Sheilagh Matheson takes on the curtain-twitchers as we face Lockdown Week 2.
It’s less than a week into the national lockdown and already the snitches are at work. Curtain twitchers ooze indignation as they report or challenge anyone they think has broken the government guidelines about how to behave during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whatever we call it – naming and shaming, telltales or petty-minded-jumped-up-little-spraggers – snitching is an ugly trait which quickly adds tension to the situation.
Only a week ago, when we were still allowed to play tennis, I was in a doubles match in a tiny village called Riding Mill in the Tyne Valley. The courts are in a discreet spot with loads of space and trees in this middle class haven of large, detached houses and big gardens.
The Lann Tennis Association had sent out guidelines repeating government advice – wash your hands, keep your distance etc – and we tried to stick to them as best we could.
Minutes after leaving the courts, the tennis club chairman received a complaint from Rabid of Riding Mill:
“I observed play for a few minutes and could see that the two metre distancing recommendation was not being adhered to, and people were freely handling the tennis balls exchanged between each other, as well as touching their hair/faces (as is natural when engaging in sport).”
“I am gravely concerned,” the complaint went on, “that this activity could contribute to the spread of Covid-19 virus in our village, and implore you to put a stop to it immediately for the safety of your fellow residents and club members.”
Oozing self-righteousness, it was her “duty” to report this incident to the all powerful Parish Council.
Unfortunately for her, three of the players are on the club committee so Ms Rabid got short shrift. Anyway, half an hour later, Boris Johnson addressed the nation and shut all sports clubs, so no more freely handling balls for a while.
The ruling is irritating, but not half as much as the thought that someone was critically scrutinising us. She could only have spied on us by sneaking over a tiny bridge and lurking behind a tree.
Far more serious is the plight of a cleaner who can’t go into clients’ homes any more. What’s she going to do for an income? A friend with a holiday cottage, now empty and unused, offered her the job of spring cleaning it.
Enjoy Cromer Less
She gratefully accepted, but she sneaks her vacuum into the car under cover of nightfall. She’s fearful of doing it in daylight in case her neighbours think she’s working normally and give her a hard time.
“Enjoy Cromer More” says the Facebook page for the seaside town in Norfolk. Or, perhaps Enjoy Cromer Less, if you happen to be one of the couples publicly denounced on the site for walking along the beach hand in hand.
Pity Sophie, a young mother in Newcastle who lives twenty metres from Jesmond Dene, a long park sinewing through the city. She took her baby and toddler for a little play in the sun, only to be reprimanded by a snitch who had spotted her outside twice in one day. Sophie was still in her dressing gown at 3pm, so the do-gooder probably assumed she was a no-good chav. Sophie was too taken aback to explain that she was a psychiatrist who needed to leave the house for the benefit of everyone’s sanity.
In general, the shutdown is working for three reasons. Fear of catching the virus, social pressure, and the slogan “Stay indoors. Save the NHS.”
Whoever thought that one up played a blinder. I wonder if it was Dominic Cummings? After all, the NHS is the one institution everyone supports. The slogan neatly deflects any other questions about why the NHS was already broken before the pandemic and squarely places the onus of responsibility for how well it functions on us).
Social pressure is very different to snitching. It’s subtle acquiescence and acceptance that whatever we do is for the good of the community. Snitching merely enrages. It’s divisive and makes me feel defiant and determined to do what what the hell I want.
And the first thing I’d like to do is punch the snitcher where it hurts.