22 May 2020. Our first trip to a shop together since 23 March. Essential shopping at the supermarket can only be done by one person, and I do it to minimise risk for husband. He has ventured to the pharmacist twice for medication, each time encountering a wait of just three other people. So today was his first experience of shopping in lockdown as we went to B&Q to get light fittings for our new house. His first experience of being herded into a queue behind barriers, of markers on the ground to space us out, of a sanitised trolley given to us by a masked assistant, of hand sanitiser as we enter the shop. B&Q insisted we each pushed a trolley as the most effective way of enforcing social distancing – ‘sadly, a lot of people don’t respect it.’ Watching him get to grips with this alien way of doing things reinforced how normal it has become. Everyone else was impatient of him trying to work out what to do.
A teenager was hanging around the entrance. A staff member who had finished her shift but really did not want to go home. Overhearing the conversation as her colleagues tried to encourage her to do some work and be paid overtime or to go home, it became clear that home was the last place she wanted to be. She could not bear being shut in with her family any more. So was prepared to stand for hours in a place where there were different faces. That was all she wanted. Different people.
The groups of teenagers getting together are growing. Sitting along by the river, or on the far edge of fields. Just sitting in a group of a dozen or so. One friend reported that her teenage daughter had met up with friends for coffee for the first time in weeks. Such a relief to get her out of the house. The rest of us are busy tutting. We have become crowd-counters. Is that a family of nine or two whole families together? Tut, tut. It should be just one other person from another household. An impractical restriction. I can meet up with a friend to walk our dogs together, but if that friend brings another which of us has to leave? Or are the teenagers counting themselves as a chain-gang of one plus one plus one. The larger groups are certainly causing hassle on narrow paths.
But the relaxing of restrictions means that the dog can go out with his friends with his dog walker tomorrow. His depression at not playing was becoming quite as hard for us as for any parents with a bored teenager. He won’t enjoy the compulsory bath when he gets home.
This is my personal Mass Observation blog. I invite anyone, particularly members of Radley College community, to join in to create a group record of this important period in our history as we face the COVID-19 pandemic.
© Clare Sargent