Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

The Corona Diaries: Chapter 6 – Surreal Supermarket

Friday. Groundhog Day. With nowhere to go and nothing in the diary, time and dates are becoming increasingly irrelevant as we are freed from the constraints of the clock and the calendar.

I am deliberately maintaining a routine in a bid to stay sane. I still work Monday to Friday. But I’m not clock watching any more. I start around the same time, sometimes earlier if I wake early; sometimes I break for lunch, other times I work right through; and I always work late. But not today. Today was Friday – and I was going to finish on time.

My colleagues have remarked on how they miss being in the office and the social interaction with our community. However I’m not finding that at all – at least not yet. Perhaps I’ve got used to being geographically separate from my friends, having lived in Walsall for so long, with my football friends dispersed all over the country (and now the world).

There was a nip in the air today so we layered up before heading out on our afternoon walk. It really is delightful just to walk for walking’s sake and we are savouring the world around us.

The highlight of today’s walk was the sighting of a heron. At first glance I thought it was a statue; but it took flight and perched across the other side of the pond. It was beautiful and almost as big as me (I’m not that big).

Instead of shrinking away from people we now make a point of saying hello and smiling to the dog walkers we pass on our daily bimble. And they ARE all dog walkers. We are the only ones out walking without a dog. Canines aside, we are all in the same boat and a friendly smile and an apologetic ‘oops – social distancing!’ are welcomed as we swerve across the road to remain the obligatory 2m apart from other humans.

As I was settling down for the evening and scrolling through Facebook, I read that the International Space Station was visible just above the moon. I stepped outside and looked to the sky. It was beautiful: a brilliant bright shining light – brighter than any of the stars and even Venus. The sky seemed clearer tonight. Were we seeing the benefits of reduced pollution already? Or did we just never take the time to look up at the sky on any regular night?

Tonight saw the finale of Star Trek: Picard. What can I say but WOW?! What a series this was! This has revitalised our love for the Star Trek franchise and I suspect we’ll be watching a lot more of The Next Generation during lockdown.

The new series (or ‘season’ as we’re supposed to call them now) of Ozark was released tonight too. Ooh and the remake of IT. I can’t wait to watch that. Hmm. So much for not disappearing into Netflix whilst we’re stuck at home! That said, we are still spending the majority of our time being creative, so it’s not as if we’re glued to the box all day, every day. Far from it. It’s just that we have more downtime than ever.

I’m finding my head is clearer as this week has progressed. I no longer feel mentally unable to cope. There is no rushing around for trains and deadlines and having to be in a certain place at a certain time. Life is becoming more still and serene. I know there will be ups and downs – and I do know there is chaos and horror out there – but it feels so remote and distant; almost unreal.

At least it did until we went to the supermarket.

Our previous visit to the supermarket was last Saturday evening, when all was quiet and we managed to conduct our weekly shop as normal, albeit there were a few empty shelves. This was the night before the clamouring crowds rained down upon the major supermarkets, with cars snaking all the way down to J4 of the M55 to get to Tesco in Blackpool.

This Saturday it was very different.

On arrival at Asda, there was a small queue leading into the store, with 2m spaces marked out to keep the queueing shoppers at a safe distance. The queue was moving quite quickly, though, so we hoped to be shopping within a minute or so after arrival. Nope. Not going to happen. We were refused entry because there were two of us and they were operating a strictly one shopper per household rule. Now I do kind of get that after last week’s chaos. But we weren’t mentally prepared for this at all. We had our way of shopping. Lee pushed the trolley, did the navigating and packed the shopping and I diligently ticked off the shopping list and loaded items onto the conveyor (or self scanner). We were a team. That was how it worked.

We contemplated this back in the car as we made our way to Tesco. I couldn’t shop on my own. I get anxious and lost in big buildings. And Lee couldn’t be trusted to not buy naughty things that we resolutely did not need, owing to Naughty Corner (always) overflowing. So how was this going to work? We weren’t sure if Tesco were operating the same ‘one person per household’ policy (later research revealed not, suggesting bringing ‘not more than one’ person with you while you shopped). But we decided to err on the side of caution anyway and enter the store separately (Lee with the trolley, me without). It seemed that other couples had a similar idea, as we noticed them conversing in quiet aisles, with two trolleys between them. Surely it would make more sense to allow couples in together, walking together with one trolley and thus taking up less space?

Anyway the whole experience was one of the most surreal things I’ve ever encountered in my life. We were advised on entry to keep 2m apart from other people at all times. If an aisle was busy, we were to wait before entering or return to it later when it was quieter. Shoppers were wearing masks. Lee was wearing gloves so as not to directly touch the trolley.

The store was brimming with shelf stackers constantly refilling shelves. As I asked for directions to certain aisles – I was completely disorientated – some staff were eager to help and have someone to talk to (I had to step back from one, who was failing to safely socially distance); and others were clearly new and unfamiliar with the store (and perhaps a little afraid to be spoken to, even from a safe distance). But supplies were already limited. It seems already it is no longer possible to go in looking for something specific – we just have to get what they have. I had Parma Ham and Aberdeen Angus Burgers on my shopping list but neither could be found. So regular ham and regular burgers it was. And there were only plain white baps, nothing seeded or even wholemeal. And this was a MASSIVE supermarket. Only a week into lockdown. We really are going back to basics in ways we could never have imagined as recently as three months ago.

We are beginning to realise what is REALLY important in life. It’s no big deal if we can’t get the exact food we want. As long as we can eat. We CAN live without football and our regular Corrie fix. We don’t really NEED those material things we craved. As long as our loved ones are safe. That is ALL that matters.

We managed to tick off everything on our shopping list (at least variants thereof). We were conscious of our need to ‘flatten the curve’, having snacked unhealthily all week, being keen to not let our weight get out of control during lockdown. We’d bought nothing for Naughty Corner/Cupboard and now had a fruit bowl.

I managed to secure all the ingredients (diced beef, onion, chantenay carrots, tomato purée and beer) to make this delicious recipe in the slow cooker:

I had to improvise with the beer today. My favourite for this particular recipe is Erdinger Dunkel, but there was none of that on the shelves today. Hmm, what to have? There was still a good selection of beer but I wanted something SPECIFIC: a dark, rich, flavoursome porter. Hmm… Ah-ha!

I caught up with Lee and gleefully shared the news that I had just been recognised by a Blackpool fan. He was livid, as he’s dying to be recognised in a supermarket. Please do say hello to Lee (from a safe distance, of course), if you do happen see him in Asda. It will make his day!

Back home, shopping packed away and slow cooker on the go, I settled back on the sofa to catch up on Friday Night Dinner, which I hadn’t managed to stay awake for last night. I also used this time to sort through Lee’s sock drawer, while he was busy setting up the lighting in the studio for this afternoon’s livestream. In doing so, I discovered a new game – Sock Snap – which proved rather fun (well we are going back to basics in making our own entertainment too). Dear reader, guess how many pairs of socks Lee had? That’s actual PAIRS, not even counting the whole carrier bag full of unmatched socks (where do the odd socks go?).

The answer is 74 (SEVENTY FOUR).

It proved somewhat difficult to convince Lee to part with even some of the odd socks:

‘There are memories attached to these socks.’

‘Darling. They’re socks. That one isn’t even part of a pair.’

‘Yes but it ALMOST matches this one. They’re part of the same genre.’

‘But they DON’T ma… Socks have genres?’

‘Yes. These are both in the “gentle grip” genre. They’re really soft and comfy.’

‘MOST of your socks are soft and comfy. You can only wear one pair at a time. You don’t need 74 pairs of socks. That’s more than two months’ worth of socks.’

‘Well what happens if the washing machine breaks during lockdown?’

‘Then we’ll be washing by hand. I haven’t got 74 pairs of knickers.’

‘Hmm…these ones can go. I don’t like silly socks. Don’t ever buy me silly socks.’

‘Darling, I can assure you that I’ll NEVER buy you ANY socks…’

At 3pm – bag for life brimful of socks for disposal – Lee and I began our livestream on YouTube, chatting all things Blackpool and the wider football world with fellow fans.

We are really enjoying these interactive chats with viewers, which we’re hosting every Saturday at 3pm, maintaining our regular football timeslot. Do pop in next week, dear reader, if you’d like to chat with us. It is more important than ever that we maintain contact and conversations with fellow humans during these strange times.

Later that evening, as we tucked into the beef & ale casserole (which was delicious with the Zombie Cake), we watched Ozark and more Big Bang Theory, whilst keeping one eye on the Lego Isolation Cup.

It’s great to see Brick Football really taking off. There’s another new team on the block on Twitter, too, who will undoubtedly feature in a blog very soon…

Lee confessed to having a secret stash of sweets and out came the Mini Eggs and Lion Football Gums. Having consumed all of the former and half of the latter (weigh-in was surely not going to go well tomorrow), I had a massive sugar crash and fell fast asleep on Lee’s shoulder just after 9pm. As he carried me to bed, he was astounded at how rock’n’roll I was. At the start of self isolation I was staying up until nearly midnight and now I struggle to make half past nine! But I am waking up early with the sun each morning. I guess this is my body self-regulating to its new environment.

In the Land of Nod, I find my dreams are increasingly affected (infected) by coronavirus. Tonight my adopted parents (members of a rock band) and I were moving out of our home (my old house in Walsall). For some reason I hadn’t asked where we were moving to. And apparently that had been a mistake. There was nowhere to go. The new place had fallen through. Now it was too late to find friends to stay with, as we were in lockdown, and all the hotels were closed. I looked out of the van window towards Norbreck Castle (a hotel north of Blackpool) whose walls were lined with hundreds of rolls of toilet paper. I figured I’d be safe with a castle close by. The virus wouldn’t be able to penetrate the castle’s defences. Would it?

Stay safe, dear reader, and seek joy where you can find it. This too shall pass.

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