One of my neighbours a gloriously attractive Chilean wrote me a “Don’t hesitate to ask, we’re just up the street ” email. Next door upstairs distributes statutory services for the local authority, they will keep her working, she wrote me a “just ask” email and when I saw her, underscored her invitation. The delightful young men from next door but one came to knock on the door – ditto. The girls next door street level the other side wrote me a note with their mobiles and so did my upstairs neighbours – their courtesy was moving. Nat rang to say she was perfectly happy to load the car and come over the river, Brendan ditto. My son rang and asked how I planned to manage and I told him how lucky I felt.
Staying well away from everybody, I go out, buy my bits and come back for the rest of the day alone. Most of the time it was ever thus. And on Thursday I went to another area about half an hour away by bus, because it has three good independent chemists and I thought I might find cotton wool. I did and tissues and soap and a couple of other things.
Walking up the street, I came to a little Waitrose with a woman arranging something in the window. I stopped to think for a moment and we grinned at each other. She moved forward and I went towards her. “Madam” she said “would you like some toilet paper ? I have some, if you’d like it.” I looked at her badge – “Linda the toilet tissue fairy” I said. “Yes please.”
I thought I would have a look in my favourite bakery where the bread was as good as ever and the girls told me management was doing everything it could for them -masks, gloves, pay only by card – and they thought they might make it through.
I found things in M&S that I had not found elsewhere and the cashiers were patient and pleasant so when I saw a manager, I grabbed her, explained I rarely shop there and please tell the staff how much we appreciate their effort. She was delighted.
The fear is a great deal more frightening and catching than the bug. And the bug is making headway. So we’ll see. If we give up small pleasantries – like talking to an Italian-Ethiopian teacher of special needs children on the bus this morning – we shall be even less human. (How I wish I’d seen Wal and the woman in a vast ransacked Tesco’s, talking over the last bulb of garlic. He made her laugh and she insisted he took it.)
It’s very sad how badly people behave. In earlier days we’d never have got to an intensive care nurse, distressed and appalled after unspeakable hours of work, crying because there was nothing left to buy. In the past, independent or chain, managers would have lined up the staff, arranged who was coming in, what they might have, how it was to be done. Most of those in control of the situation would have been firm, clear and polite and we wouldn’t have had to look at those snarling faces, buying everything that isn’t nailed down out of a lethal mixture of entitlement, greed and terror. But we have made several generations of anything goes and it’s ugly.
What my mother would have called “the crapehangers” among us (always expecting the worst) have long wondered what would happen if something went seriously wrong, more wrong than an aircraft blowing up or a terrorist incident. Well now we know.
The best news of the week was that, globally, the air was cleaner than it has been for ages. The teacher on the bus said a friend in Venice had told her that the canals were cleaner. And we must all know that no meeting in Davos, no accord in Paris would have granted us this breathing space, be it every so brief. One of my favourite songs has the refrain “Hard times, come around no more” but here they are again and it is devoutly to be hoped that the human animal might learn a little something – which is not to say that the cost of the lesson won’t be horribly high.