My shop turns into Supermarket Sweep. Will people in the queue applaud?
It was decided this week that we were allowed to have some unhealthy snacks to help lift spirits. I ventured to our local shop to get the required items (as part of our shop for essentials, so don’t tweet me). I joined the socially distanced queue, having done the thing that everyone does of speculating whether the spacings are big enough before doing so.
I was in that queue for about 40 minutes. I have no problem with that in itself, but the issue was that 40 minutes is sufficient time to engage in numerous conversations with other people in the queue. Small talk is awful at the best of times but in lockdown it takes on new levels. The other day, on our government-authorised walk, a man across the road engaged me in conversation. What followed was some chat along the lines of: “It was OK at first wasn’t it, but now it’s getting a bit much, not sure when it’s going to end.” As we walked away, my eldest son said, “That was the most boring conversation I’ve ever heard.”
Lockdown queue conversations consist almost entirely of craning your neck, tutting at the queue ahead and saying something along the lines of: “Doesn’t really seem to be moving… Why is this taking so long… You’d think people would move quicker through the shop in the circumstances.” I am writing this as if I did not get involved, but I have to confess that I was guilty of shaking my head and shrugging at the other waiting customers. They would shrug back, and if we felt a connection had been made, we might even tut, as if the people shopping inside were being deliberately slow to spite us.
This was all well and good, but it did have the effect of building up some pressure once I got into the shop. The anxiety I felt at potentially being accused of taking an inconsiderately long time meant that I basically whipped around throwing stuff into my basket like I was on Supermarket Sweep. The pressure was compounded by all the signs explaining the one-way system and how you are not supposed to go back on yourself. My son had asked for some crisps, and I was in such a rush I walked past them and felt too scared to go back.
My only delays were when I had to keep my distance from someone who was having some sort of existential debate about which bread to buy. I had to stand at a distance and silently watch her flit from bread to bread for what felt like 10 minutes, all the while suppressing the urge to shout: “Maybe you should have thought about what bread you might want before coming in here!”
Once she had made her choice, I whipped off again, racing around as if expecting the queue to applaud me for getting my shopping done quickly. Obviously that didn’t happen. What actually happened was that I came out, and a woman tutted at me because she’d been waiting in the queue for ages, and didn’t know of my sacrifice. I may as well have taken my time.
I returned home and was subjected to a roast by my family, as my wife went through the things I had bought, and they all laughed and took turns making gags about the choices I had made in the heat of the moment. “Oh, Daddy doesn’t know what biscuits we like, so we don’t have to thank him for spending an hour and a half at the shops! Oh, Daddy got white bread instead of brown, which makes him an incompetent father!” I’m paraphrasing a bit. As they tore me to shreds, I found myself missing that time I used to shake my head and tut with my queue friends. Happy days.