COVID 19 Internal Monologues Part 2: The Town Centre and The Supermarket

**Basically a live stream of an internal monologue which is not designed to make a great deal of sense, because nothing about the current situation does**

After another bizarre day of not seeing anybody in the flesh until post-5pm – but having plenty of work-related phone-calls at a kitchen table ordinarily associated only with meals and personal gatherings – I begin to get extremely excited about the fact I have a letter to post. Excited, yet also somewhat dubious.

On one hand, I get to go outside! And there’ll be people there. And I rarely see those now.

On the other hand, I have to go outside. And there’ll be people there. And I have to avoid those now.

I walk and post the letter – envying the envelope’s travel plans – and carry on into the town centre. The charming Guildhall building on the square is lit up – as it usually is – but the cobbled pavements which surround it are completely empty. Nobody is stumbling out of the pubs after a few Shepherd Neame specials like they usually are, and I almost miss the cursing and burping usually overheard at this point. Benches are vacant. Restaurants remain lit up, but the view inside is just of a set of plain brown squares which represent empty tables.

The only people I see are dog-walkers, joggers or those who – like myself – are out alone running an errand. I pass them – but keep well away. It feels very rude.

In this town, we usually say hello to strangers when we pass.

But today we don’t, because we’re keeping too wide a berth, veering out into the road to avoid passing too close on the pavement.

It’s heartbreaking. But we just have to do it. Fight now, and celebrate later.

In the midst of the feelings of despair and fear that have dominated the last few days, I walk down Abbey Street.

Abbey Street. A place I usually just associate with my jogging route and tipsy walks to (and especially from) The Anchor pub. Abbey Street – the most iconic street in Faversham. Houses that have been there for more than century. Houses whose timber frames represent so much more than an historic method of construction. As I pass I imagine all the occupants of the past, generations who experienced times much worse than this – like the first and second world wars – but who fought through it. Who survived. Who morphed their challenges into the creation of stronger communities. Much like we will, once all of this is done.

And then I get closer to Tesco and suddenly I feel a sense of excitement akin to the one when you arrive at a friend’s house and know that in a moment’s time, you’ll be greeting somebody you care about. Or when you’ve been walking across remote countryside for hours and then stumble upon a pub full of people. Right now, the supermarket is the extent of your mingling with the outside world. The neon signs may as well be flashing in the manner of a ritzy club, denoting the lure of socialising.

The pubs might be empty of people, but the supermarkets aren’t. The one place at the moment where you’re guaranteed to see people and not feel alone. Comforting, but also mildly terrifying. A Dodgem experience where you literally do want to dodge them, and shudder at the thought of coming too close, but which you also feel a strange sense of excitement by.

A man seems to follow a similar route around the shop to me, distracted by a video call to a woman who is unknowingly announcing to all else within the Easter egg vicinity of the shop that, “Tonahht we’re playin a gaaaaaaame!!!!!”. The man chuckles.

The laws of social distancing mean that his presence unnerves me. I fear the distraction of his call means he’s not really thinking about where he’s walking. I skip away from him – past the juices – and whilst en-route bank the observation that Prosecco is on offer for £6 a bottle.

I’m sure there’ll be plenty of times I consider that information over the next twelve weeks. Good to know. Useful to put into practise.

I’d seen on social media that the supermarkets were lacking in supplies. I couldn’t believe it to be real as all had seemed okay as recently as last Friday, when I’d last been in one, but it was. No bread. No pasta. No eggs. No beer. A multitude of empty green crates where the fresh produce usually lives. You know you’re living in apocalyptical times when you have to embrace the fact that there was a severe yearning for every single cucumber that was recently in that box. Usually when I buy a cucumber, it’s pretty much a game of Jenga – trying to ensure that the one I remove doesn’t offset the rest into rolling around in chaos. Now it’s just a game of Blind Man’s Buff with no ending.

There will be many things we take away from this period of time, but the importance of supermarket staff will be right up there with the rest. They don’t have the blessing to be able to work from the safety of home right now but they carry on and smile regardless. Regardless of the fact there’ll be no respite for them anytime soon. Regardless of the fact that their public-facing roles put them in more danger of catching the virus than those of us who just get to stare at our kitchen tables all day. They just carry on smiling, doing what current escalating need dictates.

And when supermarkets are pretty much the extent of your social life, that is so, so important.

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