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My Coronavirus Diary

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Jane Kelly has been keeping an occasional coronavirus diary which we will be bringing to you at regular intervals.

Monday, March 30, 2020

1,228 deaths in the UK so far, 260 on Saturday alone. 

The big question is, how did we manage before the terms ‘vulnerable’, ‘front line’ and ‘underlying conditions’ came into the parlance? They are now about every second word heard from the BBC. 

‘Go on, it’ll do you good to get out a bit.’ ‘I suppose so, but I’d rather not.’ The voices in my head were arguing about the Monday shopping excursion for me and D, my elderly neighbour who’s house-bound. I was rushing over to see her as I usually get her list before I go out to a painting group at 9am. Suddenly realised there was no longer any need to rush at all, as I wasn’t going anywhere. I was pleased to see her; the first person I’ve spoken to face to face since last Monday. She was pleased to see me. Her relatives are all ‘self-isolating’, and no longer visit.  

I have to visit the shops but this crisis has given me something like ‘shopping-phobia’. Feel irked that a friend has somehow got an online delivery slot. How did she do it when no one else can? It preys on my mind and I feel glad when Sir Malcolm Walker, ‘boss of Iceland’ as Justin Webb of Radio 4 calls him, says that too many able- bodied people are shopping online. He said the slots are going to them rather than those who really need them. 

I have to go out and my distress is more about hoarders and empty shelves than fear of the virus, but Daniel Defoe, writing in 1722, remembering the Great Plague, had no doubt about the dangers of shopping during an epidemic: ‘The Infection came into the houses of the Citizens, by means of their Servants, who, they were obliged to send up and down the streets for Necessaries, for food or physick, to Bakehouses,  Brew-houses, Shops, etc, who going through the streets and markets it was impossible that they would not meet with distempered people, who conveyed the fatal breath into them, and they brought it home to their families. The necessity of going out to buy provisions was in a great Measure the Ruin of the whole City.’

I arrived to find the supermarket car park almost empty and no queue. Inside the shelves of fresh produce were cornucopic. I trundled around shopping for D first; she strictly follows a 1950s diet and doesn’t touch anything fresh; orange squash, yes, lots of it there, tins of rice pudding, yes, tinned ham back on the shelves at last, Horlicks, yes, and now I know where to find it. Staff rarely know what or where it is. Mouthwash, yes, but still no loo rolls, Dettol, cleaning cloths or organic meat, not that D ever touches that. 

Plenty of her favourite ready meals, custard and toffees. For me a few treats too: cider, (an obesity/alcoholism epidemic is surely on its way) and some squirty cream for me and the cats.  

Felt like spinning my trolley for joy; nearly back to normal in our supermarkets, until the hoarders use up what they’ve got in their chest freezers and slink out again. I am generally as happy as a wasp in a cake factory at the moment, but also a bit of a nervous wreck, it seems, as I felt wobbly taking part in the strange gavotte we must now all perform around the supermarket aisles; when people stood back for me or gestured their thanks as I stood back for them I felt almost tearful. In the 1990s I wrote an article about dating in supermarkets; now it’s more like people acting out a murder mystery.  

It was worrying to see many of the staff stacking shelves, working close together, chatting away as if it was three weeks ago. Sights like that trigger a constant low-level anxiety. I think I remain on the right side of stable but someone mentioned bluebells the other day and I thought they said buboes. Looking at the shop-workers in a huddle, I tried to put out of my mind what Defoe saw:

‘An abundance of unsound people to the markets, sometimes man or woman dropt down dead in the very markets, for many people know nothing of it until the inward Gangreen had affected their Vitals and they died in a few moments;  many died frequently, suddenly in the street, others had time to go to the next stall, or to any door or porch, and just sit down and die.’ 

Of course, nothing dropped today apart from a box of eggs from my fumbling fingers and only one was broken. Got home to wash my keys, front door, outside of car boot and all door knobs, and discovered that I’d forgotten D’s damn Rich Tea biscuits. 

That will mean another trip out but not much to complain about really, and later today someone from my history group is going to inculcate me into the magic of using Zoom. It seems that everyone, young and old, now has to be able to do it; we’ll all be much more tech savvy when this thing is over.  

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Jane Kelly
Jane Kelly
Jane Kelly was a journalist with the Daily Mail for fifteen years. She now writes for the Spectator and the Salisbury Review.

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