Is this like the war

Is this like the war?

I haven’t lived through the war but blimey, I can only imagine something like this was seen in the war times. But they didn’t have supermarkets then from what my Gran told me. It was a separate shop for the meat, the veg, the bread and stuff. I’m not even sure if they had things like rice and pasta back then. They must have had toilet roll I assume. Although Gran had this metal thing screwed into her toilet wall with greaseproof paper inside it.  Mum told us we had to rub it together to try and make it softer and hope it might mop up some of us kids pee. Odd set up if you ask me.  
     I carry this guilt with me that when I used to sit on Gran's loo, I picked out the dried-up grout from between the lemon-yellow tiles and let it fall to the floor.  Took my mind off how cold it was sitting on her toilet seat. It felt like porcelain, but I’m sure it was plastic.
     A few days before the lockdown was announced, people started to panic buy. None of us inside the store understood what was going on and its kind of caught us by surprise. It was almost as if the public knew something before we did and I remember that first day, which seemed like forever ago now.
     “There seems to be a shortage on the shelves of toilet rolls,” the line manager told my friend who was stacking in that aisle.  She went out to fill up and no sooner had she completed that, it needed doing again and we began to wonder what had happened which meant everyone needed toilet rolls.
     “Look!” she told me during a stolen moment as she pointed to the aisle. People had their phones out, taking photos and sharing to social media, demonstrating that people were stockpiling loo rolls. It just made people think they also needed to come into the store and do the same and more people started to buy toilet rolls over the next couple of days.  Pasta and rice were next and we began to wonder if people might start stocking up their underground bunkers or something.
     We all rolled our eyes, metaphorically speaking, at this behaviour. We couldn’t quite believe what people were doing as the whispers (which were doing the rounds between the staff) was that this was just like the flu which was in another country.  Some of the staff followed the news and one guy who worked the deli (and seemed to know about these things) told us, “if you have an underlying health condition, you have to be careful but most people don’t even need to go to the hospital for it. More people die of the flu. I don’t understand what the fuss is about. It’s in China anyway.” And we almost took his word for it until word started to filter down from head office and then we all began to get a bit concerned. This was only a few days before the Prime Minister announced lockdown. Well, it wasn’t lockdown for us of course.
      The bosses told us to prepare for some crazy times ahead. We still weren’t all that sure what they meant but the actions of the shoppers seemed to highlight to the rest of the British population that things were about to change but still we didn’t expect what happened next.  
     Customers were taking things out of each other’s trollies.  If one noticed, there was a tug of war happening over the item. I saw my friend from the bread aisle run from her post out into the back, past all the posters on the tiled wall which remind you about customer service and COSHH and took to safety in the staff toilet area.
      Following her at some speed, I caught up with her and put my hand on her shoulder as she turned to me. Her eyes were bloodshot and wet and soon tears ran down her cheeks.
     “I can’t deal with it, they are being horrible,” she cried and I hugged her. Her body weight fell into my chest and I told her it would be okay,
     “Just a few days of this and things will settle down, soon as they realise,”
     “I know! If only they realised we were not going to run out of stock! If they would just give us a chance to catch up and put more stock out. There’s no need for this,” she said.  She was right. But it didn’t stop as people began to worry more.
     Jokes flew around the internet.
     ‘This virus doesn’t cause diarrhoea.’ People would reply with cry-laughing emojis. If only they could see inside the store and realise this wasn’t a laughing matter at all. My friends at work would be in tears every day. The customers were frustrated and worried and it made them stressed and rude. They seemed to forget that we were trying to be helpful, trying to do our job.  We were told in smaller groups that things were going to have to change in our store, and all Tesco’s.      The bosses were amazing actually with so much support for us all. They started handing out application forms, knowing we would need more staff and quickly. A few days before lockdown, we stopped being open 24 hours and the public hated that.  Saturday morning, once people had started to get to know of people in hospitals in our country, there was an air of ‘oh my goodness this is about to get very real,’ and even while the grey shutters were down a massive queue extended along the front of the store and right up to the KFC next-door.  
     Social distancing wasn’t invented then. Perhaps the length of the trollies might have saved a few people from contracting the virus as everyone in the queue had a trolley. Who knows how many people were walking around infecting people then, coming into our store, not washing their hands enough, and handing us cash.
     As I was driving in to work that morning I saw someone driving his car through the car park with his phone in his hand, clearly filming the queue to put on the internet. He was alone in the car but talking and shaking his head in utter disbelief at the madness of everyone trying to get in and do their shopping. Yet he was also trying to do the same and all the other head shakers were too. They were all the same.
     This was over three weeks ago now. Before lockdown and the social distancing. Before we allowed them to queue at a distance of two meters apart and let them in one by one. One in; one out. Keep your distance, stand behind the visor, use contactless payments. I wish they had set up a rule for trying to be nice to the staff who were trying to keep the country fed and in a good supply of food, toilet rolls, pasta and rice. Every day there were tears and yet we were putting ourselves at risk to do our job.
     I began to worry about money. What if there was an issue?  My husband is a barber and they were all told to stop work without any idea of what might happen with their income situation. He is self-employed. I think they are going to help the self-employed somehow. The chancellor said. But we don’t know what that is yet. And we don’t know how we pay our mortgage. Although they
We’re saying we might be able to take a break in mortgage payments, called mortgage holidays.  That sounds a little worrying but if we must, we must.
     Then Millie went down with a temperature a week into lockdown when it was all still mad at work.  A proper big temperature. She was cutting her first teeth so it might have been that but the guidance was clear. Everyone must stay home for fourteen days.  Oh crap.
Written by Louise_Usher (Louise Usher)
Author's Note
Another excerpt from the book - a Tesco worker tells how the beginning of lockdown was for her.
All writing remains the property of the author. Don't use it for any purpose without their permission.
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