The lockdown has affected those of us connected with Runton in different ways. For example, in a terraced house in Leeds, ‘Anton’ has ‘wanked his balls flat’, according to a recent text message I received from him. Here, I have potty trained my son and installed what he refers to as a jumpoline in the back garden, so he can bounce his way through these nursery-less times. Joe and Becca have discovered they cannot get their numerous children into the same bath, even if they all stand up and, elsewhere, my old dear, perhaps not fully understanding how a virus is transmitted, assured me that we will get through the COVID-19 pandemic ‘if we stick together’. I have resisted the temptation to dress up as the Grim Reaper and tap on her front room window with a scythe for a larf, but it’s still early days.
What coronavirus has not done is usher in the food riots that Twitter, the middle class Mein Kampf, assured us would happen as soon as we left the European Union. I can speak with authority here because I have transcended my usual role up the Council as the non-entity who collects mail from the post room and organises the laundry by becoming the bloke who divvies out the carrots in a food distribution centre. This is voluntary work, although the fact that I get paid for it is very much the icing on the cake. Anyway. Norfolk is an enormous field with my house in it, so there are a lot of carrots to divvy – and a surprising amount of cakes with icing on, now I come to think of it – and at least everyone’s night vision will be a lot better at the end of all this. Actually, I think carrots’ ability to help you see in the dark is a myth, but nonetheless they are an excellent source of Vitamin D and often look like cocks, and occasionally tits, causing peals of delighted laughter among myself and my fellow former inmates of the County Hall admin dungeon.
Working in the Hub, as it is known, is more interesting than you might think. The deliveries we receive are random, so instead of a standard food parcel, we instead try to make them nutritionally similar, leading to debates about how to get a sugar beet’s worth of Vitamin C from a van load of walnut whips, and so forth. It’s also interesting to see staff of all levels thrown together, and otherwise unthinkable hierarchies develop: I told the Member of Parliament for North Norfolk to count a load of sour dough rolls for me the other day, which he did accurately and without hesitation. I didn’t know he was the Right Honourable Member for Cromer any more than he knew I was a disgusting admin drudge from County Hall, although the word ‘member’ would doubtless have caused hysterics for those already drunk on innuendo among the fresh vegetables. I suppose, in a distant way, it’s almost a microcosm of the unprecedented class mingling that happened in the First World War which, like working in the Hub during a lockdown, was also a valid excuse to get out of the house.
It has occurred to me that a bit of clever Hub networking might see my contract up the Council extended. This would be handy, because every income stream related to Runton has vanished. There is no deaf yoga and no Forest School. All is still in the glamping fields, although we had plenty of enquiries from Bens and Lauras putting aside the sentiments on their ‘We Are One London’ fridge magnets to get the fuck out of Herne Hill. Side hustles are in disarray: as a mobile barber, potential clients won’t let me into their houses due to social distancing. As an electrician, ‘Anton’s potential clients won’t let him in the house because he is black. There will be no conspiracy theory debates in the Restored Barn, which is a shame because conspiracy theorists must be absolutely loving this. Even the Flat Earthers have gone, sailing away over the horizon that they don’t believe in. I almost wish I hadn’t culled all the Runton Reiki healers a couple of years ago as it would amuse me to see one get poorly and try to cure her useless self with Jedi nonsense. Among the thickening copses and deep green fields the only movement is provided by Graham and his dogs, catching rabbits for Joe to eviscerate, skin, dice, freeze and keep for a rainy day. Our new stable block, all shiny and smelling of cut wood, is horseless and silent. Of Runton, at present, there is nothing to say.
Still, as the old saying goes, the worst things happen at sea – or, as in this case, on land. So far, the pandemic has been easy for my little family: both myself and my current girlfriend remain fully employed, if only in the short term in my case, and it is tricky to catch a virus in the middle of nowhere. It has also been a largely existential experience: before COVID we were merely living during history; post-COVID you, me, and everyone we know are part of history. Coronavirus will never be forgotten and, by association, neither will we. It seems breathtakingly pompous to view events in this manner from a kitchen table in a cosy cottage on the silent Norfolk coast, with full cupboards and plenty of shortbread biscuits, when blameless people are gasping to death in hospitals or corridors or stairwells all over the world but, if it’s any consolation, I am deeply, deeply, thankful to be able to do so. God, even that sounds patronising. Such strange times, not least because, remarkably, I am now a valued keyworker. Please don’t applaud me from your doorstep because I honestly don’t deserve it.
Main: Birth of food hub. This was the first stuff we recieved, mainly rice and pasta and a load of ready meals.
Top inset: Sign greeting visitors. We’re not storing medicines yet, but you never know. In any case, laughter is the best medicine, so we can keep a selection of root vegetables that look like old tits in case the Paracetomol runs out.
Middle inset: First food parcels, ready to go. These were packed by a Norwich born man who loved Wolverhampton Wanderers so much that he moved to Wolverhampton to be closer to them as soon as he left home at eighteen. West Ham were about to play Wolves when luckily the season got cancelled indefinitely, so we may never know how much they would have beaten us by.
Lower inset: Another picture of the early stages of the Hub. It’s more interesting to work in than it is to look at.