Working in a Supermarket During Lockdown

by Lucy Parish

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I got the text asking me to come back to work almost straight after I had to leave my university accommodation.

My first shift was mere days after Boris Johnson’s lockdown speech (despite his apprehension to use the word lockdown) and I saw small changes quickly ricochet through the store that I’ve worked at now for almost four years.

I noted that the colossal neon green sign now looms menacingly over the line outside, which trails back further than the naked eye can see. Customers rattle their silver trolleys impatiently, keeping two meters away from the person ahead. I sigh.

A week passes, and flimsy PVC screens go up, forming a barrier between me and the customers. Hastily laminated signs appear on the staff room door letting us know face masks are available in the office if we need them. I don’t take one.

Now as I walk through the store, customers freeze when they see me, standing back to let me pass. It’s abnormal and I can’t help feeling as though I have the plague. I saw two people with gas masks on yesterday, actual gas masks. The flashbacks I got to that Doctor Who episode were rather jarring.

Customers can only buy three of one item per household, but I must admit, denying an old man his fourth Twix bar won’t be a high point of my life. Despite this, my hand hovers steadily over the security button each time someone tries to argue about how much they desperately need four two-litre water bottles rather than three.

It’s been two weeks now, and arrows have been stickered on the floor mapping out the safest route through the store. They’re adhered to for the most part. I’ve stopped counting how many times I’ve been told to ‘keep safe’ and ‘thank you for what you’re doing’ as it was reaching the seventy thousand mark. I hear rumours about colleagues being coughed on, and xenophobic name-calling, and my mind boggles how the culprits have managed to get so far in life.

I keep seeing discarded gloves on the floor and in trolleys outside the store, and it’s proving very difficult to keep my cool.

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Four weeks have passed now, and we’re nearing the end of April. Easter has come and gone and the majority of the chocolate eggs have been reduced to 50p. The line outside is just as long. I miss hugs and talking in person with my nan.

If one more person asks when we’re getting more flour, I might have to quit.

At five and a half weeks, restrictions on items have lifted. Other things are changing too. It seems more people are paying with cash than ever before, with almost every person managing to make contact with my hand as they pass the money over. Someone actually licked their fingers to gain traction on a twenty-pound note before handing it to me yesterday, I couldn’t hide my disgust. The now scuffed arrows stickered on the floor are promptly ignored and are a laughing point when people arrive at my checkout. I don’t laugh with them.

Seeing the same people every week is slowly getting to me, leading me to the realisation that I’ve taken social interaction for granted my entire life.

During the sixth week, my mum offers to pick me up but I politely decline and walk home in the stifling heat. I pass a shirtless man wearing a face mask.

People are no longer moving out of the way when I get close, unless I tell them to. Occasionally I’m put on self-scan (with the machines that protest that there is nothing in the bagging area, when in fact there is), and it’s almost as if we’re not in lockdown. A man actually touched my shoulder as I was swiping my card to approve his alcohol today. I was rendered speechless.

The eighth week is here, or maybe the ninth, the weeks are starting to blur – or perhaps that happened a while ago. Lockdown is beginning to ease or so it seems. I dream about Prezzo, and TikTok.

I also stop social distancing, admitting a sort of defeat. I dart past people down aisles and sidestep trolleys, embracing this new normal.

No one talks about lockdown at work anymore, it’s just there, lurking.

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Lucy Parish is a first year Creative Writing student at Brunel University London. When she’s not working in a supermarket, she loves to read, write, and cuddle her dog.

An Hour A Day Keeps The Blues At Bay – The Rambles of a Wannabe Traveller

by Becca Arlington

It’s day whateverteenth of lockdown and I’m beginning to wish I had written down each small achievement so I remember this significant period of history in the future, instead of just crossing out all of my painstakingly-well-made plans in frustration.

The most exciting part of each day is probably the hour long walk around my little town; discovering more back roads and wooded areas than I ever thought could fit into the sleepy suburb.

Never have I ever spent so much concentrated time with my parents.

Never have I ever struggled so much to get motivated.

And never have I ever felt guilty for not doing enough home workouts, or even more importantly, not buying a puzzle on Amazon Prime.

My sister got six months of Disney Plus so at least I can binge watch childhood favourites and belt out the classics at the top of my lungs. I might be 25, and I might pitifully still live at home, but there’s always Disney.

I hope the novelty of pub quizzing doesn’t wear off once normality resumes, because I’ve probably done about 1,234 online quizzes with friends at this point. At least my small amount of general knowledge will be increasing daily.

Perhaps I should be going on Zoom dates, that would be quite a story for the grandchildren; “we met in the midst of an apocalypse and could only make eye contact through a screen; it was the Romeo and Juliet of our era don’t you know.”

My dad and I got symptoms. He was so lethargic and feverish for at least two weeks and I had some headaches and no sense of smell or taste, but we are the lucky ones and I am so grateful for that.

I feel I should be doing more to help, but deadlines are coming and creeping faster than normal and my Monkey Music children in my online classes won’t monkey around by themselves. As I attempt to teach them virtually, I hope and pray that the dystopian tales that speak of school children only being taught by screen don’t last longer than lockdown.

I made banana bread the other day, so I am now an official quarantine cliché; but it was very tasty, so I have no regrets. This may be my last ever foray into the world of baking now that flour is scarcely seen on shelves, whilst it’s viewed as an essential product for all of us bandwagon-jumping novices.

I think back to the beginning of last year when I was travelling the world and the possibilities seemed endless. How lucky I was that it was a year prior to pandemic. I give myself wanderlust every day as I attempt to finish my very belated scrapbook and travel blogs. What a difference a year makes. It all feels like a distant memory when so much is now an impossibility. Goodness knows when I can tick off the next country on my ever-growing bucket list. At least the world gets greener as humans stay indoors.

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The daily walks are a reminder that nature continues to flourish, and the sunny weather has brought an abundance of wildlife to the forefront of my senses. The flowers smell stronger, the birds tweet louder and I even saw a rat running across my road just yesterday. I think it was a big ‘FU’ to humans. “Ha, I’m not in isolation b****tches.”

But then the rain began in earnest and the hail indicated that the ten plagues may well be coming for all of mankind. The sun seemed a glimmer of hope during such a bewildering time, but it had been snatched away by the grey clouds of impending doom.

Daily walks have now become replaced with short bursts on the Wii Fit and I am naturally baffled that it told me I haven’t lost any weight. Although I did only just have an Indian takeaway, something to look forward to during the repetitive cycles of eat, sleep, repeat. Its warm and inviting boxes were sprayed within an inch of their life with what remained of our nearly-exhausted supply of Dettol, but the food inside brought back memories of my time in India, and, uh-oh, the wanderlust begins again.

To take my mind away from the unforgiving urge to travel, I FaceTime my niece. She might be a six-month old sausage dog, but she understands how to smash through lockdown unperturbed and constantly grateful that her ‘hoomans’ are always around. I note down her top tips and am then informed by my mum that she has signed me up to sing to my road in a lovely little street party. It’s the small things right now, so I don some rainbow clothing and sing about the rainbows to a socially distancing, but very kind audience.

It’s lockdown and it’s strange. I’m up one day and very far down the next, and the world might never be the same again; but I am not alone, and I am one of the fortunate ones. I am trying to hold on to each small moment and remember that this too shall pass.

 

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Becca Arlington is studying for a Master’s in Creative Writing at Brunel University. She works part-time as a music teacher for young children and is currently blogging about her recent six-month trip around 19 countries. You can find her on Twitter at @beccablogs360.

Let’s Have a Think About Toothpaste

by Chloe Perrin

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Let’s have a think about toothpaste.

Why toothpaste, you ask? Well, you exhausted every game and TV series in lockdown week one, you’re sick of social media because all your friends keep trying to make you do exercise and you’ve had enough of allowing the news to encase you in a shell of unending dread.

So, what’s left? Toothpaste, that’s what.

I promise you, the ordinary household toothpaste can be your greatest friend during these trying times of fear and isolation.

Still not convinced? Not a problem! Here’s a list of ten incredible things you can do with your very own tube of toothpaste during the lockdown:

  1. A classic – you can clean your teeth with it! Who needs dentists, eh? Besides, it’s not like you’re going to see one of those anytime soon!
  2. Slather your body in it! If it’s good enough to fix your teeth, it might be good enough to fix you.
  3. Wash it all off your body! It really stings and now you can’t stop crying.
  4. Throw your toothpaste at spiders! The spiders won’t like it. But they also won’t stop you.
  5. Talk to the toothpaste. Ask it how long it’s been since you’ve both seen another human being. Keep asking. Don’t be put off by its silence, ask louder! Demand answers from the toothpaste!
  6. Use the toothpaste to create a protective circle around yourself because the spiders have started to revolt.
  7. Become romantically involved with your toothpaste – briefly, and because you’ve forgotten what normal is.
  8. Show the toothpaste pictures of your favourite dim sum places online and pretend you’re not eating there because you’re too tired and not because the government said no.
  9. Dump the toothpaste because it forgot your birthday.
  10. And this is really important – don’t wonder why you’re doing any of this. You have toothpaste, why would you need anything as distracting as healthy introspection? You know deep in your heart that you can’t risk focusing on anything else right now. Even though your skin hurts, even though everything’s sticky and you’re covered in spiders – even though you’re still crying, and you’re scared and lonely and you miss your family, it doesn’t matter.

If you can focus on your toothpaste, everything will turn out fine.

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Chloe Perrin is a second year Creative Writing student from North Wales. She sees a therapist, and so should you.

Brunel Creative Writing students win 1st Prizes in short story competitions

1st Prize Winner R.V. Maloney. Source: http://www.dorsetfictionaward.co.uk/uploads/1/0/2/0/102049858/published/shortlisteepicture_1.jpg
Dorset Fiction 1st Prize Winner R.V. Maloney

Congratulations to 2nd year Brunel University London Creative Writing student R.V. Maloney, who was awarded  1st place in the international Dorset Fiction competition for her short story ‘The Greater Crested Tern’.

R.V. wrote the story following her weekly Creative Writing coursework prompts. She will be awarded a £500 cash prize, and her story will be featured in Dorset Fiction’s yearly anthology.

The judges said, “Within a thousand words, the story is threaded with blooming motifs and detail which are in turn sewn in to a wonderfully metaphysical piece. The writer uses an interesting range of sometimes obfuscated literary devices, which bed well into the prose. The creative and multilevelled story instantly caught our attention, and continued to blossom in our minds long after reading.”

Check out an interview with the author, and read her award-winning story, at the Dorset Fiction Award website.

Photo Credit: Scarlet Page / Henley Literary Festival
Photo Credit: Scarlet Page / Henley Literary Festival

Joint Honours Games Design and Creative Writing graduate Aimée White was awarded First Prize in the 2017 Dragonfly Tea Short Story Competition.

Aimée’s winning story ‘Generation Lotus’ was written to the contest theme of Journey and was selected by a panel of judges including comedian/writer Helen Lederer, journalist and novelist Paula Cocozza, and Daily Mail Literary Editor Sandra ParsonsAimée’s impressive £1500 1st Prize in the Main contest category was announced at an Awards Ceremony at Henley Literary Festival.

You can view all the 2017 Dragonfly Tea Short Story Competition winners and runners up in the Main and Children’s categories here.

 

Inspiration

Inspiration can strike at any given moment, although it most likely will strike at a really inconvenient time. Unfortunately that’s just how inspiration is. Last term I was just sitting quietly in Starbucks when all of a sudden I had a great idea for a novel and a few characters. For those writers who don’t always carry a journal I highly recommend you do so you can avoid texting yourself the idea.

When you go for looking for inspiration you most likely won’t find it. Inspiration is a tricky little bugger. Fortunately, for the times when we are looking for inspiration, we can easily cultivate it.

  1. Music

The relationship between music and writers is often a fond one. Most writers nowadays have a playlist of music they create for each novel they write. This can be a really useful tool if you want to create a certain mood in your writing. If you still don’t have an idea for next writing piece, flash fiction exercises where you have to write down the first thing that comes to mind when listening to a piece of music can be a great way to get started.

  1. Photography

It is often said that one photograph is worth a thousand words. Photographs can provide you with a certain setting, mood or tone that you potentially could capture in your prose. A few good photography websites worth a look are the Lonely Planet and In-Public.

  1. Experience, experience, experience.

I am a firm believer in ‘write what you know.’ Writing from past or present experiences can provide you with interesting scenes in your prose that are unique to you.  Writing what you know can also make your writing more authentic and believable. This does not only apply to creating events and circumstances in your novel but can also be used to create characters. More often then not, when I am developing characters for my prose I take the traits and personality of my friends and family and mix them to create a realistic and interesting individual.

You can also gain inspiration many different ways but these are just a few to get you started. If you’re still staring at that blank page not ready to dive in at the deep end then try something on this list. You never know, you might just find you’ll be inspired.

Kate McKim.

Motivation, Motivation, Motivation.

It’s cold. It’s raining. It’s miserable. You’re tucked up under a blanket watching Gavin and Stacey. It can be really hard to get up and sit at your laptop for hours writing something, whether it be for your own satisfaction or for university purposes. There’s no one there apart from yourself to push you and lack of motivation can be a real killer, especially when you’ve got a deadline looming and are feeling so snowed under by work, you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Or you might be bursting with ideas, but can’t find a place to begin. Here are some top tips for jumping that first hurdle and settling down to some hard graft.

1. Get up!

It might be tempting to stay under your duvet (especially is a cold house – how expensive is heating??) and say to yourself, “I can do work here”, whilst balancing your laptop on your knees. Whilst that works for some people, it might actually be more beneficial for you to sit at a desk where it feels like you are actually about to do some work, rather than lounging around in bed where it feels like you should be watching a film. Once you’re sat upright, creative juices can flow and you’ll find that you get into a rhythm of typing.

2. Be patient!

It may seem like you will never reach the bottom of that metaphorical pile of work that seems to be towering above you. However, take it one step at a time! If you try to do everything at once, you’ll be going nowhere fast. Sit down and make a list before you even do anything, making sure you know which deadline comes where.

3. Take the pressure off.

It is so difficult to get started on an assignment, or any piece of work, if you’re more focused on pressuring yourself to finish rather than the piece of work itself. Yes, the piece might be due tomorrow and you’ve only just started (we’ve all done it) but panicking about it will only take up more time. Be focused, be chilled out. It WILL get done and it will take as long as it takes. You may just have to sacrifice a little bit of sleep. Somethings gotta give!

4. Try somewhere new.

Okay, so you’ve been sat at your desk for half an hour, staring at a blank word document. Move yourself to somewhere else! It might be just moving to a different part of your room, it might be putting your feet up on the desk. Or it might be leaving your house and taking a trip to the library. Brave the horrible weather and relocate yourself. Different surroundings might spring your brain into action.

5. Wake up earlier.

Lying in until 2pm is bliss, there’s no doubting that. But if you set your alarm for 10am, you’ve got the whole day ahead of you! It gives you more daylight hours (and let’s face it, we’re running low on daylight hours) to get the work done before it gets dark outside and you just want to have dinner and relax.

These tips may seem a little clichéd, but are SO easily forgotten when it comes to the crunch. Sometimes you just have to remind yourself that you DO know what you’re doing and that you need to calm down and get on with it. A little tough love on yourself may be the key.

Hilary Nouwens.