I was bobbing around on a boat in the Atlantic wondering about our next meal and if we would survive it.
Crossing this mighty ocean in a small boat is one of life’s greatest endurance tests.
Luckily, we weren’t doing that. We were actually trying to rendezvous with a tiny banana-shaped fun boat off Lanzarote. It was due to whizz kids and young parents from our pleasure cruiser on a thrilling spray-soaked spin around a bay. We were on one of those half-day holiday cruises. Part-fun trip for children and part-booze cruise for grown ups.
As the first bunch of banana-boat adventurers pushed off from the side, canny older passengers were setting course for the food and booze queue below deck. As my wife and I joined the line for the hot and cold buffet, we never forgot what happened next – especially as we are in the grip of coronavirus hysteria.
We were about to join the queue when a middle-aged woman emerged from a loo and took her place ahead of us. I’ve never been a fan of buffets unless I am first in line when lids or cling film come off. I can’t bear the thought of people touching or spluttering over the spread before it’s my turn.
So imagine how a man with such a phobia felt when he saw the same woman touch her perspiring head and face repeatedly, and rub her runny nose with her fingers, while squeezing and prodding bread rolls to check their freshness.
We gave the bread and salad a wide berth, but dined on hot chicken instead, washed down with red wine – straight from serving taps in the makeshift galley. We had a very merry time, but it was a reminder that old hygiene habits die hard.
Back in Aberdeen I was strolling along along a main street, breathing in dry cold air – perfect weather for coronavirus. People were scurrying around in the real everyday world in contrast to some politicians and broadcasters who seem to be self-isolating in their own hysterical bubble.
I gazed through a shop window as an assistant propelled a full-throttle sneeze across the counter. No hands, no tissue paper. I wondered what scientific imaging would show: maybe something like a bug-filled meteor shower landing on some hapless customers.
I popped into a big shopping centre for a coffee, but used its public toilet first. You get used to all sorts of sights and sounds in these places, but what was this? I could hear deep rhythmic snoring from one of the cubicles. Whoever was slumbering away blissfully in there went in with various natural skin bugs which we all carry, but probably left with a lot more for company.
I stared at a bus stop with one of those digital screens projecting advertising images. Among them was a Government coronavirus warning about hand washing. It was pleasing to see the slogan “wash as often as you can for 20 seconds” rather than cringy messages better suited to eight-year olds about singing Happy Birthday or the alphabet twice. It was also good to see old-fashioned soap and water being promoted as well as alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
Soap is just as effective if used properly. Don’t those ridiculous hoarders know that they probably need to use half a bottle at a time to cover their hands, fingers and nails properly?
One thing we have learned from this crisis is that we don’t know how to wash our hands properly.
Cheltenham race-goers on TV were dribbling a squirt of hand sanitiser on their fingertips in the mistaken belief it was enough. It’s difficult for the government to overcome ingrained poor hygiene habits and a primeval survival urge to hoard food.
Many experts agree the disease will peak and pass, immunity will grow and a vaccine will come. And who knows, President Trump might be right about warmer weather killing it off, as happens with less dangerous winter flu.
The previous message on that digital screen was selling baked beans. It made me think of hoarding straight away. So off we went to a big Tesco store where, predictably, shelves of hand sanitisers had been picked as clean as vultures dining out on a dead gazelle.
I saw a pensioner staggering out with a jumbo pack of loo roll. And then, alarmingly, I noticed that rows of yoghurt-drink shelves had been stripped bare. Yoghurt drinks? Had I stumbled on a new anti-coronavirus measure? What were panic-buyers doing with yoghurt drinks? Swallowing them or washing their hands in it?
It was neither. I tracked down an assistant, who smiled and confided, “Don’t panic, the fridge has broken that’s all.”
At least we know that if it really was the end of the world and aliens had landed, loo roll would be the first thing to fly off the shelves.
I don’t think we were panic-buying because it seemed like we had done our normal shop. I did notice one thing back at home, though, while unpacking. We had somehow acquired a rather large amount of tea and biscuits.
Very British, don’t you think?
David Knight is the long-serving former deputy editor of the Press and Journal