I originally wrote a piece about how it felt like our nation had lost our legendary stoicism and blitz spirit and become selfish and cynical in the face of a global pandemic, hence the title being ironically wrong, but thankfully the good has now far outweighed the bad so, the revised version.
We started March with a looming, glowering storm approaching called COVID-19 and numerous selfish individuals made grocery shopping look like an episode of Supermarket Sweep thinking that of course, and I quote, “there wouldn’t be any food in two weeks time”. Though food didn’t seem to be on most of their minds as across the world people hoarded toilet rolls – why they’d need them without food is anyone’s guess. in the U.S. of course people hoarded guns and ammo, presumably in case someone came to take away their bog rolls.
As we know, despite supermarkets telling us that they’d got warehouses full of everything we’d need while being locked away for six months, the hoarding soon extended to milk, pasta, bread and nappies. When the pubs closed down so the hoarders stockpiled beer too, then gin, rum and lastly cider. I drink cider so I’m ok with enough for my occasional can in the fridge. I’m alright Jack (Daniels).
After six weeks we got the queuing back but this time at reopened DIY stores and household waste centres as people were desperate to clear out the stuff they’d been, er, clearing out for six weeks.
I spoke to a woman on the till at the height of the panic buying, she looked exhausted and had had a bad day, it was worse than the pre-Christmas rush and she said she’d had enough of working in retail, it was the final straw. Then the hoarders left an NHS nurse in tears because after working all day to help people she couldn’t get food for her tea. Further it descended into the same people shouting at shop staff because they couldn’t get what they wanted and after limits were imposed on how much you could buy people tried going back with multiple trolleys – one man locally went back to the same till with a second trolley full and was refused, as was a man with a trolley full of toilet roll. It is a sad reflection on these parts of our society that the CEO of Asda had to go on TV adverts asking people not to abuse his staff.
But of course it wasn’t just shop staff, at first a number of Asians in Britain were verbally or physically attacked with comments such as “take your coronavirus home” being spat at them by the idiots, then the shop staff trying to make sure everyone has food, some staff of non-essential businesses had been abused for cancelling work and closing, and then after shops prioritised NHS staff in stores other shoppers had been heard to abuse them too just for being prioritised, commenting “so what” and so on. These people would be the first crying for NHS help should they fall ill, and would be demanding priority treatment.
We had people stealing milk bottles from doorsteps. A pub in Scotland delivering free meals to NHS staff received a torrent of online abuse for doing it. And the people who think this is just a free holiday and restrictions don’t apply to them, because they’re special or too “badass” to catch, carry and transmit the virus so they continue to gather together. And as for the people caught licking a phonebox in our town, well in addition to being made to clean it it would be ironic if they caught the virus from the phonebox wouldn’t it.
The latest thing is people believing conspiracy theories that 5G mobile is to blame for coronavirus and destroying the phone masts that ultimately our emergency services also rely on. It doesn’t help that these theories are being peddled by ill-informed celebrities on social media, because of course they’d be an expert on the subject so they must be right, right? As for the other conspiracy theories, well, it’d take the rest of the lockdown period to read them all.
But then the good in our country started to show. I’ve noticed most people being polite and considerate, saying thankyou, saying “morning” when you pass them while getting your government authorised exercise and smiling. Hundreds of thousands of people have volunteered to help the NHS, delivering prescriptions, taking patients to appointments, calling vulnerable people on the phone just to chat. Local groups have launched to help people, do shopping for them, walk dogs. Individuals and supermarkets have helped foodbanks. Pubs have become corner shops, restaurants became takeaways. Private healthcare companies are helping support the NHS, St John’s Ambulance volunteers are operating their ambulances alongside the NHS’ own service, and even Formula 1 teams have offered to build ventilators for hospitals. Airbus have deployed test aircraft to transport supplies. Passenger aircraft have been turned into cargo planes for medical supplies. A McDonald’s has become a drive-through testing station. The response has been amazing.
Like in wartime when car manufacturers made tanks and aircraft fashion clothes factories have started making medical gowns for the hospitals. Individual companies and even schools have donated PPE to hospitals.
The Queen has given speeches to rally the country in unison, invoking the wartime spirit, saying “And those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any. That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterise this country.” As a nation we are showing that we do indeed still have that spirit in abundance.
Every Thursday night we clap for carers, round here it has expanded to honk for hospitals, fireworks for frontliners too. We see rainbows painted by kids in house windows and attached to fences, even out in the countryside where I ride my bike. My parents saw, the other night, two dinosaurs walking along their street to give people a smile. Whole streets are singing outside their front doors.
People have raised huge sums for the NHS and charities via social media, including a Notts man who raised over £150,000 by camping in the garden, and Captain Tom, the 99 year old Army veteren who voluntarily raised over £30million by completing 100 laps of his garden, then gets a song to number one, the oldest person ever to achieve that. We’ve had improvised comedy nights, adverts encouraging working together.
Organisations supporting the vulnerable and desperately in need of help in this situation have continued to support everyone they can. Communities have been helping each other to get through the crisis.
Internet services providers have beefed up their services and prioritised users to provide for remote working. Facebook has just announced that they’ll be flagging whether you’ve looked at any misleading information about coronavirus on their platform. The technology companies are enabling communications that enable the world to carry on better than we could otherwise have done, and allowed many who would otherwise be isolated to not be.
Shortly before we were Furloughed I spoke to a delivery driver who was moved because of people thanking him for carrying on and doing a wonderful job in enabling the country to carry on, which extends to posties and lorry drivers, shop staff, bin men and other key workers who we all should be grateful to and thank sincerely.
So yes we have seen we still have a strong community spirit, and judging by the Coronavirus jokes on Facebook, our sense of humour.
I think this characterises us, when times are tough we suddenly stand up and make things brighter, whether it’s a war, or a economic downturn or a pandemic we do what we can to make our country bright – in the landscape of flowerbeds or painted rainbows and our spirits through smiling and joking about it, dancing and singing in the street – whatever we need to do to try to keep each other going.
As Winston Churchill once said “makes you proud to be British.”