Bandit Crab

After twelve weeks of complete isolation I decided to go to the post office to do some urgent returns. (I actually had to send back some clothes I had ordered and never unboxed. Because who needs clothes in a lockdown? Not I, apparently. Apart from a few special occasions, I’ve almost worn the same two outfits on rotation; the first a dress that looks like a sack, the second a pair of shorts that have taken on the actual shape of my arse, so that when I remove them they stand up proud upon the rug, and an old t-shirt that has holes in the armpits. For chillier moments, both outfits have been worn beneath the world’s ugliest cardigan.)

So I went to the post office, which is buried deep within a village shop so tiny, and so crammed full with shelves and carousels and whatnot, that it’s almost impossible to walk through it without touching anything. Which doesn’t bode well for social distancing compliance. And I have to admit I was concerned about my visit, having heard tales of people completely ignoring all distancing guidelines now that we’re allowed to fire up the BBQ and – er – play golf; what would I be confronted with? In my mind, the world had gone rogue whilst I was locked inside – it would be a Mad Max scenario, with modified sand buggies revving around the country lanes, rams’ horns stuck to the bumpers and post-apocalyptic flesh-eating zombies hanging out of the open windows.

It was fine though. At the start, at least. There was a “queueing system” outside of the shop door, so I casually merged myself into it, trying desperately to look like someone who had been outside of their house before. For some reason my legs didn’t quite work properly – they felt like cotton reels threaded onto pieces of elastic, which I think was nerves, but nevertheless made me look like a newly-born Pinocchio.

Unfortunately, abiding by the two metres rule meant that I had to position myself almost in the middle of the road, for there was no place to stand to the left or right of the queue that was prominent or obvious enough to signal my presence to queue newcomers. Queuecomers. And that’s important, isn’t it? In a country where we are borderline obsessed with queue etiquette, it’s essential that everybody – everybody – knows that you are, in fact, in said queue. This is usually conveyed with a nod and a smile and a small, pointless, forwards or backwards movement, just a very slight one, to draw attention to your presence.

In this case, there was nobody in line after me – yet! – but still, I had to stand my ground. There’s an art to queuing, after all, and one of the finest skills is ensuring that everyone who joins the queue after you knows exactly where you rank. But here was my first testing quandary/moral dilemma: to stand in the road, or risk weakening my queue presence by tucking myself into the nook-in-the-wall where the drainpipe runs down? To lose queue-face, or to be flattened by a DPD van?

The choice is yours!

In the end I opted for a bit of a compromise, darting in and out of the road like a demented badger. It was confusing for the drivers. I had more than one beep. A few motorists tried to wave me across, which meant I had to do the universal sign language for “NO! I’M NOT CROSSING!”

One mimed exchange was so painful that I just gave in and crossed the road, only to almost be hit by a fast-moving bike when I did an about to turn and crossed back again, such was my haste not to lose my earned place in the queue.

I lived to tell the tale, thankfully: it was inside the shop that everything went to pieces. I just didn’t have any experience in this social distancing thing – quite literally no experience at all. I hadn’t built up any etiquette, I hadn’t seen social distancing techniques in action: it was all entirely foreign to me. A new language. And so I entered the shop almost apologetically, creeping in an exaggerated, comedy burglar knee-lift knee-lift toe-point hop! kind of way. Bear in mind I was wearing a silk kerchief as a face mask and eyeshadow on only one eye and that I hadn’t properly arranged my nipples beneath my top so that one was about four inches higher than the other: I was quite the picture.

(Does anyone else now have to arrange their nipples to ensure levelness? It’s a right faff! If I just juggle them into position, you can guarantee that one nip will be far higher than the other, looking like a peanut has been stowed away for safe keeping. Gone are the days when they both just fell into place, like delicately-balanced teardrops.)

So in I went, my tote containing the parcels slung over my back like a swag bag, trying to greet the shopkeeper and post office man with just the joy in my eyes. Difficult to do. And then I got to the counter and it was as though a giant stopper had been removed from my brain, because the talking started. It started and I just couldn’t stop.

“I have some parcel returns! How are you? This is weird isn’t it? What happens to the protective screen once you don’t need it anymore, it would make great secondary glazing hahaha! So how many people a day come in do you think, I just need proof of postage for that one, thankfully they pay for the returns otherwise I’d be bankrupt because I pretty much do all my shopping online now, I expect most people do, which is good in some ways but not great in others. Alexa Chung was in here the other day wasn’t she? Did you serve her or do you know who she is, what is she doing here, everyone says you’re the man to ask because you know all the gossip!”

Honestly. The phrase verbal diarrhoea doesn’t even cover it. It was dysentery. Thank God for the protective screens, that’s all I can say. Even with the perspex barrier in place the shop volunteers (yes, they volunteer to serve morons like me, the mind boggles) were ducking beneath the counter, such was the ferocity of my stream of absolute crap.

“Please pop the parcel on the scales,” said the post office volunteer, which put an end to my impromptu monologue. There was a moment of awkward silence as he printed out the labels and busied himself with sticking them to the jiffy bag but then, scandal, a second customer entered the shop! Ignoring the queueing system and the one-in-one-out rule! They just marched straight up to the counter beside me and plonked down a loaf of bread.

How could I have been prepared for such a flouting of the guidelines? I’d prepared myself so well. Tied a silken scarf around my face like a luxury goods version of Butch Cassidy, queued outside on the road, to my absolute peril, and now – just as casual as you like – I was faced with a potential super-spreader. What’s the protocol for that then?

My parcel-returning finished, I was presented with the challenge of exiting the shop without going closer to the perpetrator than the prescribed two metres. Seeing as though the entire shop is around four metres square, I saw that it was impossible. It was like one of those Mensa puzzles they give to particularly bright children at primary school (just me? Oh lol! Sorry!) where you have to move the pieces about to get the square to the exit. Or something.

Anyway, the woman with the bread wasn’t bothered about distancing herself whatsoever and had started a conversation about deer hounds, so I was forced to plan my escape around her. But then the worst thing of all happened: she decided to use the post office counter! WHERE I WAS ALREADY STANDING!

“Excuse me,” she smiled. “If you’ve finished, I’ll just slide on over.”

Well this was a conundrum. The sliding over part sounded vaguely terrifying, but the bigger problem was where to put my body. I couldn’t very well disappear myself and there was no clear path past the super-sliding spreader – even without social distancing the passing of the two ships would have been tight.

She began her slide. What to do? Crash backwards through the bank of freshly baked goods? Send the Bakewells scattering, the sausage rolls tumbling from their pastry pyramid? Or should I Klinsmann-dive sideways over the tower of eggs and the boxes of potatoes? Neither option was favourable – it was the sort of evasive action you’d take if you were about to be steamrollered by an out of control lorry. Overkill, it could be labelled.

I settled, instead, for panic. I manically sidestepped one way and then the other, waving my hands in the air, looking for all the world like a crab on amphetamines. A bandit crab, complete with face mask, absolutely off its shellfishy tits, dancing to a song only it could hear.

The slider-spreader pressed herself closer to the counter, possibly out of sheer terror and I managed to side-crab my way past the baked goods and out towards the door. Another customer was about to enter, again flagrant disregard for the rules, but backed out with a look of surprise and horror as they saw the human bandit-crab side-lunging towards the exit. One eyeshadow’d, wonky-nipped, neckerchief slipping to reveal a mean, anxious mouth: small children wept, a border terrier whimpered, a man parking his bicycle stealthily hooked his leg back over the saddle and pedalled away to safety.

Haven’t been in to the shops again, obviously. You? How’s your lockdown going?

Photo by Felipe Portella on Unsplash

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  1. Augusta
    July 16, 2020 / 4:34 am

    Hysterical, the best piece I’ve read in a long long time!

  2. Eve
    July 12, 2020 / 4:31 pm

    I am working up the nerve to venture out for the first time. I had thought I’d start small and simple with the village post office, but now that sounds like an accident waiting to happen. You did make me laugh, though.

  3. Anna
    June 18, 2020 / 12:06 pm

    Love all your posts, been following for a very long time and they always make me smile. I read through every comment but nobody else has asked – why did you only have eyeshadow on one eye?!

    • June 19, 2020 / 2:47 pm

      Hahaha, standard I’m afraid. Test stuff and forget I have it on..

  4. June 17, 2020 / 11:34 pm

    This made me laugh so much. Have experience similar things having not been out during this time. I think it’s all tricky being British isn’t it? We’re so used to be overly polite and smiling at everyone, even the blatantly rude people and space hoggers. So happy to help old folk in shops and let people squeeze past you with nothing but a mid level angry / not angry at all glare for them. And now we have to be all those things but equally MAINTAIN 2 METRES. Aka stay the f**k away from me. It’s a tricky balance.

    The smiling with your eyes got me. I have been walking around the 5 places I’ve been in the 12 weeks trying to Tyra Banks Smize. Smile with my eyes. Turns out it’s not as sexy a look as I thought!

  5. Jaya
    June 16, 2020 / 5:57 am

    You write so well! I had the same type of laugh out loud moments as I did when I first read Three Men In a Boat a hundred years ago. I appreciate that, thank you :)

  6. Bern
    June 14, 2020 / 11:49 pm

    Hilarious……..!!!!!!!! In Australia we are relaxing some of the lockdown rules , but still trying to maintain social distancing and strict hygiene rules .. but some of our folk just don’t get it !!! I went to the supermarket , as I was crouching down to find something on the bottom shelf , I felt a hot breath in my left ear say … I’ll just squeeze past you dear ..!!!!! If I had turned an inch I could have kissed her fully on the mouth .. she was about 90 something !!!! I toppled and landed in a sitting position trying to get away .. !!!! It was such a shock .. I’m not sure if it’s the country, lifestyle, age , or what pandemic ???

  7. Ellie Jade
    June 14, 2020 / 6:38 pm

    I was shopping in Asda when this old lady in a mobility scooter shouted across to me, I hastily turned around whilst trying to keep in the right direction of the aisles -which is so confusing when nobody knows which way around the shop they’re supposed to be going- anyway, the lady asked if I could reach to the top shelf for her and grab her one of those ham in a tube things, I couldn’t say no because I’d look like the worst person in the world, but she didn’t reverse so I was practically falling on top of her trying to reach across from a distance on my tiptoes, then when I handed it to her our fingers touched She wasn’t that grateful either which made it worse, she acted like it was almost compulsory for me to assist, ham in a tube is an essential to her clearly… fair to say I couldn’t get out of there quick enough

  8. Michelle
    June 14, 2020 / 10:51 am

    Oh my! This resonates on so, so many levels (including the nipple rearrangements). I’m still sitting on clothing returns. I’m now hoping my teenage daughter has another growth spurt so that some joggers she wanted, but are too long, will soon fit and I’ll be praised for holding on to them and not returning!

  9. Hannah
    June 13, 2020 / 9:21 am

    Oh my goodness, this made me laugh out loud!

    I too have experienced the distancing anxiety – my (very lovely, elderly) neighbour was insistent on showing me the results of her day gardening. She had de-weeded the patio at the front of my house. It was so nice of her – she stepped forwards proudly, I smiled nervously and stepped back. She kept advancing, chatting away the whole time. Torn between the terror of appearing rude and/or ungrateful and the equal terror of being closer than 2m, I gradually backed up. Eventually I was stood with my back to the front door and nowhere to hide.

    Now , she probably thinks I am both ungrateful and immensely odd. A good mornings work!


  10. June 12, 2020 / 1:37 pm

    Exactly the reason why everyone is shopping online in the first place! That this means you have to do the returns though is something I have not yet thought about…

  11. Nanaka
    June 12, 2020 / 1:05 pm

    Brilliant, this was comedy gold again, hahaha :-)

    I can relate though. It felt really strange to venture outside after a long time, but I got used to it quickly again. Cannot escape the masses, since I live in a bigger-ish city center, and people are everywhere! Also, since the government cut some lockdown rules, it sometimes even feels like any other summer… people bustling in parks, out and about… no more bouncers in front of supermarkets (sad though, felt like visiting a fancy club, but returning with groceries)… people basically ditching Corona etiquette. SCARY!

    • June 12, 2020 / 3:14 pm

      They should have had loud music in the supermarket and dimmed the lights, made it into a proper club. Then we could have had our social fix at the same time

  12. Fiona
    June 12, 2020 / 11:12 am

    Thank you, Ruth – so funny! I can envisage it exactly, particularly the queuing etiquette :-)) We’re a little ahead of the UK here in Germany in terms of loosening lockdown rules, but the queuing remains a conundrum – and I still feel the need to give people a telling-off if I see them with a a mask over their mouth … but not their nose. Bah!
    On a completely different topic – because I went through some of your previous posts – how are you getting on with the Elvie? Apparently I not only share your nipple problem but also the leaky bladder – pregnancy can really wreck your body… I have been tempted by Elvie but the reviews are mixed. How did you get on? Perhaps a topic for a new post?

    • June 12, 2020 / 3:15 pm

      I’m still getting to grips with it. LOL. Excuse the pun.

  13. Ali
    June 12, 2020 / 12:27 am

    If someone breaks the 2m rule, just start violently coughing?
    Or is that the equivalent of talking about bombs in the airport? ;)
    Totally agree about the start of agoraphobia….

  14. Ashley
    June 11, 2020 / 9:42 pm

    I am going to think of this the next time this happens to me and hopefully it’ll be a lift! I have taken to doing my grocery runs as early as possible so as to minimize the potential for encountering any slider-spreader behavior. There are just fewer people out at that time and it seems most of them are doing so for the same reasons. But the ones who aren’t are always maskless AND ignoring the one-way aisle signs AND unheeding of the 6 foot distancing guidance. I have developed a sort of hyper-awareness of these people and go into crab mode at the first distant glimpse. Anyway, thanks for the laugh!

  15. Mary
    June 11, 2020 / 9:26 pm

    Hahaha! That was so funny! I love your posts because I can relate to them!! I also ended up in a tiny post office last week tip-toeing through the door, trying to maintain 2 metres apart – totally paranoid! And my nips are always wonky since having two kids..!! (The right one is still pointing down south after ten years!) Also, must say you’re doing a great job with supporting the black community on your Instagram!! Love you lots xxx

  16. Julie Rose
    June 11, 2020 / 9:14 pm

    Dear lovely Ruth.
    Excellent timing of a very funny but very real post. Off to visit daughter @w/end first time out of house for 14 weeks. And I’m glad you went first and I know that to expect…teehee. (shaky knees and deer hounds)
    Oh, and to keep people away and where I feel they jolly well should be, I’ve decided to cough loudly in my arm if necessary!
    That should do it.x

  17. Christiane
    June 11, 2020 / 9:10 pm

    Fantastic. Thank you for your post, it s my favourite right along Topple, Tipple, Grab my Nipple ;) I can remember my first grocery shopping during corona here in Germany: I was sweating and anxious, I still feel aggressive whenever someone doesn´t keep her/his distance or the occasional nose is showing above its face mask (some apparently cant be bothered wearing them properly), but i do enjoy shopping our essentials now. After three months of home schooling three kids i happily face the outside world. And another plus when venturing outside: Whenever i buy a pack of toilet paper these days i feel like a lottery winner – after weeks of looking for toilet paper in vain (it was sold out everywhere) you appreciate the normal things again that you always to for granted. Keep writing hilarious stuff dear bandit crap. Thank you.

    • Christiane
      June 13, 2020 / 10:01 am

      OMG Sorry for misspelling the crab. I m not a native speaker .

  18. Gillian Pidler
    June 11, 2020 / 1:40 pm

    This was so good I had to read it aloud to my daughter, laughing the entire time. You really should write a book Ruth, I’d buy it!!

  19. Jenny Bp;ter
    June 11, 2020 / 1:10 pm

    oh Ruth this is so funny my husband said forward it to me as I was laughing so much, he said after laughing, this was written with intelligence is it the one who throws her kids into the leaf pit, I mention a few ladies I follow so that’s your claim to fame lol, I made a half foray after 12 weeks yesterday to Tesco’s car park to suss out the situation next time I might brave going in, iv’e given up on my nips I need a good supporting bra first that is also comfortable does one even exist, meanwhile they point downwards anyway so I look nipless age and gravity a cruel combination, so not going out has to have some compensation surely :) :)

  20. Lynn
    June 11, 2020 / 10:41 am

    Ha ha. That scene ran like a mini movie in my head while I was reading Ruth. Brilliant! We are all experiencing new things. I’ve noticed that social distancing rage is the new road rage. When we are out walking the new custom is that you dodge to give way for people, which is usually met with a polite “thank you” and vice versa. But on narrow paths or pavements some couples or groups walk ABREAST ( gasp), and not in single file. So as you approach them where are you meant to go? I mean what ARE they doing? Greedy, selfish so and so’s.

    • June 11, 2020 / 1:05 pm

      Haha, the new road rage. Quite. : )

  21. June 11, 2020 / 10:21 am

    I haven’t had such a good laugh in ages! Thank you so much for this. Totally identify with your experience, and those from the comments above. Who knew a simple trip to the shops would become akin to the Krypton Factor. Also think Sarah is spot one – write a book, I’d be second in line to buy it! Love your blog posts and your videos. A ray of sunshine and honesty in an increasingly strange world!

  22. Garland WALTON
    June 11, 2020 / 10:06 am

    One of your best posts yet! You’re such an entertaining writer. I 100% envisioned a skittery crab with a silk scarf below its stalky eyes, waving its (home manicured?) claws around, shuffling erratically. What WAS that woman thinking?!

  23. Katy
    June 11, 2020 / 9:56 am

    Really made me laugh! You’ve encapsulated so much about the weirdness of our current situation in this hilarious scenario xxx

  24. Aliana
    June 11, 2020 / 8:45 am

    Oh yes, Ruth, same here in California, but I am not certain anyone has your witty inner dialogue. People are jumpy. Everyone here is required to wear a mask in public, and people queue up at Trader Joe’s for almost 2 city blocks. No one can enter until someone leaves. Carts are sanitized and someone is at the door to spray your hands with Purell. Purchases are bagged while customer stand 6-8 feet away, until everything is cleared and you are shooed along to pay. Then the money you give to the cashier is treated like it is contaminated: “oh… you have cash.” . Because of all the protests here, Harvard epidemiologists are predicting 100,000 more deaths by September. I am still being careful til mid July to see how it all develops. Strangest times. But grace does come from unexpected places at times.

    • June 11, 2020 / 1:06 pm

      Wow!That sounds full on. Life is strange in 2020. x

  25. Kay
    June 11, 2020 / 8:33 am

    Oh my, I feel your pain. The only time I ever leave the house is to walk the dog and I am obsessive about not walking by others so it is always me that walks out into the middle of the road because clearly they are not going to and don’t see to care how close they get to others. Rant over. I am desperate to go shopping again but also rather terrified of the idea. Currently the shopping is done by my husband (who thinks he can buy anything he wants in the shop and ignores my list!!). One day I will have to go outside my village and into a shop but I still think that is a long way off for me, I am just not brave enough. I do have a hair appointment book for 9th July and that will probably my first venture into society. x

    • June 11, 2020 / 1:07 pm

      I can’t wait to have my hair done! LOL. Priorities.

  26. Ann Callcott
    June 11, 2020 / 8:18 am

    You know, this has happened to me on 3 occasions. You just turn round, look at them from behind your masked face and say loudly “ER, TWO METRES PLEASE!” whilst flicking your hand backwards. The shame, THE SHAME!! . So far the perpetrators have obeyed and I haven’t been stabbed x

    • June 11, 2020 / 1:07 pm

      Ann! Risky business, shaming the rule-breakers! : )

      • Deborah Mercer
        June 11, 2020 / 4:42 pm

        This made me cry with laughter. So much so, that my 9yr old son asked me if I was alright. I haven’t left the house since March. I’m afraid to now. My husband is doing all the click and collects but if he has had to venture to the shops, he says the old people are the worst. Stuffed up your backside with their rollators, like they have a death wish.

  27. June 11, 2020 / 6:41 am

    Thank you for this, it really, properly made me smile. Now you have advanced out of the house on one occasion however, the next stage of the dance is to master the shuffle and eye roll.
    As it sounds, you advance in the 2m blocks laid out on the floor but when you encounter a floor weaver (not a care in the world, reaching willy nilly for the Muller Lights over you), you must back up like a spooked horse and furiously eye roll and grimace with the nearest person witnessing this. They will reciprocate and smile at you. This will now count as your weekly socialising.

  28. Idobel
    June 11, 2020 / 12:04 am

    I haven’t been in a shop since day before lockdown for emergency gin and beer purchase in nearby Tesco Express! Discovered the delight of supermarket delivery service over last 2 and a half months, plus Boots and Superdrug so I don’t think I will be going back soon to the shops any time soon.

  29. Lizzy
    June 10, 2020 / 11:16 pm

    Oh my god, I love your posts at the best of times but I’m crying!! So so funny!! Brilliant! Xxxx

  30. June 10, 2020 / 9:36 pm

    Thank you, Ruth. This was a joy to read and makes me feel like less of a weirdo. My first adventure out was to the grocery store (I ordered online for a couple months) and I felt so awkward and uncomfortable. At one point, a mask-less shopper passed so close to me that I contemplated abandoning my cart and slinking to the exit. Alas, it was my husband’s birthday and I couldn’t return grocery-less.

    • June 10, 2020 / 10:03 pm

      Argh!!!! I’m so confused about the whole situation. I mean we have to be paranoid in shops but then they’re telling me it’s OK for my kids to go back to nursery and school, when they are absolute germ magnets. I’ve never been so confused. Should we be so paranoid? Who knows! Well done for not abandoning the groceries! : )

  31. Sarah
    June 10, 2020 / 8:44 pm

    That’s the funniest thing I’ve read (mentally pictured) in months.
    So thank you for that.

    I also understand the erratic nipple predicament. I’m fairly certain one is about an inch lower and to the right most of the time.

    Write a book crab lady. I’d buy it.

    • June 10, 2020 / 10:03 pm

      Hahaha. Maybe that can be my pseudonym.

  32. Antonia Dailly
    June 10, 2020 / 7:52 pm

    I feel your pain re social distancing (and nipple positioning). I’ve been finding myself freezing with a panic struck look on my face when out for a walk and see two people coming towards me- side by side! Will they change to single file? Do I step off the pavement (into the traffic? cling onto the fence at the other side?) I become completely incapable of movement. The nipple thing is worse at work- when I eventually get a chance to go to the toilet, look in the mirror and realise that not only are they at different heights, but look as though they belong to two different people, and realise why people have been looking at me slightly strangely all day.

    • June 10, 2020 / 10:04 pm

      I mean. Nipple Placement + Distancing = Ultimate Anxiety Situation

  33. Susie
    June 10, 2020 / 6:28 pm

    Oh, this is so spot on! I have been to ONE grocery store exactly six times in the past three months! I had to go to HomeGoods yesterday as I had no gift wrap left (I sell on ebay and wrap all of my packages like gifts), my oven mitts both shredded in the wash and I had no tea. I had no idea what to do! I picked up and set down the most random things (crystal cupcake anyone?) worried about the amount of time I was spending IN the store, tried to follow the arrows on the floor while trying to avoid the Karens who couldn’t care less. I caught myself holding my breath beneath my mask and ended up making the same nonsensical “small talk” (HAH!) to the cashier. I hated it and wanted to shower in bleach when I got home! Is this how agoraphobia starts???

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