You sit at home, desperately trying to video call your colleagues from your badly lit bedroom. Your housemate watches Yoga with Adriene next door on YouTube, and your mum tries to FaceTime you for the third time today. Somewhere outside, a child screams. As you stare out your window, making eye contact with the man in the house across the road, you start to realise that this coronavirus thing is making people act... weird.
Who would have thought it would take a mere global pandemic to get us behaving like this? Downloading episodes of Friends onto a hard drive in case the internet goes down or stockpiling a dry roasted peanuts, Chardonnay, and tins of pineapple because “it felt like the right thing to do at the time”?
We have officially – as a nation – lost it. Of course, this a stressful time for many people, but this coronavirus outbreak is really showing the unique and deeply unsettling ways many respond in times of crisis. Here are some of the tribes you’ll encounter during this madness:
THE FAKE NEWS AUNTY
Your phone pings. Aunty Ruth has sent you a message. 'Weird,' you think. You didn’t even know she had your number. “Hi luv. Just wondering if youve seen the news about wuhans virology lab? Don’t u think it’s strange. China def started it. Check out this link. Luv uxx”
The link opens to a “news” site you’ve never heard of. You leave it.
Another ping. It's a forwarded image of a message from someone called "Daddy". “Big news: not sure if the second half is 100% percent – checking BUT 1. Whole country is going on Lockdown on Friday for 15 days. They expect the peak to hit in this period. All companies will have to Wfh. Army are being deployed to London for support. 2. Prince Philip has apparently passed away (albeit not from Coronavirus) and this will be announced in the next day or two. I believe my source is good in the Royal media office."
“Just saw this and thought you should know. say hi to mum for me xx.”
You block the number.
THE SHY TORY WHO WAS VERY CONCERNED ABOUT LABOUR WINNING THE ELECTION BUT NOW APPEARS TO AGREE WITH LITERALLY ALL OF THEIR POLICIES
“Really think gvmt need to make internet accessible to all as isolation takes hold,” writes one lukewarm take merchant on Twitter.
“Worried about layoffs… a basic income for everyone could become necessity! No 10 needs to act,” says another.
“A disgrace that the NHS is so underfunded. Lack of ventilators will cost lives. Cash injection now!”
This is what you’re seeing as you idly scroll your Twitter timeline on Day Two of social distancing. Are you really reading this from the same people who spent the entire 2019 election campaign writing broadsheet op-eds titled things like “Labour’s Socialist Plans Will Bring Pestilence on the UK”, “Rail and Utility Nationalisation Is For Idiots”, and “More Money For Schools? LOL”?
Could it be that in a time of national crisis (and indeed at all times!), socialist policies are simply the most humane and most practical strategies to enact? Could it be that furnishing everyone with the dignity of a basic income, secure housing, and reliable utilities is… actually good??
THE ALARMINGLY CHILL PARENT
You are phoning your dad to make sure he is OK, what with the "everything" that has been going on. You’re expecting a bit of banter about there being no pasta in the shops (“what the bloody hell are you going to eat then, that’s all you can cook isn’t it?” etc. etc.), and some gentle chat about working from home. Instead this is what happens:
You: Alright dad, how are you? Staying safe?
Dad: Safe? What do you mean?
You: Well, with the virus and everything.
Dad: Oh bloody hell you don’t believe all that do you?
You [realising now the magnitude of what you are dealing with, of the immensity of this man’s belief that he is right in every situation – this is, after all, the person who lost Trivial Pursuit screaming “the answer is ALAN SHEARER; that fucking question card is WRONG” and didn’t speak to anyone for 12 hours afterwards]: Yes! Have you not been staying in?
Dad: No, are we supposed to? I was just on the way to the pub actually…
Mind you, he is fuming that there’s no bog roll in the Co-Op down the road, so it’s not like he’s completely unbothered.
The preppers aren't always the ones you expect. They’re not overly organised, but – now you think about it – they do have a sort of quiet, unhinged energy about them. Head round to theirs for a coffee, and you'll notice the UHT milk (“Sorry it’s not fresh! Got loads of these though!”), or the four packets of rice, 30 instant noodles, pasta, and jelly (weird flex but OK). Fine, you guess. Then you'll find out about the 6 AM trips to Sainsbury’s and the bag of cash under their bed, and you will be able to confirm that yes, indeed, you have found The Prepper.
You don’t mock them though, because, ultimately, when you’re subsisting off spoonfuls of mustard and rice, staring down the barren aisle in a Tesco Metro, you will need them more than ever.
THE EXTREMELY STRESSED HOUSEMATE
"HEY GUYS, PLEASE JUST LET ME KNOW IF YOU’RE GOING OUT OR USING PUBLIC TRANSPORT. I’VE PUT OUT SOME MORE HAND SANITISER AND DISINFECTANT WIPES AROUND THE HOUSE, SO PLEASE MAKE USE OF THEM AND ALWAYS WASH YOUR HANDS WHEN YOU GET IN. JAMES: I HEARD YOU COUGH AROUND 2PM YESTERDAY. PLEASE STAY IN YOUR ROOM AND LET US KNOW IF YOU COUGH AGAIN. ALSO NO BFS/GFS AT THE MOMENT. SORRY GUYS JUST A BIT STRESSED HERE SURE IT WILL BE FINE DON’T USE MY TOWELS OR MUGS."
THE RADICALISED RENTER
Everyone who rents knows that renting in most cases is shit. You pay half your monthly wages to a shadowy and malevolent letting agent to live in a damp box in a "desirable location" (above a chippy in Clapton, 20 minutes from the nearest station) that you aren't even allowed to decorate with a measly Blu-tacked photo on the wall. This is, at best, financially destabilising and at worst actually degrading.
Everyone who rents knows this. Usually, it hums along in your brain as a sort of general background awareness, sometimes peaking with a red wash of anger when the oven breaks and it takes the landlord or agency three weeks to respond to your email, let alone fix it.
But right now, as the economy collapses in on itself, and all those most likely to rent (i.e. younger and lower income workers) are let go from their precarious jobs with no guarantee they’ll be able to keep the roofs over their heads – your resentment has been sharpened. You’ve started a WhatsApp group called "RENT STRIKE FUCK THEM" and you’ve been reading up on property law while you self-isolate with a cough that is being made worse by the damp in your room. It goes without saying that you are a legend and I love you.