THE END. RING ALL THE BELLS. LOCKDOWN IS OVER. LIGHT THE BEACONS. CORONVIRUS IS DEFEATED. THE DECLINE OF SOCIETY NO LONGER NEEDS TO BE CHARTED OR CHRONICLED BY ME.
I’ve been doing this for twelve weeks now. I’m not sure what the point of it all is any more. My parents are fed up and whilst once my aim was to protect them, keeping them indoors, the government’s message is now so nebulous in the face of a raging pandemic to be meaningless and as all sorts of social restrictions appears to be collapsing; it now seems that pushing them out the door would be a mercy. Even my diabetic neighbour was returning from hospital for a visit, on Day 77 of his convalescence, to see how he’d cope. His Mum’s bonus shopping item this week were some long-dated Edam or Gouda cheese slices.
Who has Gouda sandwiches?
After a whole day of it on Monday I woke up on Tuesday to a new shopping concept to get my head around: rain. I don’t think we’ve ever had as many storms and at one point I heard a dripping in the kitchen and, upon investigation, found water was pouring through the LED lights onto the bathroom floor. At least my Mum’s greatest fears weren’t realised: we hadn’t been struck by lightning. But how do you go shopping in the rain? Yes, I could have got a lift up there, but then I didn’t fancy queuing for ten minutes in a torrential downpour, did I?
My Dad consulted the weather forecast on his iPad and told me it was set to rain all day, but that it wasn’t supposed to be raining at the moment, so that was all reliable, and when a break in proceedings opened up and the sun came out I was straight out there where I found the pavements quiet, the slabs gleaming, and a quote came to mind: “someday a rain will come and wipe this scum off the streets”. It turned out to be the psychopathic Travis Bickle from the film Taxi Driver who said that. He might have been talking metaphorically. I was thinking more literal.
Near the fire station I noticed for the first time that “THANK YOU KEY WORKERS” had been painted on the road. You’d think the council workers in charge of those road paint machines would be in hibernation. Ironically the bus stop markings and double yellow lines alongside them were all faded and in dire need of a repaint. If only the Council knew.
In Morrisons car park I found they’d solved the queuing in the rain problem by putting up one small sign telling you to “wrap up warm” and to “bring an umbrella”. Apart from that, for the first time, nothing had changed. It was like their Lockdown shopping system had evolved, like a shark, to its final perfect form and with their two parallel queues in operation I pushed my trolley through and got waved straight in because there was no one else there. Was the system now working perfectly? Or had it been fiddled with until it had become redundant?
In the shop the tannoy was blasting out hits from The Beatles, B*Witched, The Pointer Sisters, Fairground Attraction, and Status Quo and it was like the manager was off on holiday, or attending a crisis meeting with William Morrison up at head office, and some flunky was using the opportunity to playlist their personal collection with the volume cranked up high. I liked it.
There was no yeast, again, and the Morrisons bakery staff didn’t look approachable on the subject. No bags of jelly babies either. My elderly neighbour had asked for two this week so I actually bought her one of the boxes. It said “you’re jelly-tastic” on it.
Her son duly returned for his day trip, with an entourage like a hip-hopper, to see how he’d cope. We were told he struggled, especially with the stairs, but then what would you expect after being spread about across 5 different wards in 4 different hospitals suffering with COVID-19. The people facilitating his transition said they’d supply some “stuff” to help out.
For my part I returned with some Edam slices. This was a complicated purchase because his Mum said she may, or may not, want them depending on her son’s prospects. The Edam Slices were dated for about 4 weeks and whilst there was no way her son was returning in the first fortnight of that the big question was did she think he’d make it home in the two weeks that followed.
The Edam test.
She accepted the cheese.
The following morning the hospital phoned her up to say that they’d had a “power cut” and rather than deal with any sort of electrician they were just going to send her son home that very same day. They were booting him out. Day 78. It sounds like hospital black arts and maybe they just wanted to get rid of him. A van turned up with the aforementioned “stuff” to help him and so we checked them out, like the nosey neighbours that we are, and it was one commode unloaded out the back followed by a second.
We weren’t expecting that.
So my neighbour survived COVID-19 and well done to him. My Dad saw him arrive back but it wasn’t so much in a blaze of glory and the whole road weren’t out there in the street clapping. My holiday from his snoring is over. Or it would be but then after a long period on a ventilator, and another with an oxygen tube shoved down his throat, and the conflicting tales about whether he had a tracheotomy or not, he hasn’t actually made so much as a snort. I can hear him on the other side of the wall, though, scratching against it occasionally in the night like rats burrowing through. I have not missed him as my constant bedfellow for the past eleven weeks.
I started depicting Lockdown with his downfall, after I bought him a bottle of Vimto, and now we’re at his resurrection where he returns to a box of rebranded Sugar Puffs, with full fat milk, and Edam sandwiches. Diabetics of the world unite.
When my three-legged, half-eared, cat Pod was alive he required so much regular care that I often viewed myself as a prisoner to his whims. When he died and I was free, after a decade my time once more my own, I duly got out more by going to the cinema, just the once, and I realised that I was never a prisoner: I am the prison. If that wasn’t bad enough, now with the Coronavirus, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do any more. Am I free to go about my business on disease-ridden public transport or, living with elderly people, am I sentenced to a year or more behind closed doors for their sake?
I looked into the English Sweating Sickness, which was a novel Hantavirus that manifested at the beginning of the Tudor era, and that hung around for sixty-six years. Is this my life for sixty-six years? It’s not that I’ve not been earning in Lockdown because whilst I’ve been getting my Dad’s lottery the only success he’s had was in winning a free lucky dip ticket, for getting two numbers, which he promptly gave to me for my troubles. I got three numbers and immediately gained thirty pounds. It may be a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife, but what would my prospects be once I’d passed a hundred?
Would I have attained the position of most eligible bachelor? To be honest I’d have probably spent the thirty pounds by then.
Two weeks ago I discovered something disturbing in the fruit and veg aisle of Morrisons that hit a little too close to home. It was a box that someone had made for the single bananas. Someone had even gone to the trouble of making them special sign so you’d be in no doubt. It was full of bananas that were alone, discarded, aging, going brown, and occasionally leeching fruit-ripening carbon monoxide. I couldn’t help but think that this definitely was some sort of metaphor. Or, there again, maybe it’s literally the rest of my life. I’d clearly better stay away from the other fruits.