Social Distance

When it comes time for such a thing to happen, I think I’m going to find it quite hard to get back within two metres of random people. I’ve observed the rules stringently all along. It’s going to take some doing to re-programme myself.

Over these past months, I’ve always tried to do my social distance thing with a smile, a merry jape. “Don’t mind me, I’m just trying to protect you whatever dreadful lurgy I might be harbouring. Here, have a grin. Now move on.”

The other evening was the one exception to this rule. A glitch. A one-off. What can I say? I lost it a bit. Sorry about that. It won’t happen again. Etc.

What happened? Okay. I was queuing outside Tesco, two metres from the person in front, two metres from the person behind, you know the drill. We were moving along at a nice pace. All good. A car pulled up at the kerb edge beside me and a middle-aged lady climbed out of the passenger seat. She was totally engrossed in her mobile phone call. She slammed the car door and it drove off. She turned and joined the queue. Not at the back, though. In the middle of the queue. Beside me. Right beside me.

She kept talking into her phone, “yes, yes, I know, I know, yes.” She didn’t seem to be aware that she had blithely jumped a socially distant queue and was now positioned something less than 6 inches away from my face.

“Excuse me,” I said, social distance grin fully employed.


“Could you...? You know...”

“What? (Hold on, Mary, there’s some fella here.) What? What do you want?

“Would you mind stepping back a bit. You know, for_”

“The cheek of you! The bloody cheek of you. (The cheek of him, Mary) I have no disease. I have no Covid. What harm am I doing to you? (I don’t know, Mary, some fella. The cheek of him.)

“If you could just step back a lit_.”

“You cheeky sod. You little bastard. I have no Covid.”

It happens sometimes. Less and less, as I get older, but it still happens. It happened then. I lost my patience. I had a little rant.

“I guess this is exactly what you needed, you daft bint. What was it: were you a bit bored just sitting at home? “Drop me into town in the van, Martin, and I’ll queue up at Tesco and pick a fight with some poor bastard who’s been working hard all bloody day and just wants to get some dinner and go home. Oh, and I can ring up Mary while I’m at it. Kill two birds with the one stone."?”

The queuing people seemed to enjoy it.

The belligerent lady took two steps back from the now-belligerent gentleman. “There. I’m away from you now? Are you happy now? You arsehole, you skitter.”

“What about that poor woman right beside you? Are you away from her too?”

In fairness, the ‘poor woman’ behind me in the queue, who was now less than six inches away from the belligerent lady, seemed appalled to be dragged into the affair. She held her peace though.

The belligerent lady seemed to be casting around for a suitable response. She finally came up with one.

“Ah… fuck off.”

I turned away then and focused myself on some polite queuing. Behind me, the abuse kept coming although, strangely enough, ‘Mary-on-the-Phone’ might have been backing me up a bit because the lady interspersed her offensive remarks to me with consolatory words into the phone, “I know, Mary, I know a lot of people have died...”

We’ve all done pretty well with what’s been thrown at us, but it’s been a pressure cooker situation and I fear we are not done with it yet. Some of us may think it hasn’t touched us, but it has, in all kinds of ways. 

I’m not trying to be funny here nor tell a merry tale. I just wanted to set it down. Reading it back actually makes me feel a little sick in my stomach. I feel that I failed miserably in that situation and pretty-much let myself down.

Inside the store, I saw the woman who had been standing behind me in the queue. I apologised for my loss of patience and for involving her in my verbal melee. She assured me it was quite all right and that she took all that kind of thing with a pinch of salt. Two things struck me about that, when I thought about it afterward.

Firstly, I need to take more things with a pinch of salt. Like that lady does. 

And secondly, in that good lady’s eyes, I was as much the fool and the idiot as that belligerent woman was. I momentarily became part of the problem rather than part of the solution. The belligerent lady needed to be told, to be set straight, but I didn't need to go off on one to do it. 

Social distance, I guess, isn't just about keeping away from people, it's also about forgetting how to behave.

I must try to do better.


Anonymous said...

I think you were right to speak up but then the guilt kicked in and that is in our dna well good folks anyway
You are good and kind and never feel guilty for saying what is right
There's nowt so queer as folk !

Unknown said...

Hi Ken, long time listener first time caller. Next time say maybe I have the covid and cough. Pete

Jim Murdoch said...

Neither my wife nor I have gone farther than the end of our street since mid-January and I’m pretty sure Carrie’s not been farther than our front door and only then on an odd occasion I’ve been sleeping. (As you know I sleep the mostest peculiarist—thank you, Birdie—hours.) Delivery drivers aside, some who’re more conscientious than others, my only contact in the last few months has been with neighbours. The girl in 4F knocked on our door in March to let us know we could call on her in a pinch (the girl in 4E dropped a note through our letterbox the day before) and the bloke in 4A knocked on our door a couple of weeks back to complain about our TV which had, apparently, been driving him mad. I asked him how long and he said, “Years!!!” (I imagine he would’ve used three exclamation marks, perhaps even four.) He’d just not wanted to make a fuss. I was mortified as you can well imagine and we’ve hardly had the telly on above a whisper since although fiddling with the settings has helped. But I digress. The one I wanted to mention was the girl in 4H, “the bird-killer” as she is generally referred to by my wife. How she received that unflattering sobriquet is down to the fact she did indeed get in her car last year about this time and—unintentionally I’m sure (although my wife had her doubts)—mowed down a young seagull who hadn’t quite got the hang of that flying malarkey. And my ornithophilous wife witnessed the whole thing. Anyway I digress. I was out at the bins sorting through the recycling since it seems none of our neighbours know what should and should not go in a blue bin—black bags, nappies, crisp packets, bubble wrap, polystyrene packaging, eggs (and not merely the shells), rubber matting, carpets, car parts, once a sweetie jar full of uncooked rice, stainless steel bathroom fittings, plastic basins, buckets, mops, a perfectly decent golf ball and more dirty pizza boxes than you can imagine—and did the lady from 4H not appear in the doorway about, oh, nine and a half feet from me and she just inhaled sharply and shrunk back into the building. It wasn’t until I moved a few feet back—far enough so I couldn’t pounce on her—she ventured out, hastily deposited her black bag and then scuttled back into the close. God, I felt unclean. I’m sure it wasn’t meant personally—she could just as easily have been protecting me (I am, after all, the vulnerable one)—but, typical me, I took it personally.

The lockdown is easing here but my reading of the situation is that because people are sick to the back teeth with the coronavirus they imagine it’s gone away. “Bored now! Had enough!” (Christ, I’ve written books with fewer exclamation marks than this comment!) Well it hasn’t! And there’s still no cure! Luckily I don’t have to leave the flat any more than I am doing now and mostly it’s at the crack of dawn when there’s virtually no chance of running into anyone although a couple of weeks back I did encounter a guy walking his dog at 4:30 one morning but he was about fifty feet off and I was more concerned about his growly dog than any virus. (Any dog whose growl you can hear fifty feet away needs to be given the widest berth.)

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