london

The things they say about suburbia are true.  It’s leafy and has lots of parks.  And if there was a place the state could operate a Stasi style network of informants, suburbia would be the place.  The white net-curtains, the perfect cover.

I’ve lived in my part of London suburbia all my life and seen it change.  Before the population was predominantly white, older in large houses with 100-foot gardens.   And there are the poorer, mainly white estates dotted about. 

Much of this is still here but in recent years, London has ‘rippled out’.  It is now racially diverse with lots of younger professionals and their families in tiny new-builds.  Up to now, I’ve quite liked this diversity.

But during a crisis like this, ‘embracing our differences’ in the suburbs has driven me around the bend.

In suburbia, we have the net-curtain twitchers, possibly more so in the slightly older age bracket calling the cops if lockdown breach is suspected.  We also get the officious types, who would be good informant handlers for the curtain twitchers, but for now tend to work in places like supermarkets and pharmacies.

We get the young professionals who are nice (but a bit dim) politely taking a 12-foot detour around you on the street.  And finally, we get the aggressive, ill mannered type from all backgrounds barging around even more regardless of the threat to health and the present crisis.

I think the behavior I see in supermarkets and other shops is a good reflection of this diversity in a crisis. And today’s shopping experience highlighted that.

Firstly, just to explain I’ve been living with my elderly mother for a year and Sainsbury’s was always her preference. As she has been unwell (co-incidentally just after I moved in) I’ve been doing the shopping. In terms of food and provisions, my mum likes the good things.  

However, I pointed out to her that we could save a lot by what I call ‘value shopping’.  She initially thought this was just buying cheap stuff. But looking for multi-buys, selective reductions and mixing things up with supplementary shops in Lidl and Poundland, I showed her she could really live well for less.

Anyway, back to today.  I decided to set off to Sainsbury’s early, thinking that the time they are allowing for NHS workers and the over 70s to shop was about to end.  I was told by the doorman that in fact there were two separate times for these groups and I could not enter until 9.00am unless I had some pass.  I realised that I had probably only skimmed the opening hours on the website and misunderstand them, so it was my fault. But I weakly protested.

A more senior Sainsbury’s official stepped forward, explaining that this information is on their website. While he was not rude, I detected a certain smugness and self-importance in his manner and voice. I think he was enjoying the elevation from whatever he normally does to deciding who enters or not.

Anyway, I sarcastically replied with the question “if I return tomorrow at 9.00am, will I be allowed in – or will it be World War 2 veteran’s happy hour”?’.   It was my fault, but my frustration with people has been getting the better of me lately.

I got back in my car and drove to a nearby town and thought I’d go to Poundland and Lidl to see if some serious value shopping would get it out of my system.

The large entrance to Poundland was deserted so I proceeded to the door. A staff member jumped out at me, breaching social distancing measures and informed me to join the queue.  I looked around and saw no queue. I wandered if this was some kind of special opening hour for Harry Potter fans all wearing invisibility cloaks. 

The staff member pointed to a small queue visible at a bus stop about 10 metres away. Anyway, she too seemed consumed by her own self-importance so I declined and set off for Lidl.

At Lidl there was no queue outside – and perhaps more importantly, none at any nearby bus-stops.  I went inside and it was not too busy but what struck me is that it was like a different world to some other shops I’ve experienced.  Rather than walk around whole aisles to comply with social distancing people were just pushing and barging their way around without any consideration for risk to health or basic manners.  

I wondered if this mentality had been created by a fear that the plentiful bargains on offer would suddenly disappear if they didn’t barge people out of the way to get them. 

Anyway, I successfully got my shopping and went home and reflected on this and other shopping experiences and the bigger picture.

Our future

I was also thinking about some of those people, especially on the left who seem to be enjoying lockdown and relishing what follows. I’ve even heard some say that a lot of good could come out of this, perhaps in terms of a greater community spirit or equality. I don’t subscribe to their views. 

Many of the above experiences have reminded me of visits I made to Yugoslavia in the late 1980s.  There was little community spirit in Yugoslavia, the same as is here now and the drab shops and queues then look similar to shops here now.  

In terms of our future there was little freedom there then, as could be here after lockdown, there was little work ethic and sense of pride then, as there could be here after lockdown and no economy then as there will be here after lockdown.

The capitalist within me is tempted to say that inefficient businesses, the surly behavior and madness I’ve seen today and recently will disappear under the economic tsunami to come – leaving the most efficient, adaptable and deserving to build a strong basis for the future.  But we know the immense damage big capitalism, greed and neo-liberalism has caused (including to small business) and the economic system was teetering on the verge of collapse before Coronavirus.

My experiences today only reinforce a strong belief that we can’t go back to where we were – or indeed go where our government may be trying to take us.  Perhaps this is an opportunity after all – but not for reasons some on the left envisage.

Perhaps the time we spend in lockdown could be used to seriously reflect.  We are largely decent people but two personal enemies are distraction and a lack of ability to take time to think.

Nothing will get better while we are obsessed with wealth, ideology, power and self-importance, celebrity trivia, smartphones and toilet rolls.

Small, once in a lifetime acts of kindness in these times or clapping for the NHS is not community spirit or caring for humanity. These gestures simply make us feel better about our dysfunctional, absurd lives. 

How can we be a decent, caring society when we lay waste to Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere – while our government is systematically dismantling our freedoms, health and ability to provide for our families? 

If people really start thinking about my experience, their experiences, the true state of the world, the state of their lives and the utter madness of it all, they will join a really progressive movement. I suspect many reading this are members already.  This movement of profound thinkers does not yet have a name or a leader but it may soon. If you’re not a member consider joining it now for the sake of your children and grandchildren.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4oLc1RgyaQ

“The quality of your life is brought about by the quality of your thinking, think about that

“If you truly want to change your world my friends, you must change your thinking”

Quotes from the musical ‘Time’.

Kevin Smith is a British citizen living and working in London. He researches and writes down his thoughts on the highly controlled and dumbed down UK media environment. He’s keen on exploring ways of discouraging ideology and tribalism in favour of free thinking.


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