I GOTTA SLOT! I gotta slot! And boy, I am as excited about getting my groceries delivered during lockdown as Prince Monolulu was when the horse he’d tipped for money to a hundred Epsom Downs subscribers won the Derby!
Frankly, no one below the age of 65 will have a clue what I’m talking about. Monolulu, who appeared at most major English race meetings dressed in the garb of black African royalty – skins, feathers, face paints and all – from the 1920s until his death in 1965 made a good living selling tips to punters.
The Prince’s identity was as made up as his name: he was actually born Peter Carl Mackay on the US Virgin Island of Saint Croix in 1881 and for 30 years was an institution on the British horse racing scene. I vividly remember the announcement of his death in 1965 as it came on February 14, the day after my 17th birthday.
But that is quite enough of my trip Down Memory Lane. Instead, let us tiptoe along Tomorrow Street I nto the world of supermarket home deliveries. Like I said, ‘I gotta a slot!’ And it really IS that big a deal; during four weeks of self-isolation (I took fright a week before the rest of you when I discovered I ticked every box except pregnancy) we have existed thanks only to the kindness and support of friends and neighbours.
Why? We are English and live on the English side of the border. But our doctor’s surgery (the closest) is five miles away, across the River Tweed in Coldstream; and our nearest major supermarket is (or WAS) Sainsbury’s at Kelso, even further into Scotland.
So we live in England but my NHS treatment is provided from Scotland. When the ‘Edinburgh Yins’ wrote to me classifying me as vulnerable and asking if I wanted a free box of groceries to help my wife and me to remain incarcerated for twelve weeks I declined, believing that all we needed was a fortnightly supermarket delivery for which we would happily pay.
So I waited to be contacted, as my Fellow Vulnerables in the deep south had been contacted, by local supermarkets offering delivery slots. Nothing came. I received a second letter from Edinburgh: my details had been passed to the supermarket chains. Stand by to be deluged with offers of delivery dates!
Nothing. Not a sausage. I searched all the supermarket websites and registered for deliveries only to be told that “slots are being reserved for the over-70s (welcome to my world), those with pre-existing dangerousn conditions (like my leukaemia?) those with diabetes (tick!) and those currently being on chemotherapy treatment (double tick!)”.
Meanwhile, a veritable bucket chain of friends kept us going: Bernard and Katherine made us one of three extra ‘basket cases’ for whom they were shopping while doing their own weekly supermarket sweeps; Lynda at the Cornhill Shop kept our newspapers coming along with daily necessities delivered by her employee and our neighbour, Meg; Iain at the Red Lion home delivered the fantastic takeaway meals he has been preparing since Britain’s pubs shut (you can find the up-to-date menu if you CLICK HERE); and Heatherslaw Mill has kept us in bread flour and yeast thanks to Jo and Zoe’s home baking network.
Now, thankfully, a new pal has joined the party: Morrison’s supermarket in Berwick has begun home deliveries and, as Prince Monolulu might say, “I gotta slot!”
Not one meant for NHS Scotland’s ‘elderly and vulnerable’, of course. I’m still waiting for something to come of that. . . I simply moved my frail old arse and joined quickly enough to book “the next available slot”. . . on May 3rd!
Still, the cavalry’s coming. And I gotta slot!
If the patient can’t come to the clinic
the clinic comes to the patient’s front door!
Judging by the photograph above, this column should be headlined ‘ Banksy’s WEAK’ rather than Banksy’s Week! There I was sitting on my doorstep in self-isolated splendour while a brave young nurse, one of the NHS’s Finest, took blood samples
“Ooh, it’s cold this morning and your veins have disappeared,” she moaned, fishing around in first one arm then the other for the slightest display of interest from my uncooperative haematological highways.
This was the NHS at its improvised best: my haematologist at the Borders General Hospital required a blood sample before releasing my next month’s worth of chemotherapy treatment. It being agreed that the riskiest places a virus-free 72-year-old with leukaemia, diabetes and a compromised immune system could be are germ-collecting hospitals and health centres, the mountain came to Mohammed in the pleasing shape of Nurse Delia.
“Let’s do you outside,” said Nurse Delia brightly. Which is how I came to be sat on a chair outside the front door waving to the astonished occupants of a passing 267 bus bound for Berwick as she – masked, gowned and rubber-gloved – coaxed the lifeblood from my veins.
Actually, it was nice to be out. I took fright and put a deadlock on the door four weeks ago, well before the government advised self-isolation for weaklings such as we. Since then, the greenhouse is the furthest I have ventured; as a result, we have in prospect the best year ever for under-glass salad crops and I have no immediate concern regarding my evacuation to a Nightingale hospital.
At the same time it clamps a ball and chain on a journalist’s most vital tool: conversation. Without twice-weekly excursions to yarn with my farmer friends at the Red Lion where will I pick up the gossip, malicious and otherwise, with which I fill these columns? Since the village hall reluctantly – and, I hope, briefly – closed its doors how do I pick up the tittle-tattle for retelling? And having denied myself visits to the Cornhill shop where is a man to practise flirting with the shop girls while preying upon forbidden fruit and nut chocolate bars unbeknownst to his wife?
There are other places to look, of course, most of them sources I spent a lifetime urging journalists to use only with careful cross-checks and as an absolute last resort: rival newspapers, government briefings, PR handouts, MPs’ assurances. . .
Compared with any of those, a drunk’s slurred gossip in a down-at-heel boozer is as pure and trustworthy as a vicar’s sworn vow!
Are we getting PPE on the C-H-E-A-P?
The concern for the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) available to NHS staff and carers reminded an old RAF veteran of the notice that appeared anonymously in crewrooms prior to the first Gulf war: “As you go to war, remember that the personal protection and weapon on which your life may depend was supplied to your government by the contractor that made the lowest bid”.
Plus ça change…
Our date night favourite foods
One of the unexpected pleasures of self-isolation is that you can put as much garlic on your romantic dinner-for-two without risking a friendship.
On Saturday nights, however, Mrs B and I settle for a ‘date night’ takeaway dinner provided by Iain from the Red Lion, my local and a gastropub that has been temporarily closed during the pandemic.
Mrs B and have had four ‘date night’ dinners so far and we feel confident enough to pass judgment: Gemma’s favourite from Iain’s takeaway offerings has been the Cajun Chicken Curry with his vegetarian Butternut Squash, Spinach and Sweet Potato Curry a close second. She is a bit of a curry nut, after all.
My top takeaway? The Lasagne, followed closely by his Steak and Ale Pie. Old-fashioned, that’s me.
This week? Well, I see the menu has changed so our taste buds may experience pastures new. And do join us. . .
Wherever you’re self-isolating!