Britain. Rich in history and storytelling, with its ancient tales of magic and mythology. George and the Dragon, fairies, King Arthur. The funniest however, in light of the unfolding coronavirus drama, is that of The Stiff Upper Lip.
I mean, fuck Keep Calm and Carry On. Ever since the first cases were reported here, we’ve had fully grown adults running through ASDA like they’re super mario, snatching toilet roll, hand sanitiser and Pot Noodles while bouncing off hunched over old ladies that get in the way like they’re Koopa Troopers.
There is a whole load of psychological behaviour concerned with panic buying. No doubt people participating in it will cite some grossly misinterpreted versions of Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory to justify their actions.
Herd behaviour explains some of it. Social scientists tell us that when we see mass amounts of people panic buying items fuelled by social media, it is in our instinct to do the same. There are also lots of unknowns about how the virus works which makes us feel helpless, and stocking up on items can help some people regain a false sense of control over the situation. On top of this, the coronavirus is a huge, dramatic world wide event. Something as simple as effective hand washing doesn’t seem nearly enough to fight it, requiring something equally dramatic in our response in order to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
The scenes played out in the media range from the hilarious to the dystopic. The amusement arcade down the road from me had hand sanitiser as one of the prizes in its penny machines, an act which surely had Orwell punching the lid of his coffin from the inside and screaming “I wish I’d thought of that”. But at least it shows we do still have a slight sense of humour about it all. More unsettling are the reports of sanitiser being taken from hospitals by visitors where vigilant hand hygiene is vital for infection control of all kinds.
Because as many have rightly pointed out, any illusions we had of that post Brexit Blitz Spirit “let’s all step up and make it work” has been thrown in the river like a sack of kittens.
Because from what I’ve seen so far, it’s those that would likely easily survive or evade the virus that have mostly been guilty of panic buying or scaremongering. Those who are actually most at risk aren’t who the general public seem more concerned about. On the contrary it seems just accepted that those of us with respiratory or auto immune conditions will just die. It’s not “oh there’s only a two percent chance of dying from it”. It’s whether you are one of the two percent. I’ve got asthma. The common cold has nearly put me in hospital two years in a row, but I’m not overly worried about myself, as the condition is reasonable mild in me. I have a pre-paid certificate for my inhalers and optimistically hoping that surviving The Great Punk Squat Flu of 2001 has helped me develop a certain immunity.
People like my mam, who has COPD and surviving on benefits who don’t have the physical or financial resources to stockpile are the ones who need the shelves to be full. People working as carers for vulnerable people need access to hand wash before they even get to work. The homeless can’t self isolate. You don’t need 25 bottles of hand sanitiser under your stairs and we need to be ensuring everyone is resourced, not just ourselves.
What we have proven is that we are a nation- a planet even- of selfish, hysterical bellends who can be activated by the media and the government at the click of a finger.
Boris Johnson said on This Morning that “there’s a theory we should take it on the chin and let it move through the population”. Easy for him to say when the high levels of inbreeding amongst him and most of his entire fucking party mean they don’t even have one. He and those like him will never be most at risk. They have access to the best health care and the financial security to stay at home if they need to. The coronavirus will never find its way into Jacob Rees Mogg’s country pile where no one has died since 1812, and that was only a scullery maid who expired to consumption.
There will always be outbreaks of disease. It’s one of the conditions of being human, and there have been worldwide epidemics throughout our history. It should have taught us by now that the best way to protect ourselves is to make sure everyone has what they need. That we need to change the way we work and that while we treat people like commodities we are all at risk.
But we probably won’t, and most people with a spare room full of Purell will scroll past these words while sat on a toilet on a phone that hasn’t been wiped down for two years muttering that we need to close our borders, convinced that hyper consumerism and racism will keep them and their children safe.
So here’s Germ Free Adolescents by X-Ray Spex. Because really there was no other choice for this one and Poly Styrene was an absolute prophet.