Is ‘Herd Stupidity’ The Greatest Threat We Face?

Approaching the trolley stand at Tesco these days is something not dissimilar to a theatrical recreation of Ken Kesey’s ‘One Flu Over the Cuckoo’s nest’.

As I edged closer towards the trolley stand it became clear, I was going to have to either wait for the eager patrons to sanitize themselves and their trolley of choice, or alternatively perform a cunning socially distanced dance through the growing group of crazed masked creatures, towards a trolley.

I go for the latter option, carefully weaving between the chaos, then with a surprising elegance I grasp a trolley and begin my retreat towards the supermarket entrance.

“Can you please put your mask on, sir?” came the voice.

Looking up, a double-masked gentleman dressed in a high-visibility jacket, and armed with a spray bottle in one hand glares at me.

“I do not have a mask”, I respond.

“You don’t have to wear one?” he inquires.

“Of course I don’t, why would I need to wear a mask?” 

The armed gentleman stutters a little and his trigger finger on the spray bottle seems to grip just a little tighter, “y, y, you are exempt?”.

“Exempt from what exactly?” I say as I cautiously escape range of his sanitizing spray bottle and maneuver myself and trolley into the supermarket.

If there was an answer to this, I did not hear it. I made it in, but my mission was far from complete.

As Tracy Chapman’s ‘Talking about a Revolution’ plays in the background I begin to go through my shopping list.

As I approach the vegetable aisle, I see a commotion breaking out. A short, stout woman in a high-visibility jacket and dark green military looking face mask is telling a couple that one of them must leave the supermarket.

“We are trying to ensure maximum social distancing is possible and therefore must ask one of you to leave” she says. The couple looked like two masked-rabbits caught in the headlights.

After a quick nervous discussion about who should stay and who should retreat back to the carpark, the man of the couple leaves, head down and ashamed. The remaining woman from the once criminal duo speaks up.

“But there are other couples here, why us?” she says.

“We will get to ‘the others’ in due course” the little masked troll assures the woman.

I slip my way between the troll and the remaining criminal to get some more lifeless and equally tasteless tomatoes. They both spot me and step back so to ensure social distancing measures are applied while their eyes never leaving my unmasked face. A look of shear fear and disgust is obvious in both the store troll and the remaining member of the criminal duo.

“Evening Ladies” I say with a smile and head off to continue my journey through the twilight zone.

The ever repeating announcement breaks in over the loudspeaker, cutting out what seems like another taunting classic ‘I want to break Free’ by Queen.

“Here at Tesco we are doing everything we can to ensure our customers and staff remain safe at all times. Please, can we remind you to follow the social distancing guidelines and where a mask, unless you are exempt. Thank you and stay safe”

The music fades back in as Freddie finishes off “…. I want, I want, I want to break

I complete the rest of my shopping and navigate my way to the self-serve.

At the checkout cubicle next to me is a father with his two young children. The little girl was staring at me in absolute wonder through the two layers of perspex that separated us. After a couple minutes she says to her dad, “Daddy, I can see that mans face…..”, she hesitated, “…all of it”.

Her eyes at this point still have not left my face, her father looks down at her and follows her gaze. He ignores his daughters’ acknowledgement and seems to pick up pace.

I make my way back to the car, take the trolley back to the stand where the trolley cleaning chaos continues on, jump in my car and head off back home.

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