Some readers like my articles. I like writing them. So here goes again. In these times between war and peace nothing much happens, it is down to the mundane things that determine daily life. Strangely, there is a veil of normalcy that covers the abnormality of everything going on. Since we can’t really go out – we wouldn’t if we could because it’s cold and it’s raining cats and dogs most of the time – I read a lot. It took a while before I noticed that every book I read is set in a world that isn’t ours at present. People travel, go out, visit restaurants, meet friends, find new loves…. All that has come to a grinding halt and is no longer the reality of our lives today. The same goes for watching one of my beloved Midsomer Murders on Fox Crime. No more village parties, no pub life, no visiting friends, and no Inspector Barnaby interrogating people in their homes or innocent Joyce going to a scéance with a friend. It’s like living in a country at war, though no shot is fired and no bomb is dropped. Unless you consider covid-19 a bomb. A ticking-time-bomb for some, who wonder when it will hit them. We don’t really. We still feel relatively safe, though I repeat what I have said before: we are not as naïve as to believe we are completely safe from the virus. This article isn’t going to be about news. We have Tobi’s Madeira Island news for that, and so do you. This is about how it feels.
We have been gobsmacked to see that people have been stockpiling loo paper in the UK and the Netherlands. Probably in other countries as well. Typical wartime behaviour. And very irrational. Can you eat loo paper? No. Can you clean your backside without it? Yes. In our (Netherlands) former colony Indonesia there is a bottle of water in every toilet. And no paper. That bottle is appropriately named Bottòl. Use your imagination and make sure and wash your hands afterwards. With the virus going around you were supposed to do that frequently anyway. Stockpiling loo paper? Really! When someone mentioned loo paper to our friend Ishbel, she exploded; ‘loo paper? It’s the corona, you idiot*, not bl**dy dysentery!’ Spot on. Kudus for Isha!
*she may not have actually said ‘idiot’ but I have strong suspicions she did think it.
But seriously, more worrying even was the stockpiling of essential foods, thus depriving others of their daily needs. We are over the moon that the island has been spared of this stupid and selfish behaviour. Only in the very beginning, when everything was unsure, there were some wartime-empty shelves in some supermarkets. But only because the staff couldn’t refill them quickly enough. And only in the one urban area that Madeira has: the Funchal agglomeration. Here in our quiet West, we have seen nothing of the kind. When we went on a shopping tour yesterday afternoon, we were pleasantly surprised to see the shops well stocked, no lack of loo paper and, more importantly, no lack of tell-tale dry foods like pasta. Only mushrooms were out of stock, but that happens very often when the mushroom-boat hasn’t arrived, as we put it.
When we arrived at the Pingo Doce supermarket, we were met by one of the employees who had a spray bottle with disinfectant. He sprayed our hands, and also, very thoughtful, the handlebar of the trolly I was pushing. But he was still smiling and chatting while keeping due distance. It underlines life going on, as well as it can, human interaction determined by a distance of 2 meters, as per the state of emergency, but the friendliness overrules all negative feelings about this.
The bars are closed. But some people can’t live without their booze. Not a problem, you buy your bottle and you drink it outside the shop. A man had found that solution and was yelling incomprehensive syllables in the Calheta shopping centre outside the Pingo Doce when we were at the register paying for our groceries. When we all had a laugh about it, we agreed with the cashier that we need more laughter as it will do more good than gloom. After the Pingo Doce, we headed back home but made one more stop at another small supermarket. There was another one that thought the shop could well take over from the bar. Het had bought his bottle and used the outside window sill as a bar stool, happily boozing and smoking as if nothing was the matter. Customers going in and out of the ship left him in peace and the staff couldn’t see him from where they were working. Then a police patrol car drove by slowly and spotted him. I was standing beside the car, as I don’t go into the shop if I don’t have to, to leave my space to others. The patrol car stopped, one of the officers approached the boozing man and told him he can’t be away from home just to booze. He can buy the bottle, but then it’s straight home and drink it there. As the bottle was already open, he was told he could finish it now, but next time, no more boozing in the street. Then, the police officer went inside and told the manager, who was manning the register, that she should check that this would not happen again. When the officer came out of the shop and walked passed me, he greeted me politely before going on his merry way. The manager and we had a good laugh over the whole scene. She pointed out that tears don’t pay the rent.
I mentioned the police officer greeting me for a reason. The other night, we were contacted by a very worried friend. She told us she might have to leave the island, being a foreigner and not a permanent resident. Turned out that a ‘friend’ of hers was the cause. The ‘friend’ had recently returned to the UK and had told our friend she had to leave the island too because she is a foreigner and there is a state of emergency. Time to do some checking. The Portuguese and the Madeiran government have been urging tourists to go home. Which makes sense. Hotels need to be closed, there aren’t enough customers to keep them open, and there is the protection of the staff to think of. But we have our own homes, and as long as we live up to the new rules like anyone else, we are no threat to anyone, nor a burden. On the contrary. Most of us foreigners have an income that doesn’t stop because of the virus, we can keep spending some money in the local shops to help them keep going. Noud did the real checking: if you have paperwork that expires, it is a non-issue at present. You can’t go to the service to renew anything and if you have no resident permit because you only stay up to 6 months, you can’t go and request an extension or apply for residence. The policeman greeting me – and I assure you I don’t look anywhere near Portuguese – is a good indicator. He did not call me on my presence as an obvious foreigner. Besides, they have other priorities.
So why do people keep spreading these rumours? Probably out of spite, jealousy or ignorance. Not a surprise though. I wouldn’t want to be in the UK right now, where people keep stockpiling and behaving selfishly. Nor in the Netherlands where the beaches and National Parks were crowded because people wanted fresh air and did not respect the safety perimeter of 1.5 metres. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere but here right now, at the risk of rubbing it in.
Check and double-check
I would like to urge people to check any news before spreading it. It is bad enough that people are frightened by this damned virus. But there is no need to make it worse by adding to their anxiety with fake news and unchecked information. Yesterday there was an item spread by one of the newspapers telling us a quarantined person had gone out. A lot of furious reactions, until the person in question threatened to sue the newspaper when he was found at home after all. Now that kind of behaviour really is wartime behaviour. Reporting your neighbours and making them a suspect before checking.
Home. And yes, sweet home.
After our eventful shopping tour, we returned home, like good boys. Eventful, yes, if you consider nothing else is happening in these days that feel like lying in between war and peace. Back to the peace and quiet of our lovely home at the end of a silent cul-de-sac. Back to our stunning ocean view that is unaffected by any virus. To the wood stove that is lit at night because it is winter, even here. Back to a glass of wine and good food, that is plentiful here. Back to Midsomer Murders as we tend to skip the gloomy news shows for now. Back to a glimpse of what the world used to be. Back to a glimpse of what the world will be like at some time, hopefully soon. Back to keeping our dreams up and running. Like we all should. Chim-chim, stay at home, and a virtual hug to you all won’t harm.