Have you been to Waitrose since coronavirus? The middle classes should be ashamed!
PUBLISHED: 13:41 10 March 2020 | UPDATED: 16:45 10 March 2020
James Marston says you only have to pop to your local Waitrose to see that the world has gone mad over coronavirus
I was talking to my Father this week about the Coronavirus - the only topic of conversation that not only is everyone talking about but is of deep enough intensity to rival Brexit - as I've been wondering if the future of journalism is going to be one in which the reporter will revolve in ever increasing introspection around fear mongering and what I am calling 'the one topic news agenda'.
I hope we aren't moving in that direction as the world, believe it or not, is still turning and there's more to life than how many toilet rolls one can stuff in a supermarket trolley. T
he Queen, as usual, is leading the way in her unassuming and sensible approach of carry on regardless unless the proverbial really hits the fan.
Father tells me the Asian Flu outbreak of 1957-1958 meant he became orange squash monitor - issued by his school because of the vitamin C content - before being sent home. 'No more games, no more lessons, it suited me. Of course in those days the doctor came round on his rounds and matron wore a blue uniform, we didn't call 111, it's all changed but we've been through it before. We got over it.'
Grumpy at being informed he's in the vulnerable category - he's over 70 - father announced he has no health problems, doesn't much appreciate being told he's old, and if Her Majesty is 'still doing her bit' then he will too thank you very much.
Mother retorted with the observation that he might think he has no health problems but every morning he wakes up complaining about some part of his body that isn't functioning in the same way it once did - 'If it isn't his neck it's his back, if it isn't his back its his legs, if it isn't his legs it's his feet. And then he forgets and the cycle starts all over again. You should try living with it.'
I'm not saying we shouldn't take Coronavirus seriously, on the contrary, but I sometimes think a tiny bit of perspective, resolve, self-awareness, and common sense, might not be such a bad thing - after all we're British and as far as I am concerned now is the time to employ the stiff upper lip.
Indeed I was saddened to learn that people have been stockpiling hand sanitisers, thereby ensuring those who haven't been able to buy these things are less able to do their bit in stopping the spread of the disease. There's a national obsession with toilet rolls too - indeed a friend of mine informed me that he 'popped into my local branch of Waitrose to discover that even the middle classes are behaving with the selfishness they usually so quick to accuse others of, I was appalled.'
Of course stockpiling - outlawed in the Second World War - is only adding to the panic and sense of unease that is pervading our national conversation and our reaction to the perceived threat this virus poses.
And it is, of course, panic, that will, perversely, do little, I suggest, to help stop the spread of the virus.
Stockpiling is, of course, irrational. We don't stock pile each time we drive or just in case we have a household accident - both of which kill plenty of people each year - but panic isn't rational and facts don't get a look in where emotion is concerned.
Especially the emotion of fear, which, I suspect, is what this is all about. Fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of the loss of control - we have bought into the myth that we are actually in control of our lives and what happens to us. We think we have control, yet when our sense of control is threatened we seem to react with fear, misinterpretation and irrationality, we feel we can't really cope - hence we buy toilet rolls.
This sense of control is really an illusion because, as most people will admit, there are things that hit us in life over which we have had no control. Life happens - and no one goes through it either unscathed or without moments where our sense of control is challenged, if not exposed for the myth that it is.
Paradoxically to accept and live with the anxiety caused by this fear is, I think, the only way we can regain the sense of control we fear we have lost. And if we can accept this anxiety we would soon realise that to overcome this situation in which we find ourselves today, we have to put aside our knee jerk reactions, and our selfish tendencies.
Instead we have to recognise the patterns of our own behaviour, and gain insight into ourselves in order to overcome the difficulties we face. Indeed, we need to work together in caring for and watching out for our fellow man in order to stop the spread of this virus.
It used to be called a sense of the common good. Perhaps it's time we re-learnt this aspect of our communal life, which the over 70s, in my experience, seem to know so well.