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.

Nest: A Covid-19 Easter Mini-Saga

by Emma Filtness

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Friday

I sit on the green velvet couch in my third floor flat staring out of the closed door to my Juliet balcony, sweltering in the sky-blue heat, and I’ve got no idea why they call it a balcony when it’s just a door that opens onto fresh air mediated by a grey metal railing overlooking the faded tarmac of a car park and the ugly Tetris-piled red brick of the building next door and I think surely Juliet must’ve had better than this as I clutch a navy can of fly and wasp killer, knuckles white, lid off and in a perpetual “position of readiness,” to quote my secondary school PE teacher, Ms Rugg (I wonder what became of her) during enforced netball training thinking they didn’t teach me this, they didn’t prepare me for this, there wasn’t a class on how to deal with wasps building a nest above the door to an invisible balcony during a pandemic and I’ve been googling all morning, clicking on hit after hit of perfect nightmare material – stalker-lens close-ups of antennae and all those legs and stripes and stingers that can be used again and again unlike bees, I wish they were bees, and pictures of round grey nests that look like paper mâché creations from a hell-dimension, and home-remedies offering wisdom like spray surfaces with peppermint oil or a mixture of clove oil and lemongrass and I haven’t even got a spray-bottle let alone the peppermint oil, only lavender and frankincense for my oil burner but there’s no scientific evidence so I panic-order two kinds of wasp killer with Prime with a dose of extremely short-lived vegetarian guilt and after check-out it tells me they won’t be here for another week as apparently they’re not “essential” and the property management team are not answering their phones as it’s not only a pandemic but a fucking bank holiday and no amount of Easter eggs will ever make this okay.

Saturday

I binge-watch Grey’s Anatomy from the beginning in an attempt to distract myself from the hive. I somehow managed to forget just how amazing Sandra Oh’s hair is, and the rest of her, to be honest, and think I finally need to watch Killing Eve soon. I’d be under the duvet ideally, but it’s too hot what with the door and window closed and the evil little shits keep nosing at the window. When I turn off the lights to sleep, I see tiny flitting shadows everywhere, but I know they are not in my room – they are inside my head. I dream of wasps, obviously.

Sunday

My partner bought me a chocolate egg, a posh one from M&S, but I managed to drop it somewhere between the bag-for-life and the kitchen worktop, and it feels like the perfect metaphor for life this Spring. I eat most of my stoved-in egg anyway and feel sick afterwards.

Monday

Brian from Rentokil called. He’s coming over tomorrow. I eat the last of my egg and a whole bag of Colin the Caterpillars. I’m on Season Two already (which is impressive, even for me).

Tuesday

Brian from Rentokil arrived a whole hour early and I could’ve kissed him, social distancing be damned (relax, I didn’t).

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meDr Emma Filtness is a poet and lecturer in Creative Writing at Brunel University London, currently zine-making and binge-watching her way through the apocalypse. Follow her on Twitter @Em_Filtness and find her poetry project exploring nature and the dark feminine @cultofflora on Instagram.

Brunel Creative Writing MA Students Write, Record and Mix an Album in a Week

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By Alex and Simone Ayling-Moores

The coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone. Whether it’s our collective isolation and restrictions leaving home comforts, or those fears and concerns for both loved ones, and those we’ll never meet: it is a uniquely uncertain time for almost all of us around the globe.

As both musicians and music teachers (and aspiring writers too!) we had the prospect of losing  a big chunk of our income so, instead of twiddling our thumbs, we decided to try and make something positive from all of this.

Thus the challenge to write, record and mix an album, all in one week, was something we set ourselves… and WE DID IT! Pushing through early mornings and very late evenings, the compositions were crafted and recorded with passion (and a lot of persistence!).

It wasn’t easy. But that’s not to say that it wasn’t fun too!

The album, entitled ‘Escapism’, was started on Monday (March 23rd) and was released Sunday (March 29th). It’s an eclectic album, which presents listeners with a smorgasbord of musicality. From dark harmonies, and electronic distortions, to offbeat lyrics and exotic rhythms, the album blends styles and genres to surprise, entertain and delight.

Like its title suggests, we want it to be a space you can escape into for forty minutes or so, and catch a little novelty and intrigue in moments of dismay and doubt.

‘Escapism’ is available for download through the link below for merely a fiver.

Any download or share really is massively appreciated – if we can make up even an hour’s worth of lost earning from this, it will all have been worth it!

https://alexandsim.bandcamp.com

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Don’t miss: Hillingdon Literary Festival

image002When: 7th-9th October 2016

Where: Antonin Artaud Building, Brunel University

What: A FREE weekend of literary performances from over twenty-five bestselling and globally renowned authors with a lively festival atmosphere.

The festival will be home to  vibrant conversations, inspiring readings, book signings, masterclasses and workshops. Some of the author highlights this year include:

Amit Chaudhuri – Celebrated novelist, critic and musician, author of Oysseus Abroad

Samantha Shannon – Internationally bestselling author of The Bone Season series.

Will Self – Professor of Contemporary Thought at Brunel University London; journalist, political commentator, literary critic; author.

Ken Livingstone – Prominent Labour Party member, former Mayor of London, author of Being Red: A Politics for the Future.

Benjamin Zephaniah –World-renowned performance poet, activist and commentator; Professor in Creative Writing at Brunel University London.

Matt Haig – British novelist. His book Reasons to Stay Alive, a memoir about the author’s experience with depression, has been chosen as a World Book Night 2016 book.

Shappi Khorsandi – Author and comedian who has appeared on Channel 4’s Comedy Gala and Sport Relief. Her debut novel is Nina is Not Ok.

This year’s Hillingdon Literary festival also features its first communitysam_1204-768x576 writing competition, with shortlisted entries published in an anthology ‘Writing Local|Thinking Global‘ and an overall winner of £250 to be announced at the event. Several of our Brunel Creative Writers are on the list so come along to support them and read their work!

All events are free, but “Weekend Ticket” reservation via the website is strongly recommended, as tickets are selling out quickly! 

More info & tickets @ www.HillingdonLiteraryFestival.com