A COUPLE OF weekends ago, I went to my local shopping centre instead of our nearby stand-alone supermarket for the weekly groceries.

The last time I was there was three months ago. It was a quick dash around after work picking up a housewarming gift for friends celebrating moving into a lovely new home, some flowers for my mum whom I was popping in to see that weekend, a packet of polypockets for the 16-year-old who was organising and re-organising (that’s my boy) his notes ahead of exam revision starting in earnest.

Then, it was busy and loud, music and the murmur of voices filling the air, and I rushed around, nipping in to one shop and then the next with what, looking back, seems like reckless abandon.

This time, I joined the socially-distanced queue for the supermarket, taking care to stand on the painted footprints.

I chose my recently-sanitised trolley, entered when signalled by a solemn-faced security guard and negotiated the aisles, trying to steer clear of my fellow shoppers, masked men and women for the most part doing their best to steer clear of me too.

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The rest of the mall was eerily, unsettlingly quiet, with most shops still closed at that point. On the pillars and walls, signs advising ‘Stay Safe’ and ‘Keep 2m Apart’ had been painted on, recognition that this virus is not going to disappear overnight.

Not for the first time during this pandemic, I felt overwhelmed by the weirdness of it all, another reminder that life has changed and will not be ‘back to normal’ any time soon.

The sheer effort of trying to do something ordinary in such extraordinary times is exhausting.

After that last shopping trip back in March, everything shut down almost immediately, so the housewarming gift remains undelivered.

I did not see my mum until the restrictions lifted sufficiently to allow a socially-distanced chat in her back garden many weeks later, and news that the exams were cancelled brought revision and polypocket organisation to an abrupt halt.

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As a nation, surveys tell us, our shopping habits have changed because of COVID-19 (and not just because the sales of business suits are down, while purchases of stretchy-waist joggers have sky-rocketed.) We do more online, think more locally, stick to budgets more carefully.

It will be interesting to see if those habits continue in the weeks and months ahead.

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