The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire)
We’re still some distance from France-style lockdown checks, let’s hope it stays that way
Awoman and girl were so close behind me at a supermarket checkout in Aberdeen I could sense their breath on my neck. They carried on chatting away as though they did not have a care in the world, while generating more hot air. Hot air which could contain anything – such as coronavirus bugs. There was a time when I thought someone had to sneeze, cough or splutter droplets from point-blank range to infect you.
But then I heard a doctor explaining that it was worse than that – you could be infected within a certain breathing range. This is why the two-metre rule was brought in for social distancing.
I turned slightly and it seemed there were fewer than 18 inches between me and those behind, instead of six feet. The doctor described how waves of toxic breath from someone’s throat can easily cascade from several feet away into your mouth and nose.
You see how potent this is if you stand outside on a frosty night and exhale clouds of hot breath. I did that once and thought mistakenly that steam was still coming out of a wall extractor after I switched off our central heating. I realised it was my breath.
I felt uneasy at the checkout, so I escaped by squeezing past the tiniest gap beside my trolley. This was no mean feat as the trolley was laden with logs for my stove.
For climate change warriors, I can state the wood was kiln-dried with minimum moisture content to meet air safety criteria.
Newly-empowered police officers are free to check my papers, if necessary, as I have proof of purchase.
Anyway, I was able to create a two-metre gap by employing my trolley as a temporary barricade. Some observers might have thought I was off my trolley – I was crouching at a strange angle and holding up a pack of dog food as a makeshift mask.
Like thousands of others out and about over that infamous weekend, maybe woman and girl did not think the crisis applied to them. But I am glad some shop staff, and checkout operators in particular, are now receiving the protection they deserve.
I went back to the same checkout a few days later and was delighted to see customers voluntarily observing social distancing. It was the morning after Boris Johnson’s lockdown. The message was getting through, I thought.
I was feeling optimistic as I breathed bracing fresh air near Aberdeen Bay.
But I was distracted by a man in his 50s in smart casual clothes who hurried from a nearby food store clutching some essential provisions.
He seemed respectable enough, but had sewer-like habits as the first thing he did after walking out was to clear his throat and spit between two parked cars. Then he did it again
– and a third one for good measure as he strode away. I wondered what might have happened if it was infected and others took it home on their shoes.
In France, which is under one of the world’s harshest lockdowns, he could have been arrested and even jailed if found guilty of endangering others.
Many fear our lockdown will come with bigger handcuffs soon unless people listen and embrace instructions to help save lives.
I think it was Portuguese custard tarts that made me realise I had a social conscience in these trying times.
My hand was poised ready to grab all three packs and clear the shelf at the supermarket bakery. It was retaliation against panic buyers who took the loo rolls and soap, but I hesitated.
I was like Sir Tom Jones with his familiar pained look and faltering hand over a buzzer in The Voice.
I pulled back and settled for just one pack. I’d be the bigger man.
But all the slimline tonics for my gin had gone. That was the last straw – metaphorically, I mean.
And it got even worse. I couldn’t find my special hair-thickening paste, either.
I never see panic buyers in action, but shelves are always empty whatever time I arrive.
I wonder if supermarkets are running light on stock at the best of times and heavier than normal shopping exposes that.
We are over-reliant on rigid, centralised supermarket supply lines and should shop around more.
I discovered baked beans in a corner shop and felt I’d struck gold.
I like an afternoon walk, but I expect one day a man in a trilby and shabby overcoat will jump out and shout: “Show me your papers!”
Like in those old films about wartime spies and escaping prisoners of war, but I expect the novelty would wear off soon enough.
We British are fiercely protective of our hard-won freedoms.
When Voltaire, the great French writer and civil rights defender, returned to Paris from exile in Britain in the 18th Century he was hugely influenced by our belief in democracy, and liberty in particular.
Now his countrymen require official government certificates just to leave their homes or woe betide them.
Despite being natural rebels, I’m sure we would all rather pull together to keep our distance from that nightmare.
I never see any panic buyers in action, but supermarket shelves are always empty whatever time I arrive