ON TK Maxx’s first day of reopening, the late afternoon queue was modest – only 14 people in front of us, slightly fewer behind. However, knowing the cornucopia of delights through which shoppers would be foraging as they fell on the shelves like pigs upon truffles, we were resigned to a wait.

Slowly we inched closer to the starting line. A woman wobbled out of the store with a trolley piled as high as a knickerbocker glory. Teetering on the top was an assortment of lampshades, one in a striking leopard skin print. Seeing heads swivel, she cried, “There’s nothing left!” and made, laughing, towards her car. It took her quarter of an hour to cram everything in.

I’m not the shopper in my household, but I’m working on it. There’s something impressive about those who, like my husband and his grandmother before him, cannot venture out to the high street without coming home laden with goodies. Two days before the official start of lockdown, he returned downcast from TK Maxx, which had already closed its doors. A last-minute dash to stock up on coffee beans and Italian hand soaps had been thwarted. Fortunately, we had easily enough of these to eke out over 14 weeks.

The recent reopening of non-essential shops feels like Jeeves flinging back Bertie Wooster’s bedroom curtains, flooding us with light and cheer. As a result of this new liberty, we headed on Saturday morning to a nearby bookshop. The place was all ours for half an hour, before a fellow Philip Roth devotee arrived. Apart from safety protocols, it felt like an olde-worlde weekend from 2019, as we hurried out into the downpour, purchases clutched under our jackets.

None of these outings will have rescued the Borders’ economy; we’re hardly the last tycoons. Yet there is a pressing sense of needing to help businesses get back on track, to do something, however small, to oil the wheels as they begin to turn. Already, our nearest town feels busier, as shop-owners turn signs to Open, and prop doors ajar. People are walking with more purpose and enthusiasm compared to their aimless ambling during full lockdown, when March’s window displays stood frozen in time.

I have a friend who works in a bookshop and is back in harness, eager for customers to fill her day. But another chum thinks that, with the exception of the weekly supermarket foray, he might never need enter a physical shop again. Since Easter, Amazon deliveries have been heading his way like homing pigeons, and for the moment he is happy to remain in situ.

Who can blame him? After being so effectively trained to stay behind doors, few of us are comfortable at the thought of being suddenly in the company of strangers. Some have a myopic’s concept of personal space, others suffer from hay fever – at least, I hope that’s what it is – and sniffle and sneeze their way along the aisles.

And yet, unless people are shielding, or have reason to avoid the outside world indefinitely, these are risks that must at some point be run. If financial meltdown is to be averted, and the high street kept alive, we need to reactivate our dormant hunter-gatherer genes. Treading the line between commonsense and natural anxiety is a tightrope, and most of us, particularly if we’re middle-aged or older, are wobbling a little. Remember the high-wire artist, Philippe Petit, crossing between one of the World Trade Centre’s twin towers and the other? And then, as the mist lowered, turning to retrace his steps? My heart was in my mouth just watching him. That image pretty much sums up where we consumers stand right now in relation to the national economy.

Before Covid 19, the biggest global threat was environmental calamity, a danger that has not diminished. Rampant consumerism has been identified as a factor in escalating emissions, be it the airline fuel required to shuttle us half way across the world for a break, or a throwaway culture that results in cess-pits like the Pacific Gyre’s swirling plastic graveyard, or fly-tipping on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. As the picture of a world rampantly out of kilter with nature grew darker and more urgent, the trend towards greater thrift and materialistic minimalism made sense.

We’ve had enough predictions of doom lately. There’s only so much we can take without switching off, numbed by a surfeit misery and dread. Yet the very real prospect of mass unemployment and recession, or another great depression, is surely a more immediate hazard to the nation’s health and security even than climate change. Without a thriving economy, there’s every chance that essential plans to combat a warming planet will be watered down, put on hold, or aborted. In the short term, getting the business world on its feet is essential. There’s a clock ticking over all of us. The small hand is the current fiscal predicament, the big hand our rising seas. Once the population is back in work, and the country’s financial axis steadied, then we can insist that our lieges focus their full attention on the looming planetary danger. Just as individuals will also have to do.

The pandemic has already made many people reassess their lifestyle and priorities, in a way that will indubitably help the planet breathe easier. If you’re looking for silver linings, that’s among the brightest. In the meantime consumers, who have had so little to spend their cash on while cooped up, have been inadvertently saving like Scrooge. Those who don’t have to worry about their livelihood therefore have considerable power to help. That untouched dosh, stashed in virtual bank vaults, is the monetary equivalent of the Arctic icecap. Only, in this instance, we need that glacier to calve, and the gradual trickle-down to flow into shops, restaurants, and all other sorts of commercial ventures, easing the challenging months ahead.

Even those like me, who could happily emulate Worzel Gummidge when pottering around the house, need to discover the joy of new things. Right now it’s not a case of digging for victory but plunging a hand into your pocket. To be sure, there is a time to save. But there is also a time to spend, and that time is now.

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