The Communications Clinic
The Communications Clinic
March 16, 2020

‘Panic-buying’ is the pejorative term used by elitists to demean the efforts of the ordinary to control the uncontrollable, writes Terry Prone

A BRITISH newspaper which is to the right of Atilla the Hun ran a funny cartoon this weekend. The Telegraph drawing showed a family in an underground bunker, each peering over tiered piles of loo paper, with one of them asking: “Did anyone bring any food?” The answer, clearly, was no.

On the subject of the attempt to defeat the coronavirus by ensuring the purity of one’s nether regions, you have to be sorry for Heather Humphreys. You really do. This is some woman.

How many government ministers do you know who can drive a forklift in twinset and pearls? Her, I mean, not the forklift. The sight of it, a few weeks back, provoked some wit to observe that “Heather is a hoor for the hydraulics” — which again is not a compliment you could easily pay to many cabinet members.

So you have to sympathise with poor Heather, on Friday, standing in a warehouse in the Chicago-style windy cold typical of those buildings, telling the television audience to get a grip and stop panic buying. I sympathise with her because by the time she took to the warehouse stage, most of us had exhausted our debit cards anyway, me included, although, in my own defence, I have to say my participation in this outbreak was an accident.

On Thursday, I yielded to fate and headed to my home to hunker down on my own, apart from two cats.

Thinking about this prospect as I drove, I realised I’d better get cat food, because supplies were running low. Aha, I thought to myself, turn left here before the Port tunnel and you can go to Aldi in East Wall. It was only when I was stuck, unmoving, in a procession of cars going into that shop’s car park, facing an articulated lorry that was trying — without much success — to get out, that I realised this might be indicative of people buying up the store in preparation for the siege.

The problem was that I had passed the point of no return, and unless I wanted to drive the arctic driver completely out of his mind by trying to do a U-turn in front of him, I might as well keep going and enter any space I encountered. Which is what I did, determined to observe the hysteria I assumed I would encounter inside. Spoiler alert: No hysteria.

“Panic-buying” is the pejorative term used by elitists to demean the efforts of the ordinary to control the uncontrollable. Nobody in that store was going around with trolleys piled high with loo paper. Nobody was crying or white in the face. People were buying what they would normally buy at the end of a week, except rather more of it, and rather more people were doing so for the very good reason that they were doing their “big shop” a day ahead of doing the social distancing thing.

The only negative comment I overheard came from one denimed dame who was giving out about her GP because he had told her it was perfectly all right to see her grandchildren as long as she maintained social distance from them.

Terry Prone: If isolation is imposed, solitary need not necessarily mean solemn

“Social distance,” she hissed to the woman she was with, as if it was a profanity as well as being a physical impossibility. She seemed to believe no decent grandmother could come within a metre of a grandchild without suffocating it in hugs and kisses.

I thought she had a point when she muttered that if her daughter brought “the twins” around, they would think their granny was Rapunzel, waving at them from a high window. She actually said “effing Rapunzel” and got a laugh as a result from the other people queuing at the check out.

It may not make me popular, but I pure and simply love the Rapunzel task. To get into my own little fortress, close the door and be obliged by the doctor on the Late, Late Show, Colm Henry, not to see any bores or drag my sorry ass out for the daily commute or put slap on my face — what’s not to like about that?

All the current guff, arising from Covid-19, about our “shared humanity” leaves me cold. I would hold that unshared humanity has a lot going for it.

Now, OK, I am a card-carrying recluse who believes that real live people are OK but characters in books are much better. Once you have books, you can be, as Robert B Parker’s private eye, Spenser, puts it “sometimes solitary. But never alone”.

This is a lesson the sickly can teach the worried well. I spent most of my childhood in solitary because of the respiratory problems which, linked to my age, now paint a target on my chest for Covid-19 to aim at. It had the advantage that Sr Marguerite couldn’t get at me. Sr Marguerite was the sports nun and she hated fat, lazy girls like me with a vituperative passion. The purity of this tiny woman’s hatred was so spectacular, my father once suggested she suffered from small nun syndrome.

Being in solitary as a student did, of course, have the disadvantage of making you miss things. To this day, I’m challenged by the National Anthem because I was out sick the week my class learned it. A small price to pay, I tell you, for avoiding Marguerite.

I do appreciate that you’re not supposed to enjoy self-isolating, any more than you’re supposed to have a laugh at this time.

The received non-wisdom seems to be that taking the threat seriously requires the negative concentration of a witch finder general and the facial gravity of a basset hound.

If you choose to look on the bright side of it, you are either disrespectful or terminally trivial. Which ignores the wealth of data which proves that humans do better with pain or illness or other challenge when they can laugh.

Doing the right thing doesn’t require us all to get po-faced about it. We can choose to obey orders and stay home, playing listlessly with our toilet rolls. Or we can recognise that, as well as a superfluity of sanitary paper, most of us also have a superfluity of contact points.

Terry Prone: If isolation is imposed, solitary need not necessarily mean solemn

A FEW decades ago, being stuck at home meant real isolation. Today, apart from talking on the phone, we have the capacity to text, Whatsapp, Instagram and email. We can Zoom video conferences so several people can join in a conversation without any of that formal palaver audio conference calls used to require.

In addition, we have mainstream media playing a blinder, even if it’s slightly worrying to imagine some of our radio broadcasters telling us what’s what and them still in their jammies. Plus we have the nightly thrill of watching George Lee remember and recount more data more clearly than any human has a right to, while sneaking a glance at Department of Health staff coming out of the building behind him and setting off alarms.

Whoever sent the basketball to Tom Hanks in the hospital where he’s isolated had the right idea: Solitary doesn’t have to mean solemn.