Most of the time, the lockdown frustrations of not being able to get out and do our own shopping are relatively minor, and appreciation of the kindness of those who are doing our shopping for us, or delivering what we order to us, or ordering on our behalf, more than compensates for those frustrations. So the excellent butchers in Bishopthorpe Road, about a mile away, and the greengrocers next door to them have both started home deliveries; our elder son, who lives in York, does a big shop for us once a fortnight or so; and one of our neighbours is always happy to add to her shopping list anything that has slipped through the cracks. So we are being well supplied, even if sometimes with substitutes for the brands we normally use, as we stick rigidly to the social isolation guidelines. The one mild frustration is with some of the fruit that is arriving on our doorstep. I always like to choose my own fruit because none of the York supermarkets I have ever shopped in have ever had the first clue about much of the fruit they sell: not just about whether or not the fruit they sell is ripe, but even about whether it will ever ripen. As a result most of the fruit advertised as “ready and ripe” is a flagrant, if probably unintentional, breach of the Trade Descriptions Act. ‘Ripen at home’ UK-grown plums and peaches, as well as mangoes, avocado pears and other imported fruit in our supermarkets, have often been picked so green that they will never ripen. Where the latter are concerned, the answer, of course, is to boycott the air miles and avoid buying tropical or subtropical fruit. But for those of us who have lived much of our life in Africa that is easier said than done.
So, ordinarily, there is relatively little temptation to ignore the guidelines and go shopping. But birthdays are not ordinary, and decade-marking birthdays, by definition, only come around once every ten years. My wife, Sue, is due to celebrate what is sometimes referred to as a “significant” birthday tomorrow, and it has been intensely frustrating not to be able to get out to the shops, even to buy a birthday card and wrapping paper for presents that have had to be bought sight-unseen online (give or take the sometimes deceptive online photographs).
Regardless of the question of birthday presents, how exactly does one set about celebrating a major birthday, or any other birthday for that matter, when one can’t be joined by one’s children, grandchildren and friends? A good deal of planning had gone into an early celebration in the week before Easter, which is one of the very few times in the year when the UK and South African school holidays coincide. We had planned to spend a few days with my York son’s family, my Cape Town son’s family, and my Sheffield daughter’s family in a large house we had rented in Pater Noster, an improbably named fishing village around 100 miles up the West coast from Cape Town. Tables had been booked for a celebratory lunch at Wolfgat, an even more improbably named restaurant whose name translates as ‘wolf hole.’ Most improbable of all is the fact that said wolf hole had recently been voted the world’s best restaurant. That was always destined to be a hard act to follow on Sue’s actual birthday once we had got back to York, but we could, at least, have celebrated with two of our children’s families and our friends. Lockdown birthdays will be being celebrated by isolated people and families all over the world, and are, even when they are “significant” birthdays, an infinitely trivial consideration in the context of the grieving that has been occasioned by a plague that has now killed very nearly 30,000 people in this country. But that recognition won’t stop us wishing that, if Covid-19 had to arrive at all, it could have timed its arrival a bit more considerately.