When it comes to high-street discount stores handy for basic toiletries and the like, Studio 54 doesn’t immediately spring to mind. However, the notoriously stringent entrance policy of the exclusive New York nightclub of the Disco era – in which the only guaranteed name on the list would usually be that of Andy Warhol – came into my head this morning. I had no choice but to wait in line as a makeshift doorman at my local branch of Wilkos wouldn’t allow any shoppers in until another shopper had exited the store. The oddness of this particular shopping experience was compensated for via the purchase of my first pack of loo rolls in a fortnight; but it wasn’t unique to the expedition.
Sainsbury’s has also instigated a new queue policy whereby shoppers need to stand several feet apart – though when I recall some of the BO I’ve been forced to inhale in tight-knit shopping queues over the years, I can’t say I mind too much. That said, this system does invite unknowing queue-jumpers who see a wide gap and assume there’s no queue at all. We’re all adapting, I guess. It’s now cards-only at the manned tills too; cash-carrying peasants were redirected to the automated self-service machines. Having slipped into a routine whereby I venture outdoors every four days, I notice the changes more on each occasion I brave the pavement; the way things are going, I can’t help but feel it’s only a matter of time before supermarkets convert to a drive-through method ala McDonalds. Bit of a bugger for those of us without cars, mind.
I was out not long after 10.00am and had to pinch myself that it was Saturday morning, which is normally the busiest shopping day of the week. I must have passed no more than a dozen people, and even the traffic on what is usually something of a bottleneck was minimal to the point of invisibility. A main road generally impossible to cross without summoning assistance from the green and red men was today witness to the kind of casual pedestrian strolling unimaginable at times when society hasn’t been turned upside down. Even the post office – which we were informed would remain open – has closed its doors; and that was the main destination which prompted the excursion. One week and one day on from the moment most doors closed to the public, the public is being made very aware that the only place to go is home.
Part of me thinks I should carry my camera with me, to capture the refashioned urban environment while it lasts; but images of congested streets as they were before the lockdown increasingly look stranger than what is now the new norm. I’ve experienced numerous times in my life when my fellow man has consciously avoided me as though I were contagious, but this has suddenly become commonplace for everybody. On one hand, the sight of it could be mistaken for polite courtesy as two people on a collision course step aside in a manner that would demand the raising of hats were hats in place; yet everybody is now so hyper-aware of how apparently easy it is to become infected that a bizarre dance can be seen up and down supermarket aisles and on pavements. You can’t help it. Every individual you spy heading towards you is accompanied by a sonorous Central Office of Information narrator informing you that person could be infected; pass too close and you could be infected too. I wonder how long it’ll take before people stop being scared to come into contact with other humans again.
It’s certainly a weird experience being out after four days of being in, and my only real concern when it comes to this whole isolation & distancing thing is that I personally find it harder to re-engage with folk the longer I’m deprived of their presence. Have no doubt – I can cope with my own company; I’m more than accustomed to that. But reverting to social skills when they haven’t been used for a while is for me a bit like restarting inactive machinery that has been switched-off during an industrial dispute; it ain’t like riding a bike, trust me. Skyping is the next best thing, I guess; and I’ve done a fair bit of that over the past week or so. And it’ll have to suffice for the time being. At least it’s better than it must have been during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918; the best most could manage then was to send a few telegrams.
So, we’re left with our imaginary TV schedule whenever the printed page and the soundtrack have momentarily exhausted their appeal. If you don’t subscribe to streaming and all those other newfangled means of accessing escapist entertainment, there’s always the humble DVD. And what, you probably won’t be asking, has kept me entertained since Boris issued his command? Well, it may not be the most comforting of programmes to revisit, but it’s undoubtedly timely; I’m talking ‘Survivors’, Terry Nation’s dystopian BBC drama from the mid-70s. I might be a masochist, but I couldn’t resist coming to the series again with such an unexpected new perspective.
Just the opening titles struck me as remarkably prescient. Brilliantly summarising what the show is about by using that visual exposition characteristic of opening titles back then, we see a Chinese scientist in a surgical mask drop a test tube we instantly know contains a lethal chemical that then explodes in slow motion. Cut to repeated shots of planes zooming across the screen as we see said scientist collapse in a crowd whilst a sequence of passports are stamped with the names of the planet’s major capital cities. Okay, so within 30 seconds we learn some sort of biochemist from the Far East has accidentally released a new killer virus that is spread around the globe via air travel. And remember, this is 1975, not 2020. Yes, the programme’s 45-year vintage is evident as the rapid deterioration of society is portrayed with echoes of the Three-Day Week, fuel crises and fear of right-wing militias seizing control typical of the period; but the sudden collapse of the infrastructures keeping everything ticking over courtesy of a plague originating in China is hard to watch now without every recent news bulletin re-entering the viewer’s head.
In ‘Survivors’, a band of good guys eventually come together and form what is essentially a pre-industrial agricultural commune as a means of rebuilding the world for those who survived the plague. They do so whilst regularly fighting off less community-minded bad guys – and one thing that dates ‘Survivors’ is the fact that the bad guys are always working-class, as a counterpoint to the middle-class heroes. But that’s just a sign of the times in which it was produced, as is the absence of a patronising diversity quota amongst the cast; indeed, the main character whose progress we follow throughout the first series is female, and a tough, resourceful one at that. And Terry Nation created her without having an edict imposed upon his creativity from on-high.
Perhaps reflecting the broad brushstrokes of BBC drama in 1975, I’ve also recently been re-watching the first series of ‘Angels’. Maybe the incessant focus on the NHS at the moment prompted me to return to this prime-time serial about student nurses, one that is another well-written and well-acted example of the era. One only has to watch an episode of a mainstream series from 40-odd years ago and then do likewise with a contemporary equivalent to witness how low standards have sunk in all departments. The last time I saw an episode of ‘Casualty’ about five years ago, it was like revisiting every shit daytime Aussie soap you’ve ever seen. Not so ‘Department S’, which is gloriously far-fetched Swinging 60s ITC adventure at its finest – and it gave the world Jason King; what more do you want? That’s my other current vintage televisual aid. None of these were planned viewing; the situation demanded them, so I submitted. These are mine; feel free to enjoy your own.
© The Editor