shelves, straight into their trollies, without even looking properly to see what they were. Consequently, the bin men were reporting hundreds of smashed and discarded eggs and rotting piles of food in all the bins. Greed and selfishness at its finest and go f*ck yourselves, eco warriors, doorstep clappers, the “be kind” brigade and community spirit!  It’s survival of the fittest (or the rudest) all the way…

Stocks are finally up to where they were, more or less, the man said, but he hadn’t been able to get any food for himself, his wife and small daughter at one point.

Back home, we had had the recycling bins emptied and, inevitably, bits of paper were floating about in the road. I picked them up and noted one was a shopping list (not ours). It made for very virtuous reading: peppers, tomatoes, lemons, tins of beans… I reckon they have an alternative list somewhere, which reads: Booze, fags, chips, chocolate and pizzas…

MOLESEY

We spotted a man staggering out of our small local Tesco absolutely laden down with packets of loo rolls. Hasn’t anybody told him we’ve moved on since then? The queue there was particularly long – we put it down to being a bank holiday weekend; normally, at that time, there is no one waiting outside and you can go straight in.

There was a huge queue for the chippy. Huge!  You have to ring to place your order first, and I hope they all remembered to do that. While we were waiting for our pre-booked order at the Italian, a man came in with his small son. “I haven’t ordered,” he said, slightly sheepishly. “There’s a 35-minute wait, Sir,” the waiter chirruped.  The man sighed heavily and they sat down to wait.  I wanted to tell him another Italian restaurant has re-opened its doors, for takeaway only, just down the road, but decided it probably wasn’t tactful, given where we were. The restaurant has two adjoining rooms and a good half of the second, larger room was stacked with piles and piles of empty pizza and garlic bread boxes, waiting to be filled.

COBHAM

The couple in the queue behind me outside Waitrose were having a very interesting conversation. Woman: “How long is he into his sentence?” I couldn’t hear the man’s response, as his voice was much quieter, but then she said: “I always had him down as a ‘by-the-book’ person.”

My mind was boggling away like crazy but, hard as I tried, I couldn’t overhear the rest of it.  Of course, seeing me whip out my notebook and pen and scribble their words down may have had something to do with it…

Shopping done, as I was waiting by the lift with my trolley, I noticed a small boy lingering nearby, looking longingly and expectantly over in my direction. I knew exactly what was going through his mind, so I called him over and said: “Would you mind pressing the button for me, please?” He looked overjoyed and, bless him, even said: “Thank you!” before his mother called him away. All little boys (and some big ones, too, ahem) love to press a button!

In Boots, where they are only letting three customers in at a time, a man was being very rude to the two young female assistants.  I will often wade in if I feel it necessary, in these circumstances, but I was so taken aback on this occasion and, besides, he looked a right bullying you-know-what, so, unusually for me, I kept my gob shut and immediately regretted it as soon as I had left the shop.

I don’t know what the poor young woman had done or said to him, but he shouted at her for being in a bad mood, for not being helpful and for not showing him any respect – and that she should be grateful she has a job. My wild guess is that he has lost his and is lashing out at everyone else. I pity his family, if he has any. Also, I doubt he would have said any of that if they had been men, young or otherwise, but we’ll never know.

He was still in there when I left. The young woman let me out and I said loudly: “You’re doing a great job. Most of us appreciate you being here. THANK YOU!” I hope he heard me.

We tried the huge Sainsburys just down the road, after that, but the queue was the longest we’ve ever seen it, so we knocked that one on the head and came straight home.

 

 

 

SHOPPING: PART TWO

KINGSTON

We’d not been here for a few weeks and I was keen to see what, if anything, had changed since then. I also needed a few things I couldn’t get elsewhere.

There were many more cars in the car park, and we had to park two floors higher than usual.

We thought that more people seemed to be wearing masks, and we passed an ambulance with three paramedics guiding a man attached to heavy-duty breathing apparatus towards it. It was a scary and sobering sight.

I was over the moon to see my favourite deli-café sign outside their shop. They are open for a limited takeaway service and, to support them, we bought coffee and tins of sardines. The owner still has lots of bags of dried pasta on his shelves.  My instinct was to give him a hug but we blew kisses instead. He said the government has been supporting them and he’s not making very much by reopening, but he had to do something. He was very bored at home. He is hoping more businesses will come back into Kingston, as quite a lot of his trade is takeaway hot meals for office workers’ lunches.  If more of them adopt the “working from home” strategy, though, he may still be in trouble, but let’s hope not.  It was lovely to see him open again – not least because I could use his loo!

A few doors down, another local business has also re-opened its doors – for limited takeaway drinks, cakes and pastries only during the week, but with a few more options at the weekends. We didn’t even try to resist the delicious banana and blueberry iced cake slices and the raspberry and almond “cakies” and polished them all off as soon as we got home.

Of the 75 stores trading in the Bentall Centre, only two are currently operating: Boots and Vision Express.

The benches in the precinct behind Marks and Spencer are taped up to stop people sitting down, but there’s always at least one moron roaming around – and today’s prize goes to the man perched right on the end of one of them.

Despite there still not being that much open, there were definitely more people about and I felt so happy to see positive signs of life starting to emerge. I wonder what’s going to be opening up next?

SURBITON

Virus? What virus? Corona? Isn’t that a drink? Social distancing? What’s that when it’s at home? And why are all the pubs closed? Good old subversive Surbiton! Still charging for its parking, too, where other places are not.

Sainsbury’s was trying its best, with solid, tall barriers between each till station – so high, I had to be told by a member of staff that one of them was empty and I could use it.

In the street, a couple of people were wearing masks, but that’s all. As I have said before, it seems to me that people who wear masks think they’ve done enough to be safe, but they are still coming far too close to others.

A shop which normally sells flowers is now, very enterprisingly, selling fruit and veg outside instead.

We spotted two food bank dropping-off points today.

My other sort of bank wasn’t open, despite the notice on the door insisting that it was.

Workmen were playing loud music from their van and I sympathised with all in the surrounding flats who must have heard it.

As I came out of the newsagents, a man held the door open for me and asked if there were less than ten people in there. I said I didn’t know, I hadn’t counted them. He tutted but went in anyway. There was no one on the door to check.

The bike shop was open. They must be doing a roaring trade at the moment. I have never seen so many bikers everywhere. Not just the usual goggled-up and lycra-clad gangs but families out together, helmets on, wobbling all over the road and riding two abreast. Small children on busy (ish) main roads. What are the parents thinking?! I can’t look. Between them, the bicycle and running shoes companies must be rubbing their sanitised hands in glee, while praying the gyms won’t be opening up again any time soon.

We did a little detour on the way home and passed our nearest garden centre. The gates were still firmly shut but there was a notice on them: Opening soon. Hallelujah! There were quite a lot of cars in the car park and, inside, I could see some of the staff flaked out on the benches in the café.  Exhausted, they were, having been up all night, cursing Boris and co as they struggled by torchlight to unload the constant stream of delivery vans overflowing with books and bird seed, greetings cards and grow-bags, pots and pet food, scarves and sandals, scented candles, cardigans, cuddly toys and cakes. Oh, yes – and plants, of course.

Meanwhile, the owner of this particular chain is probably cursing Boris and co as well. They were only on the news the other day, saying there were no plans to be opening any of their centres any time soon. ‘Bugger it,’ they must be thinking now, ‘I was really enjoying all those lie-ins and the chance to potter about in my own garden for a change. Better check we haven’t packed the Christmas crap too far out of sight. We’ll be needing it again in a couple of months’ time…’

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHOPPING: PART ONE

WALTON

We decided, for a change, to visit a local Italian deli, taking in the reclamation yard just down from there as well. Both are on the outskirts of Walton. (We haven’t tried the town centre itself for months.) It’s a small yard but I’ve managed to find some lovely old garden pots there over the years. I like that they’ve all come from local houses, as well – or gardens, rather, if we’re being pedantic. I was pleased to see the owner, forever referred to between the OH and myself as “Matey”. We chatted from a distance, with the high-wire fence between us. He lives nearby but I suspect he just needed a change of scene and everyone who walked past said hello to him.

He’s been talking about selling the business and moving to France for years now, but he’s still here.  He has a very close-knit family of ten – children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren too – and says he loves them all “to bits”, misses them hugely at the moment and just wants to hug them. I have a feeling France may have lost its chance. He’s also that much older, of course. He’s in his eighties, though he looks in his sixties to me. In fact, all the antiques dealers I know look a lot younger than their ages – it must be all that physical labour.  When a friend I’ve known for over thirty years ran her antiques shops on Richmond Hill, she was a one-woman-band and did all the lugging and lifting of the furniture herself.

Inside the deli, nobody appeared to be social distancing, despite a few people wearing masks and it felt slightly chaotic in there, so the OH waited outside. I wanted to support them, though, so I bought bread, sardines, fancy biscuits and pasta – none of which we really needed.

In the field next to the deli, we spotted a random emu in amongst the cows and sheep. It seemed a bit odd. Perhaps it had escaped from Chessington? Perhaps the other emus were hiding? Perhaps they were disguised as cows and sheep, for a laugh? Or perhaps it was one of the cows or sheep, dressed as an emu, for a bet? (OK, that’s enough perhapsing.)

MOLESEY

A shorter trip, here, to pick up a copy of the Metro at the completely deserted station, a quick look at and sniff of the river (I love that smell) and a brisk walk back home again, via the high street, where a few cafes are open for takeaway coffees and pastries, etc. The OH bought a coffee, which came with a free biscuit. They were selling crisps, bars of chocolate and cans of drink as well.

Two more local favourites have just announced their reopening for takeaways only. I’m pleased, though we will definitely be avoiding one of them, since it has an idyllic location down by the river and we haven’t been there since all this began, as the towpath is narrow in places and there are far too many cyclists and walkers (we have heard).

In a clothes shop, the window display was unchanged from two months ago and a top I rather liked the look of back then is still there, of course.  By the time we come out of this, we will have almost certainly missed out on my least favourite season for buying clothes – summer – and will be looking at autumn clothes instead. Hooray. It’s certainly saved us all some serious money, though it’s not so great for the businesses concerned, or their suppliers, of course. It makes a bit of a mockery of all those: “What’s in and what’s out” magazine features, doesn’t it? “What’s in this week? Same as last week, and the week before…” “What’s out? Nothing…”

COBHAM

On our way to Waitrose for our weekly fix of the moneyed and posh Surrey gentlefolk. Two enormous trucks are still blocking the entrance to Sandown racecourse, though the car parks of the notorious local woods have now reopened and are, predictably, chocker. (I suspect it will be business as usual come sundown, as well – no social distancing going on then!)

We joined the very long queue outside Waitrose, where a sign helpfully announced we had a twenty-minute wait ahead of us. They weren’t far off, but the antics of the elderly lady in front of me kept me entertained for some of it. I’m not sure exactly what she was doing: it could have been a mixture of ballet and pilates, with perhaps a bit of hip-hop and Northern Soul thrown in for good measure. (I’m joking, though she did look strange; in her own little world, bless her.)

The handle of the trolley was wet and I remembered they are very good at this branch (and probably all branches, as far as I know) about washing the trollies down each time they are put back. I’m impressed, as I haven’t seen any other supermarkets doing this.

The majority of people inside weren’t wearing masks, but those few who were seemed to think that made them immune to anything and everything and were not social distancing at all. Another poor soul, who had unwittingly tried to queue-jump earlier, was wandering around, too close to everyone else, with a perplexed and bemused look on his face, as though he had just been beamed in from elsewhere and didn’t know what the f*ck he was doing there.

A cross-looking woman rushed up to the ready-roasted chicken counter, which was completely bare. “Oh, no!  Oh, no!” she kept saying, eyes widening with horror at the realisation she might actually have to do some cooking that evening. I really wanted to direct her to the birds you can roast yourself but she looked so annoyed, I thought she might take a swing at me, so I didn’t. However, as I already had one of the aforementioned DIY chickens in my trolley, I suppose I could have walloped her back with that.  But no – we weren’t in the Surbiton branch now, I reminded myself sternly.

I waited patiently for assistance at the cheese counter.  No staff to be seen, but at least the counter was open for business, which is more than can be said for the large branch of Sainsbury’s just up the road. Their cheese counter is closed and, just to make the point, covered, as well. I don’t get why there should be any difference, but perhaps cheese isn’t so high on the agenda of your average Sainsbury customer.

Finally, a nice lady came bustling up. “I’m multi-tasking, today,” she confided. I pictured her racing around the store on turbo-charged roller-skates, lobbing loaves of bread, jars of pickle and dried pasta packets at the shelves, as she swept past and on into the storeroom, to pick up armfuls of fresh fruit and stuff tins of baked beans in her overall pockets, before gutting fish, slicing ham, straightening magazines and watering all the plants outside on her way to (wo)manning the Customer Enquiries desk in her lunch-break.  The woman’s a saint.  Someone give her a medal!

The OH fancies making bread, so he bought proper bread flour – yes, it was there again, people! – and yeast. I don’t remember ever making bread before, though I’m sure I must have done at school.  The memory of it is probably so ghastly, I’ve blocked it out. He’s on his own with that one!

Waiting for the lift with our trolley, the young staff member waiting with us cheerily announced he had had the virus but had had the tests and was all clear, now. I took the stairs. On the top floor of the car park, he exclaimed in dismay: “That’s a lot of trollies!” as he saw the used ones people had put back. I think he had been looking forward to his tea-break…

After packing everything in the car and returning our trolley to the aforementioned, now resigned-looking staff member in charge of the hosing down, the OH turned to me and said: “They do click and collect, here, you know.” “Yes, I know,” I replied, “but where’s the fun in that?!”