‘That’s a big sack!’ said a manly man in combat gear, eyeing up the dog toys. I smiled back as I shuffled along the aisle, mumbling that it lasted a long time, but later wondered if he was covertly challenging me for suspected bulk buying of dog food. Big dogs need big bags of food and right now, I need to know that we have what she needs in the midst of the current chaos.
The pet shop was my first stop, emptier than expected, a few gaps on shelves, but nowhere near as desperate as I’d anticipated. The atmosphere was tranquil, soothing almost, a shop of nurturing shoppers, determined that no matter what the future may hold, their beloved pets would be cared for and well-nourished.
The man in front of me was quiet but determined, diligently pushing his trolley piled high with various sacks of dried food. Designer branded posh food for posh pets, and he didn’t even flinch when the cashier asked for £138. I did though, as I marvelled once again at the love and obsession which animals inspire in the least likely of people. I spend a whole lot less on my dog’s food, but perhaps this man realised that in the absolutely worst case scenario of maybe needing to eat his pet in the coming weeks in order to survive, at least he would be reassured by the fact that it had recently consumed the absolute best in canine nutrition.
In the chemist, a different kind of atmosphere, a flimsy façade of calm floated amongst the health conscious and hypochondriacs. The vitamins and supplements shelves were mostly stripped bare, and prices disgracefully hiked – does anyone really spend £15 on a fish oil supplement? Fish oil won’t deter this virus, even if you neck the max strength ones by the bottle. The longest queue was at the pharmacy counter – ‘No, sorry, we don’t have any more Calpol’, and ‘No, you can’t have more, one box of paracetamol per customer, only.’ The pharmacist was the most popular person in the shop and in relentless demand, but carried on with incredible courtesy and dignity in the midst of anxiety that you could almost taste in the air.
Final stop, the supermarket, and I’ll only be a minute, just a couple of things to pick up. But even outside the shop, there was definitely something amiss here as I watched a clearly exhausted employee retrieving errant trolleys which had been thoughtlessly abandoned all around the shop entrance and car park, a scene akin to a post-apocalyptic type movie. Inside the shop, it was immediately clear to anyone with eyes, that the world has gone completely mad. Asda is empty – well, empty of stuff to buy, empty shelves, empty stares, and empty hearts. It was full of people though, enthusiastic hysterical shoppers pushing, shoving, arguing, trampling although to what end I don’t know. Most of the shelves were empty, at least of basic food stuffs – no pasta, no rice (except silly individual foiled portions), no milk or cream, no tinned tomatoes, no tinned fish, no hand-wash or baby wipes, no soap, no vitamins or supplements, no porridge, no flour, and no toilet paper (obviously). Although this was to be expected, actually seeing it first-hand is disturbing indeed, and experiencing what I call ‘the psychology of scarcity’ is even more worrying. Mass panic creating selfish, stupid, greedy, aggressive behaviour is clearly contagious, quite possibly far more dangerous and even more contagious than the COVID-19 virus itself. Shamefully, I found myself swept along in the feeding frenzy with the other certifiable shoppers, buying things I didn’t strictly need, just because they were there and I could, and felt a huge flush of self-satisfied triumph as I snaffled the last two packs of tampons, a surprising competitor in the ‘most necessary product during a pandemic’ category. I even grabbed a dvd for a fiver, only realising after going through the check-out that it wasn’t the one I thought it was after all.
Back out in the fresh air again, it was impossible not to notice that a car had crashed on the pedestrian crossing, but since no-one seemed motivated to move it, drivers just swerved round it narrowly missing pedestrians hurrying across the crossing. Everyone seemed to be in a terrible hurry, myself included, but I wasn’t entirely sure why until I was back in the reassuring comfort zone of my car again. Here, it was obvious, we were all in a hurry to run away from ourselves, what we had just experienced and the indignity of our own behaviour. Bags of stuff much-coveted only minutes earlier had transformed from trophies of triumph into unnecessary nonsense, screaming evidence of our own weakness and gullibility, leaving an ensuing feeling of grubbiness, regret and deep shame. I will be returning the dvd as soon as possible since it is both unwanted and tainted by association, and I suspect that I’ll be the only person there who actually wants to return something, rather than being there to just to fill my own boots.
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