As I’ve remarked elsewhere this week, it’s odd that those gritty, realistic apocalyptic/dystopian books and movies never mention our most pressing concern when disaster strikes, and that’s “OMG! Zombie attack! Alien invasion! Meteorite hits Earth! Plague! Breakdown of society! Do I have enough toilet paper?!!” I’ll never be able to watch War of the Worlds, f’rinstance, without a wry grin at how badly wrong the screenwriters got our obsession with stockpiling toilet tissue in the garage. Knowing you’ve got a 24 rolls pack in there stiffens the sinews and assures you that you’ll have the fortitude to stare the zombie Martians in the face. You can face up to anything if you don’t have to resort to using cut-up newspapers.
I was a little concerned that when Covid-19 really started to bite, the restrictions put on us would deepen divisions in an already fragmented society. We don’t interact with people as much as we used to, even before the fear that a cough or a snivel heralds an illness that has had such a terrible impact. When we’re told to stay indoors, to go out just once a day for exercise or essential shopping, to stay at least 2m from everyone else… well, I feared that would make us ever more separate, more selfish, more inward-looking.
When the supermarket shelves were cleared of everything useful, that fear intensified. I do understand the panic buying. We’ve seen what happened in China and Italy, where people have been confined to their houses for weeks. It’s human nature to try and make sure that if it happens to you, you aren’t going to add hunger and short rations to your stir-crazed misery. But it seemed one more nail in the idea of all being in this together, didn’t it? When you’re looking at an immense rack of empty shelving, there isn’t much sense of community.
Then, astonishingly, it was FACEBOOK that started to alleviate my fear that this would destroy us. Nothing that FB itself did, you understand, but a shining example of some of the good FB can do when it’s used properly.
I live in a very small village in Nottinghamshire. Probably not more than 1500 souls. Someone quickly set up a FB group to support the villagers and it’s been a cheerful and reassuring place to go each day to see who needs help, or who’s offering it.
On Tuesday, it struck me that the things people are stockpiling are the staple items foodbanks depend upon to give families who are truly struggling, families which – as the shut-down intensifies, unemployment rises and people’s incomes vanish – will struggle even harder. I posted on the local group, saying if people would be willing to give just one thing from their store cupboards, I’d collect it and take it to the food bank as a village donation.
The picture at the top of this post was the result. People gave freely, and gave so much more than one item each. In some cases, they filled the plastic crates I was using for collecting the donations. Filled them. Despite their own fears, despite the primaeval urge to hoard food against the threat of privation and hunger, they filled those boxes – tins and jars, rice and pasta, tea and coffee, toiletries… even those precious, impossible-to-find toilet rolls.
Despite everything forcing us to be separate, to be selfish and fragmented, people can still come together for the common good. People are still kind and decent. I’m so proud of my neighbours. They stepped up like Trojans and gave so much, so generously. Never, ever let the Margaret Thatchers of this world tell you that there’s no such thing as ‘society’. My small village is just one example of what a lie that is.
I am very proud and humbled. And ever so much more hopeful than I was this time last week.
Stay safe, and stay well. The next few weeks will be hard, but we’ll get through. And if my village is anything to go by, we’ll be stronger.