Going the distance on social distancing

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If you've got to self-isolate or social-distance, what better place than Godzone?

It’s starting to happen – coming to pass, as the Good Book was wont to say. We’re all obliged, at the very least, to “social distance” (I’d prefer the proper adverb, socially), if not to self-isolate, so here I have to ask the question, are we actually capable of going the distance on social distancing?

Make no mistake. Lockdown is underway: not in the tyrannical style of a China, Russia or Turkey, but in a very British manner. The earlier recommendation that everyone should stay away from pubs and clubs was replaced yesterday by firm instruction: “At the end of tonight’s session, at the latest, pubs, clubs and cafés must close their doors and remain shut”.  

It was said nicely, not at all in the manner of a dictatorship. As for enforcement, perhaps we shall see the 21st-Century equivalent of people in uniform patrolling the streets, Dad’s Army-like, and shouting, “Oi! Put that loight aht!” (Sorry: it simply has to be said in a Cockney accent).

My question remains. In answer, I think we are up to the challenge. Recent TV reports found defiant Londoners still frequenting pubs: but they were generally few, and looked rather lonely and sad, while the places themselves resembled the Marie Celeste. In other words, it was already starting to happen.

Shying away from considering the horrendous effects on everyone working in the hospitality trades of this draconian (but, I fear, necessary) proclamation, I’ll turn my thoughts to the “public at large”, the population as a whole that these measures are intended to protect from the (at present) unstoppable virus.

It started with handwashing. Bacteriologist Professor Sir Hugh Pennington, on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions only a week ago, observed drily that, if only people washed their hands properly all the time, we’d slash the number of infections caught far too often, far too easily: not just coronavirus, but all the rest, too.

This being the UK, the usual complacent population went mad and bought up every bottle of hand-sanitiser to be had. Mrs Trafford and I religiously followed the advice that “it had to be 70% alcohol to kill the bacterium”: nonetheless, having found so powerful a draft ruinously intoxicating, we were relieved to learn that we should have been applying it externally rather than drinking it.

Of course, the panic-buying thing has extended to loo-rolls, pasta, chicken and rice. The reasons are obvious: the mentality underlying the behaviour less so, unless you’ve lost all faith in your fellow Brits. Still, at least we only squabble over those mundane items: in the USA they were queuing to buy guns (I guess they feel you can’t be too careful when pasta runs short).

Curiously though, while the supermarkets to which hoarders flock were still out of those commodities this week, the first two were to be found yesterday both in the Country Store in little Milfield and the Glendale Store in Wooler. Those small businesses, like corner shops in cities, buy in their stock from Cash-and-Carries, an entirely different supply chain.

We’ve had recent experience of the current states of both Oxford and Northumberland. Having decided that a locked-down city in which everything is closed is a dismal place indeed, and made our house there safe, we opted to sit out the crisis up in Northumberland. Yes, we know that we second-home owners may receive a caning in the media, even we of twenty years’ standing who feel we genuinely live in two places: but we don’t think we’ve brought the virus north with us, having been very careful.

Besides, we shall now live a very quiet life here. The point is, Northumberland is quiet, which is why we love it. And, though we shall regret being unable to meet in the pub or have friends round, we shall wave cheerily to, and pass the time of day (from a distance) with, neighbours and others we meet while walking, look at the view, work through the supply of wine… and get through it.  

It’s going to be a strange time for all of us. But there’s nowhere better to do it than in Godzone. I think we’ll go the distance.

Meanwhile, one little linguistic corona joke on Twitter, from a former pupil (of nearly 40 years ago): “People in Germany are panic buying sausages and cheese. It’s the Wurst Käse scenario”.

Stay safe… as we seem to say nowadays.

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