Day doo-dah: Ice lollies in March!

Our brief trip out today involved walking around a local graveyard. Very pretty and blissfully quiet; though I think those sorts of places generally are.

We don’t need anything, as such (watch this space come the weekend), though I did try to get my favourite TV magazine in a couple of places, with no luck. In one shop, the assistant told me she usually only orders in four copies a week “and they go really quickly” but there were plenty of copies of its main rival left on the shelves.

Call me old-fashioned, but it was pretty clear she had the balance all wrong. I didn’t have the heart to tell her; she was already distressed enough at not being able to sell me anything.

A friend I spoke to (from a safe distance) told me the nice helpful chap who works at our local railway station was stopped on his way to work by the police. They wanted to know where he was going and he had to produce evidence of where he worked before they let him go on his way. I don’t know what time of day or night this was but I find it very unsettling.

I had to order a prescription yesterday and was told by the chemist that it wouldn’t be ready to be collected until Monday. I don’t think she was expecting my response, which was along the lines of: “That’s OK. No great rush.” Then, when she tentatively said I would probably have to queue: “That’s fine. I’m not doing much else that day and it’s a legitimate reason to be out and about.” I thanked her for doing her job in such trying times. (I had already thanked the doctor I had a nice chat with over my telephone appointment earlier. I said how much we all appreciate what they are doing. I don’t think it does any harm to say so.)

I have always been the sort of person who thanks people anyway, but I’m even more conscious and grateful for what others are doing to keep the cogs on the wheel of everyday life turning for the rest of us right now. I even said as much to the butcher today, when I placed an order with him over the phone, to be delivered tomorrow. (It’s another chicken, in case you were wondering, and some bacon, too, if he can get hold of any. The OH and I have developed a penchant for bacon sarnies of a morning. Vegans and vegetarians, look away now.)

Unfortunately, though, there are still people out there who are causing unnecessary mayhem and grief in shops and supermarkets; blaming and abusing the hardworking staff if the shelves are bare. Such ignorance and bullying behavior is breathtaking, but then perhaps the police should be on duty at these places, dealing with these low-life, instead of hassling people who are just trying to get to work?

On our way home, we treated ourselves to ice lollies. I don’t think I have ever eaten an ice lolly in March before but we are living in very strange times, so what the hell?!

Day whatever (it’s all blurring into one)

A very brief walk around the block, today, in search of milk, which we found just up the road at the garage. Everyone we meet is being very friendly; smiling and saying hello and thanking us for moving out of their way, etc etc. Makes a pleasant change!

I spotted a chalked rainbow at the foot of someone’s driveway and a discarded latex glove a bit further along. What’s the story there, I wonder?

At the garage, I was given another free bunch of flowers. A policeman came in and I thought he was checking up on what people were doing out, but no, he was just looking for donuts for his colleagues. (No snarky comments about that, if you don’t mind!)

A couple of frazzled parents were bellowing at their children. Interestingly, it was the fathers in each case. At the risk of appearing sexist, I’m guessing they don’t normally have to spend quite so much time with their beloved offspring as they are currently experiencing and the cracks are beginning to show…

Walking back down our road, we saw that some lovely neighbours had put boxes of books, board games and DVDs outside their houses, for people to help themselves. What a kind thought!

Day nine: It feels almost normal…

Boris has decreed we are all allowed to get outside “for exercise and shopping for essentials” once a day, and we were more than ready to obey his command by lunch-time today. I was a bit jittery: suppose someone accosts us and demands to know what we are doing “out”? I had some answers ready, if so: “Same as you, I expect!” “Boris has said we can!” and: “Eff off and mind your own effing business!” Thankfully, I didn’t need to use any of them – and I was so looking forward to using the last one, especially…

There were a few of us about, all keeping a very wide berth. We bumped (from a respectable distance) into someone I know who works at my old company, and who lives nearby. She told us there was “nothing left” in our local Tesco. I glanced down at the three heavy-looking bags she was carrying. No wonder, then… In fact, this turned out to be not entirely accurate. There was quite a bit of stuff in there – bread, fresh fruit and veg and loads more besides. All very reassuring to see. I actually came out empty-handed. I had just wanted to check it out.

I noticed Poundland next door was open, too. And a Polish deli, a dry-cleaners, the pet shop, the post office, the chemist, a newsagents/corner shop, the bakers, a local café offering a fruit and veg box delivery service – a brilliant idea, and one that other local places are doing as well – and even the garage where we have our car serviced. All following the required “One in, one out” policy. Brand-new flats were being worked on and the buses and trains are still running.

I realise some of you are going to say: “What’s essential about a dry-cleaners and a pet shop?” but I find all this immensely comforting. Our local butcher, while not open, is offering a next-day home delivery service, which is another lifeline for many. (We had a turkey from them one Christmas and it was the best I’ve tasted since childhood. Straight up. Even better than Waitrose!) Everyone is trying to do their bit: for themselves, of course, in order to survive, but also for others, ie us, the community, and it makes me tear up just thinking about it. It feels almost normal, when so much else is crazy-loopy scarily uncertain right now.

We have joined a WhatsApp support group for our road, and it’s all helping to make me feel a little bit calmer and not quite so panicky. Connected to others. I crave that connection and I can’t wait for all this to be over – I’m longing to give everyone a great big hug!

As I am typing this, two dog walkers have just gone past and a jogger with her dog. A couple with a pram. More joggers. Cyclists. A few cars and a couple of delivery vans. If it continues like this, I can cope. So long as we are allowed out every day, for exercise and essential bits and pieces. Doesn’t have to be for long. Just a walk around the block will suffice, or a quick trip to our nearest supermarket.

A friend who has a horse says looking after and exercising it every day is helping to keep her sane and another friend, who we also distance-bumped into while out, said she was “desperate” to get out of the house and was riding her bike to the shops for some much-needed exercise. Someone else is walking his dog at night, to avoid contact with others; very sensible, if perhaps not quite so interesting for either of them.

In the bakers, where I comfort-bought cakes and hot cross buns, I thanked the assistant for remaining open; though, as she was on her own in there, and probably bored stiff and longing to be outdoors in the warm sunshine, she didn’t look too thrilled by my remark.

To finish on a rather sober note, my OH’s friend is still travelling into town to work every day (he has been told he has to) and he says the tubes are rammed! To avoid this happening – it does make a bit of a mockery of all that has been said on the subject by so many – instead of cutting back on the services, as they have been doing, perhaps they should be laying on even more?!

Day eight: You silly mare!

A brief trip into Kingston, today, where we noticed plenty of building work going on, with none of the builders social-distancing, as far as we could see. (I realise it could be tricky for them, of course.) However, around the town and in the shops, people seemed to be making much more effort to keep their distance, with many more wearing masks and gloves.

Yes, we needed to go in there, before anybody has a go! For lots of different reasons. We were all behaving sensibly and responsibly. I’m a bit sick of people on social media saying things like: “I was out today and noticed so many others out, too. Why aren’t they all at home?” Er…!!! One woman on our local fb group even said: “I have a serious illness and everyone should keep their distance.” It’s you who shouldn’t be going out, then, you silly mare!

A lone busker was singing his heart out to one of my favourite songs, “Wild World” which seemed especially poignant. At least the nearby bank queue were being entertained while they patiently waited to be let in one at a time.

I got very emotional at seeing Kingston so bare and with so many shops shut. It was shocking. After today, Waterstones and John Lewis are closing. Hardly any shops were open in the Bentalls Centre, including Bentalls itself.

I cried in the bank and Waterstones (where the surprisingly cheery staff outnumbered the customers) and wobbled a bit in Boots and M&S and Guiluanos, where the man himself is selling off his stock of tinned beans and tomatoes and dried pasta, if any local people still need it.

The lovely man in Boots suggested I go home and watch a comedy on television. The equally lovely woman in the bank said I should pray and go for walks by the river. I said I don’t really pray as such but I might be starting very soon and how can I go for walks by the river, when everybody is telling us to stay at home?!

By the way – I’ve discovered that chicken is the nation’s favourite meat, judging from the empty poultry shelves in both M&S and Waitrose. It’s certainly mine. Back to the farm shop at the weekend, then…

The cashier in Waitrose said she wished they were closing, as well as John Lewis, so they could all have a well-earned break from the chaos and madness of the last few days.

The cashier in M&S said they might close the clothes part of the shop and just leave the food section open, as John Lewis have done, but she wasn’t sure.

I worry for the people I know with small businesses and those who rely on the farmers’ markets and other outlets for their sales. I feel desperately sad for the staff, as well. I can only hope – yes, and pray – that they will be able to get back on their feet after all this is over but I fear that many won’t.

Oh, and they were giving out free bunches of flowers at Waitrose, to thank us all for supporting them. It nearly set me off again.










Day seven: Locked in the lavatory!

Woke up this morning to the sad news about John Lewis closing their shops. My first thought being: ‘Those poor staff’ with my second following close behind: ‘Their loos were so handy.’ If more shops continue to close down in my local town, I’m going to be in big trouble, loos-wise. I have it down to a fine art and know exactly where all the “comfort stops” are. That’s not my phrase, btw – I find it unbearably twee and coy – it belongs to an ex’s mother. I’m saying no more; though, funnily enough, it was in JL a couple of years or so ago that I spotted her and her partner walking in my direction (they hadn’t spotted me) and my immediate instinct was to dodge behind one of the nearby pillars.

I got locked in one of the JL toilet cubicles, once. It wasn’t at all funny. The lock was dodgy and just wouldn’t budge. I called out: “Help!” several times but no one took any notice – that’s what upset me the most; being ignored. (I should have shouted something else, like: “Fire!” because, apparently, you’ll get much more attention that way. Many years ago, I read in a magazine that, if you are being attacked, calling out, “Fire!” is a lot more likely to get you immediate help than, well, “Help!” would. People are less likely to think you are mucking about and don’t really mean it, apparently. For crying out loud. Anyway. A handy tip there for you all. I hope you never need to use it.)

Eventually, a rather impatient-sounding lady (cheers, missus!) called out: “Whatever’s the matter?” I said, voice a bit wobbly by now: “I’m locked in. Please get someone to come and let me out. I’m starting to feel claustrophobic and panicky.” For those of you who don’t know, their loos are the sort that go all the way down to the floor on all sides and all the way up to the top – in other words, no gaps anywhere, so you do feel very shut in. Ever since, I won’t go into loos that are too closed in and I even sometimes leave the door slightly ajar where I can. Apologies to anyone who has had to witness it.

Someone found the cleaner, who let me out, then someone else who worked there handed me a money-off voucher for lunch in one of their cafes. It paid for a sarnie and a drink each for a friend and myself, so not exactly exerting themselves too much, but it was a nice gesture, I suppose. I hope they got that lock fixed, anyway.

I digress. I’m not at all happy about all these closures. They are seriously curtailing my precious trips out. (Please don’t hate me; that last remark was meant to be tongue-in-cheek.) My shopping lists are getting shorter by the week. I guess I had better use up the last few pounds left on my Christmas book token on some serious panic-buying before those places close as well. (Update: even as I write this, I’ve just had an e-mail from Waterstones to say that their shops will be temporarily closing. Just when I was getting used to the newly revamped branch nearest to me and their rather nice café as well. Scream.)

We had another beautiful day, today and there were many people out and about, getting much-needed fresh air and exercise. (Yes, I know! Don’t have a go!) We didn’t walk anywhere, though; just paid another very brief visit by car to a local garden centre to stock up on more bird food (we like to do our bit and they are such greedy buggers around here) and other stuff. The place we visited has a small food shop attached and it appeared to be very well-stocked with everything. No one was hoarding and everyone was keeping well away from each other; unlike the scene at a large supermarket in Dudley today, pictured on social media, where the crowds waiting to go inside first thing looked as though they were attending a gig instead, there were so many of them – and all were standing very close to each other, with not a face mask in sight.

The local parks near us were apparently being policed, with people being asked to leave, today. I don’t know what we’re all going to do with ourselves. We heard a neighbour bellowing at his kids earlier on. It made us jump. People around here tend not to bellow at their children – who are, generally, rather spoiled and entitled, in our opinion – but I think we may be hearing a lot more of that soon. A teacher friend, off on indefinite leave (paid, thankfully) as from this week, told us he’s not sure there’s even going to be a summer term. Good luck with that one, parents! And marrieds/couples – I predict a sharp rise in the divorce/separation rate, as well (sorry, but any cracks are really going to show up in the present climate. You know how iffy things can get over the prolonged Christmas break). None of us are immune. You heard it here first!

Day six: Hooray for farm shops and Wisley!

A beautiful day and our original plans changed (yet another cancellation, ho hum), saw us heading out to the Surrey countryside in search of a farm shop and a nice walk.

At the shop, the comfortably-off middle-classes (and me) were forming a nice, polite and orderly queue and I tried not to let the side down by shrieking with excitement when I spied eggs through the open door.  Yes, EGGS, people! The real kind, not the seasonal (ie, all-year-round) chocolate ones – though I spotted those in there as well.

We were allowed in, one at a time, as soon as someone came out of the shop.  There were probably about 20 people in there at any one time. I was impressed with the organisation. It appeared to be very well-stocked, with almost all the things the supermarkets had run out of, bar loo and kitchen rolls, which I wouldn’t expect to find in there, in any case. I mean, what kind of farm produces those?

After that, we drove up the road to Wisley – along with most of Surrey, it seemed.  Obviously, this self-isolation lark isn’t working. We carefully hid the aforementioned eggs in the boot –  even the affluent middle-classes have their limits when confronted with temptation beyond all endurance – and toyed with the idea of sticking a post-it note on the boot, saying something along the lines of: “No EGGS in here, we promise!” but decided it was probably a bit too much of a giveaway in the end.

Wisley was letting everyone in for free, and, while the cafes were all closed, mobile refreshment vans were dotted around the grounds and, again, people were queuing very politely, the requisite few feet apart. Bit tricky to implement when you have dogs and children, but I suppose they could always wait in the car…

The all-important loos were open; everyone washing their hands very slowly and carefully, lips moving to God-knows-what-privately-improvised tunes other than the officially-recommended “Happy Birthday.” I favour Pink Floyd’s “Sheep” myself, complete with sound effects. Everyone gives me a far wider berth than is strictly necessary, I’ve found.

Also open were the vitally-important gift/book shop and plant centre. In these frightening times, what better therapy can there be?

The glasshouse was closed, but we enjoyed our walk around the grounds, admiring the huge “Four Seasons” sculptures by American filmmaker and sculptor Philip Haas – a fixture at Wisley until September and well worth the trip.

And those eggs?  We already had a few in the fridge back home, so decided to go all-out with the community spirit and swapped them with our next-door neighbour for some of her home-grown leeks and rhubarb.  I’m getting to quite like this game…



Day five: Self-isolating with the vacuum cleaner…

I was indoors all day doing those mundane weekly chores that keep the dirt and general domestic chaos at bay, so, come the evening, I was more than ready to PAAAARTY! Only kidding. Nowhere to go.

A quick glance at Google revealed our favourite fish and chip shop was open (takeaways only), phew, so that was our Friday night “out” sorted.  We were back home by eight. Driving home, it was eerie to see all the pubs in darkness and the local co-op’s shelves completely bare under the glaring striplight. This fish-and-chip-run might turn into a regular event. We will no doubt put on weight but at least it will be something to pencil into my diary.

All those things that keep me on balance (just about) and give me reasons to leave the house every day have ceased to exist. Never mind my “Plan B” list for emergencies – there’s no “Plan A” atm! It’s all an emergency. My diary is looking frighteningly blank as, one by one, the events I had pencilled in are being erased.

On a more serious note, I have friends with mental health issues and I’m worried for them. We’re social creatures and pack animals and all this isolation feels unnatural and wrong.

At least I now have more than enough time to tidy out those cupboards that threaten to “blow” every time we open the doors a crack and ours will probably be the best-tweaked and titivated garden in the street.

I’m just praying the garden centres won’t be the next to close…