Shopping in a time of Corona

Her shopping list is very specific. I clutch it as I walk through the sunny morning in mask and ski jacket. We are not receiving pathogens today, thank you. We have a stranger’s shopping to buy.

There are some capitals in the shopping list. JUMBO rolled oats. NAIRNS oatcakes – (just like dad). I even know the breed of chicken that laid the eggs she wants. There are brand names and enough evidence to teach me that I am going to Waitrose whether I like it or not. “Duchy organic x.” “Waitrose brand y.” Despite this she’ll get out for under £35 and there’s smoked salmon in the order. This shop is a learning experience for me. I have expensive tastes.

I stand in a queue outside Waitrose in my gas mask. I listen to a creative conference call that I’m part of as I’m waiting. It’s a long queue. The numbers in and out of Waitrose are strictly monitored. The wind is blowing from me to the people behind me in the queue. (This is significant).

There’s a fuss that I’m mostly oblivious to as I get near the front of the queue. I don’t really understand what’s going on, but it’s something to do with the woman behind me. A woman in an electric wheelchair has been speaking very actively with a security guard and pointing at her. I notice the woman behind me sheepishly leave the queue after all this time, but I’m in my own island full of noises, thinking about strange fun and theatre online and tech and paper darts.

I get to the front. Men in masks let me in. It’s like an airlock. I’m suddenly playing Half Life 2 and I’m part of The Combine.

There’s a man whose job it is to clean the handles of trolleys. There’s an employee talking out loud to anyone who’ll listen. “She had full on Coronavirus and she was trying to get in the shop! Jesus! Who does that? Who actually does that?” she asks the world. “Who had?” I reply and immediately she’s into my eyes. “The lady right behind you in the queue! She has full blown Corona!”

I stop a moment. She was 6 foot from me and wind was blowing DOWN the queue from me to her. And then to everybody else patiently waiting.

“How’s she going to get her shopping?” is still my first response, before, very quickly “Thank God the wind was in my favour.”

She points at the woman in the wheelchair: “Her helper’s getting it. They’re neighbours. Why did she come? Who does that?”

I missed this whole thing as I was into the video call. Hopefully I missed the pathogens as well. Certainly I was very careful about hands to mouth and eyes, handles etc. And the wind was right for me, but … the people behind her …”

There are many staff members spraying anti-thing-stuff on bits of the Waitrose. It’s refreshingly empty in the shop but people still visibly tic if you get too close by mistake and then notice. It doesn’t help that I look like a blue tank in my skisuit and mask. About 45% of people in Chelsea are unmasked now. Compare that to a week ago when it was about 95%. The cretin behind me in the queue is a good illustration of why we should all have masks, I guess, even though – from memory – she was thoughtful enough to be wearing one of her own. That’s where those little white masks really come into their own. That’s the point. They’re to reassure others.

But yeah if you’re sick AND you’ve managed to find someone to do your shop for you… What the heck are you doing showing up anyway, mask or no mask? Too embarrassed to ask the wheelchair lady in your block for 8 bottles of vodka? But then if you’ve got full on symptoms surely you don’t still want the vodka?

The whole situation was weird on both sides and I wish I hadn’t been on a video conference so I could have used instinct to smell the truth of it…

I got a black cab from Waitrose to Jacqi’s. £8.00 for a short hop.

I drop my headcontents to the cabbie and “You’re just doing this out of the kindness of your heart?” he asks? It makes me feel good when he says it, because I hadn’t thought of it like that and he sounds impressed, like I’ve discovered a new thing.

“Yep. We all need to do this sort of thing these days.”

“Where do you live? Lemme take you home after!”

I laugh and thank him. “No mate that wasn’t me leading you – you go find another fare. It’s a lovely walk for me down the river and I need the exercise. Hats off to you guys though – you’re protected in there, it’s perfect for London right now, the black cab. Thanks for showing up to work.”


I’m home and I’m thinking again about my own creative output – my work. What am I making? I’ve been generating content but I might not broadcast it. I’ve been learning skills but I might not use them. But this is the perpetual motion with me. I have a million blind alleys. Somehow, this thing. This lump of words. This daily splat. This is the thing I somehow allow myself to put out unmonitored. And it’s rarely bitten me and never too badly.

My lesson now is to quieten down my other output monitors so I can start making things with actual impact and power in mediums other than this stream of consciousness style I have honed for for years out of early adoration for Virginia Woolf and Douglas Adams..


We can all learn from this. I put this stuff out because I’ve decided I have to. No matter what. Daily. It allows me to bypass the “what if” thoughts.

I heartily recommend this – a lot of people are doing it now suddenly in different forms. Regular, unmonitored content. Why the fuck not? Make it. Judge it once it’s made. Too many times the things that people have really connected to have not been the curated bits in this blog, they’ve been the bits that showed under the face. Even the bits that I might have questioned if I’d noticed them.

This was meant to be about shopping.


Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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