Size isn’t everything, but two metres is only just enough

CROYDON COMMENTARY: After a sunny spring weekend which saw the police move in and some parks in south London close their gates to the public because social distancing was not being properly observed, KEN TOWL (at a safe distance, left) considers the new social norms that may emerge from the covid-19 lockdown

I lied. And I can’t tell you how ashamed I felt. But I was desperate, desperate and trapped in the meat aisle of the local Co-op. In front, the red-bearded shopper who had entered ahead of me had turned round and was walking back towards me. Behind me, the next shopper could be allowed to come in at any moment. Something like panic set in.

Do most people actually know what two metres is?

Under my breath I whispered my new mantra: “Two metres, two metres, two metres“.

Red Beard clocked me. “You can come past if you want,” he said. “No,” I said, “I can’t. The aisle isn’t wide enough. There isn’t two metres.” He shrugged at this apparently novel concept. Behind me, still no one, but this could change any second. And that is when I lied, and shamed myself.

“I work in a hospital,” I said. “I don’t want to pass the virus on to you.”

He swallowed this like a magic pill. Apologetically, he said, “I’m sorry. I’m looking for chicken.” I pointed to the last chicken in the shop and stepped back while he retrieved it and then disappeared quickly up the aisle.

My shopping turned out to be entirely liquid. There was no flour, no eggs, nothing I wanted. I arrived at the till with bottles of wine, sparkling water and tonic. You have to swipe your own Co-op card these days, but this seems to be the main contribution that the Co-op makes to social distancing.

As I approached the exit, it is blocked by the Co-op guy who is managing the one in/one out policy. The exit is less than two metres wide and he is standing right in the exit. I stop. He looks at me. “It’s OK,” he says. I give him the look that I think says, “Two metres? Really?” He shrugs and steps back.

Later, a friend of mine, Juliet, lets me know via Facebook that her aged parents qualify for a supermarket delivery, and indeed have one booked, and she could add anything to their order if I liked. “A 1.5kg bag of strong flour!” I type, immediately.

Gold dust in this coronavirus, home baking, age

I want to join the new generation of bakers. Given the scarcity of flour – and the inflated prices for it on eBay – this seems to be every single person in the UK.

The going rate on eBay seems to be about a fiver (for a bag that usually costs less than £2). Plus £5 more for postage.

Juliet agrees on £2 and delivery is free. She will come by my place a little after 5pm. I wait for her, standing outside in the weak evening sunlight, glad that she is late because it gives me an excuse to be outside. Finally, I see her heading towards my door. At least I think it is her. She is wearing a mask and rather formal clothes, “a cross between Hannibal Lecter and Noel Coward” she says, maskless now but at least two metres away.

She picks up the envelope I have placed on the wall by the street and, looking for all the world like a psychopathic murdering, piano-playing drug-dealer, surreptitiously deposits a plastic bag containing the merchandise. Juliet is a solicitor, her principle income is from conveyancing and, as she tells me, people are not moving so much these days. Perhaps she should inflate her flour prices.

When all this is over – and it will end not with a bang but with a whimper, a gradually loosening of the rules – we will be different people. I hope we will be kinder to each other, look out for each other – as Juliet is doing, making sure her parents are all right and her friends, too. Perhaps we will change our shopping habits.

Let’s make a point of remembering the little shops (like Freshco), and the independent butchers, the greengrocers, little family businesses who have over decades lost trade to the supermarket giants.

When all this is over let’s be kinder, but for now, let’s be thoughtful enough to keep our distance.

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5 Responses to Size isn’t everything, but two metres is only just enough

  1. Sandra Newnham says:

    And you think that’s what those priority slots are for…so family and friends of friends can add to the list. I’ve used internet shopping for years because I have chronic osteo arthritis but now have no access to slots on any sites.

    • Ken Towl says:

      Was Juliet wrong to bring me 1.5kgs of flour? It’s an interesting moral conundrum.

      • It really isn’t. The delivery is reserved. It makes no difference to the retailer, nor the recipient, if the delivery is made up of one product, or one hundred. And if by ordering on behalf of others it helps to reduce the number of trips to the shops that people are making, then in its own small way, it is helping to beat this thing

        • Nick Davies says:

          It does make a difference to the retailer: it takes up space on the van. Tesco limited orders to 80 items so they can carry more orders.

          • Of course, there is finite space in every van. Other retailers have been tempering demand by limiting the quantity of specific products that can be ordered, though more in response to panic over-buying than as a means to control capacity issues.
            But if a delivery slot is booked, then in many ways it is more efficient, more economic and furthers self-isolation if a delivery can cater for the needs of more than one household.

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