The second thing I saw after swishing intro Waitrose (the first was a special offer on turnips), was Hoxton Mum. Or rather, Hoxton Mum’s hairline: the rest of her was obscured behind a comically overloaded trolley. I immediately assumed she was having a party to which I wasn’t invited, and decided to ignore her. But she spotted me lurking near the leeks and yelled ‘COOOO-EEEE’ at volume. You could see a few old ladies wondering if they were allowed to hiss ‘shush’ here or only in the library.
‘Hoxie! Wow, that’s a lot of shopping. What you up to this weekend?’
‘Nothing much. Derek’s coming over for my lymphatic drainage massage, but otherwise there’s no point making plans.’
‘Not if it snows, no.’
‘Is it going to?’
‘It might. It’s cold enough. Brrr!’ She did that rubbing arms thing that no-one cold really does. ‘Caught me on the hop last time. Won’t happen again.’
There were eight tubs of star anise in her trolley. Either she was making Vietnamese pho bo for thirty close friends or…
‘Hoxie, are you panic buying?’
‘Certainly not! Keep your voice down. I’m merely laying in a sensible array of provisions should we once again be marooned in our isolated shack for weeks on end.’
I don’t think Lewes Estates would recognise this description of Hoxie’s detached Wallands house, but I could hear the anxiety in her voice. Back in December she’d rung in a flap to tell me that Ocado couldn’t get up their street and how was she going to manage? I gave her my store-cupboard recipes (baked bean surprise; digestive biscuit surprise), but she was clearly shaken by the drying up of her usual supply lines of aduki beans and pomegranate molasses. I wasn’t about to judge her. I was the source of much ridicule in 1999 when instead of dancing to Prince I was obsessively rearranging the jars in my Millennium cupboard and wondering whether twenty-seven tins of tuna was enough to get me through the approaching apocalypse.
Panic-buying is one of those irregular verbs: I am laying in a sensible array of provisions; you are overdoing it somewhat at the checkout; they are panic buying. And indeed, a few people were clocking Hoxie’s trolley, picking up the words ‘snow,’ ‘panic,’ and ‘marooned,’ and exchanging glances with their loved ones.
‘We really should get some dried milk,’ I heard a woman say to her husband, and that seemed to be the signal. Dried milk is a code-phrase from Protect and Survive. Everyone started barging round, snatching things randomly off shelves and arguing politely with other shoppers.
‘Excuse me, I do believe I had the last Camembert.’
‘I don’t think so. Anyway, this Port Salut is just as nice.’
‘No it bloody isn’t.’
I turned to my friend. ‘Oh dear Hoxie, what have you done?’
‘Heavens,’ she gasped, dashing off with her precariously wobbling trolley, ‘I’ve forgotten to lay down some stocks of passata.’
Beth Miller, 2nd February 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com. Photo by Alex Leith.