Supermarket dash


journal covid-19 uk london

All week we’ve been building up to a big trip to the supermarket — the real, have-to-drive-there megastore. The others wanted the Big Shop experience; Emma wanted to give the car some use, save it from sitting unused and rusting for the duration of the spring. Some of them have also grown tired of the tight loop of stocking the kitchen just-about with grocery box deliveries and trips to the (still beloved, by me) corner shop. So today we went.

The roads are still plentifully stocked with crazy city driving. There was a brief respite over Blackheath, which feels incongruously wild, or like moorland on the edge of a village, cleaved up by a big A road, almost like a South London version of Bodmin Moor. The supermarkets, of course, were settled in a desert of tarmac and fencing. They all balked at the queues outside the essential shops: groups of two or three separated by two metres in a snaking line in the car park. Many were masked; it’s becoming more common everywhere despite some stubborn and unarticulated resistance.

We waited in the queue and passed the time with Twenty Questions (Einstein, Seabiscuit, cheese). We were let into the shop halfway through a round where I was guessing. The game was abruptly cut off at the prospect of gaining entry and roaming the aisles. I’m told the answer was clouds (I was nowhere close).

We moved through the shop methodically, working down the list. The shop still had enough people in it to invoke the constantly anxious feeling of distancing, of resenting those who carelessly wander too close, that we’ve all become used to in public space. We filled a large trolley and packed the car. Already there was a palpable sense of deflation in the four of us. By the time we got home and unpacked the goods into our infuriatingly dark kitchen, we were all ready to flee one another to our separate coping mechanisms: two bike rides (one mine), a long walk, and an afternoon in bed with cat and book — all purposefully alone.

I rode my bike faster than I have before, flying down the streets and picturing how I’d crunch and sail through the air helplessly if a car pulled out or a car door swung into my path. I rode twenty kilometres. At the southernmost extent the city was beginning to break down and feel merely like the edge of a mid-sized town. There were big, empty A roads and car repair garages. I wove back home on that bike route network that still gives me a feeling of conspiracy, magic, and privacy. I walked into the house where everybody was hiding from one another, and got a beer from the fridge.