Shopping in lockdown

Socially distanced queueing for the supermarket. March 2020 © Creative Commons 

These are extracts from my e-mails to a friend in Australia.  Food shopping was a major concern for me.  I found myself responsible for organizing deliveries to my parents, both in their 80s. Dad had cancer and so they were shielding. Our own shopping was done in the village shops – butcher, supermarket, chemist.

13 March 2020

The coronavirus is making itself felt.  I’m on the train to Dundee, and I got a cheap ticket! The train itself is quieter than usual. Anti bacterial gel, cleaners and wipes are all sold out everywhere, but we can still buy toilet rolls!  I haven’t tried to buy any because we had some at home.

16 March 2020

We went to Tesco expecting a war zone. And there were completely empty shelves where the toilet paper, pasta, flour, anti-bac stuff should be.  But there was still plenty of food; no shortage of anything bar a few specific items.  The pasta has gone, but there’s rice, cous-cous, etc. Ok, quinoa might be a step too far for some, but I can’t understand the “we must have pasta!” mentality.  

17 March 2020

I have finally got Mum to agree to online delivery. She was still swithering “let me think about it” but I realised that online deliveries were being booked up fast. The next slot available for Mum was 25 March, so I booked it. Apparently some supermarkets are refusing to accept new customers, but fortunately I’m doing the ordering and I’m not a new customer! 

24 March 2020

Mum and Dad get a supermarket delivery tomorrow.  I put in the order last week and things kept disappearing from their order as they went out of stock.  Tonight I amended the order, trying to put everything back in and – thank God – almost everything is back in stock, although not necessarily the brands etc. they want. The only thing that is completely out is flour of any description, and yeast.  Now I just have to wait to hear what they actually get tomorrow.

It feels very odd not knowing when I’ll see my parents again.

31 March 2020

Yesterday I used my once-a-day out to walk to Sainsburys.  They were almost fully stocked (even toilet rolls!)  except for flour. There is now a little dance at the till.  I step forward to pass over my basket, then step back. The cashier steps forward and scans all the shopping, then he steps back. I step forward, pay by card (no handling of cash!) and pack my stuff into my bag.  Back home, jacket and gloves and bag  in washing machine.  I wiped every wipeable purchase with a very weak bleach solution before putting it away.

5 April 2020

I went out in the car for the first time in nearly 2 weeks on Friday; collecting and delivering a box of food for a friend.  Driving through the village, I turned a corner and there was a jogger jogging down the middle of the road.  Then had to stop because an old man with a walking stick was standing in the middle of the road, distancing himself while he talked to someone in their garden.  Then had to stop again, for another couple standing in the road doing likewise. And there was horse dung in the middle of Forest Rd.  I was glad to get home without killing someone!  The streets are just so quiet.

Supermarket delivery slots were like gold dust. New slots were released at midnight, and so I regularly sat up till midnight in the hope of being able to order for my parents.

24 April 2020

It is 1.36am  I have been in the queue for a Tesco delivery slot for my parents for 14 May for two hours.  This is now sunk cost fallacy – I’m going to hang on because the thought of giving up now and starting the whole process again in 22 hours’ time is not pleasant.  But I think the chances of there being any slots left by the time I get to the top of the queue is low.

24 April 2020

I gave up at 2am. Alex tried at 5am, and all the slots were gone. I’ll try again tonight.

26 April 2020

The good news is that I got a random slot for my parents for May 2nd – no idea why that became available.

30 April 2020

It’s now recommended that we wear a mask or scarf over our mouths and noses when we go into a shop.  I went to the chemist to see if they had purple hair dye. As that is not an “essential purpose” I bought soap and paper hankies as my “official” reason, but they didn’t have any form of hair dye, let alone purple.  Wearing the scarf felt awkward; my glasses kept steaming up, though I can’t figure out why.  The scarves are not to protect us from germs, but to make sure that if we cough or sneeze it’s contained.  I think I’ll have to experiment before I go out again.

29 May

Today I left the village for the third time since 22 March. Our lawn mower broke so I bought another one using “click and collect” – choosing and paying online, then collecting it from the shop in Inverurie.  I had to queue up outside first; the pavement was marked at 2m intervals, but the whole process was straightforward. 

I am astonished to report that we have been able to do all our basic household shopping in the village, apart from rinse aid for the dishwasher.  There is no vanilla essence,  flour, baking powder and yeast are erratic,  one of our light bulbs needs replaced (but it is so light here in May we can manage without).

The anxiety of shopping for my parents was ongoing throughout lockdown. On the “instructions” part of the delivery note I put “Tell Mum and Dad I love them” and the delivery drivers always made a point of doing that!

Alison T. McCall is a genealogist and historian based in Aberdeenshire.

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