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24 April 2020

Which is your lockdown tribe?

From Wellness Evangelists to Informant Neighbours, we identify the new social groups emerging as the coronavirus shuts Britain down.

By Rhiannon Cosslett

Human evolution has primarily unfolded in small groups, and because of this — especially in times of crisis  we all need a tribe. In lockdown Britain, this anthropologist has noticed several new tribes emerging, all with their own distinct behaviours and characteristics.

Although an exhaustive peer-reviewed study is yet to be conducted, some preliminary field notes may help you to identify them and, if you’re sufficiently observant, even collect a full set.

The news addicts

The news addicts are on their phones from the minute they wake up. By the time they’ve had their morning coffee, they are deeply embedded in a 100-tweet thread comparing global Covid-19 government response statistics, and they want to show it to you.

Phrases such as “flattening the curve” and “viral load” have become part of their daily lexicon and they regularly start sentences with: “I’m not an epidemiologist, but…”

News is their way of coping, a means of making sense of a crisis with no end in sight. Does it matter that other people in their vicinity need to find their own coping strategies, which may not involve tuning in to every daily press conference? Does it occur to them that, for some people, banging on about a lack of government preparedness raises an abject terror, which stays long after the lights have gone out, chest fluttering with anxiety as they confront the possibility of the death of each beloved family member one by one until sleep finally comes, if it comes at all?

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No, it does not.

The denialists

There are two types of denialist. The first group tries to carry on as normal, declaring it “just a bit like flu, really”. They can’t see what all the fuss is about  was it really necessary to shut the hairdressers “just when I was going to get my curls done”? Denialists are always “just popping to big Tesco again for some essentials. Yes I know I’ve already been three times today Ted, but we are out of Nutella”.

The second kind of denialist is simply getting bombed most days so they don’t have to face reality, and when they are sober they are busy Googling “campari + gin free next day delivery” so that they can get bombed all over again tomorrow.

The have-a-go-heroes

They’re in your neighbourhood WhatsApp group, your Nextdoor forum, your street Facebook page. Valerie and Phil are coordinating the local response to Covid-19 and they are absolutely bloody loving it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a worthy cause. They are running the supermarket gauntlet for vulnerable neighbours. They are walking the dogs of the quarantined. They are writing letters to newspapers about this wonderful new “sense of community”. They are asking you passive aggressively if you have volunteered yet (today you managed to brush your hair by 2pm). They are putting on Shakespeare recitals for the whole street.

Valerie and Phil are lovely people, but their adult children are beside themselves because they just will not stay at home. And to boot, their day is so packed that Phil is now having to powerwash the patio at 6am.

The sourdough starters

Faced with a troublesome shortage of yeast, this particular tribe has taken enthusiastically to baking and even more enthusiastically to posting their perfectly crusty results on social media, provoking bread envy in just about everyone, but most especially in their arch nemeses, the sourdough snarkers.

Sourdough snarkers are irritated the apocalypse had to feature so many photographs of loaves of bread, and are convinced that an obsession with sourdough is a sign of imminent emotional collapse in a person.

The war between the two tribes is ongoing and a winner is yet to be declared, but as one side gets to eat bread while the other is forced to watch, we all know who we’d rather be.

The aggressive joggers

The politics of the pavement are alive and well in the Covid-19 lockdown. The self-appointed kings of the concrete are the aggressive joggers, who are either under the mistaken belief that they have full immunity to the disease or that they are so fast they can simply outrun any virus particles floating in their direction.

Are they simply selfish or are they, having entered “the zone”, unaware that other people exist? The jury’s out, but one proven behavioural tic is that they all, universally, have one clear route in their sweaty sights: straight up the middle of the pavement.

What’s useful is that the aggressive jogger is a convenient vessel for all that incoherent rage you’re feeling. They’re part lycra, part therapeutic punchbag.

The wellness evangelist

There’s nothing wrong with the Down Dog app. We’re all just trying to find a little bit of peace, and if you find yours by doing one-handed tree pose to a Sigur Rós soundtrack while your partner bellows on a conference call in the room next door, then fair play to you.

The wellness evangelist is a different breed: not only do they suspect they had Covid-19 “sometime last year” and “managed to fight it off” thanks to the “immune-boosting properties” of their green smoothie, they are now spouting all kinds of bollocks about vitamin C drips, elderberries, mushroom extracts, etc etc. Daddy, what did you do in the Great Pandemic? Well, darling, I used it as an opportunity to flog bee propolis capsules to frightened people. Oh, and to get abs.

The smug gardeners

In this pandemic, two classes of people have emerged: those with gardens, and those without. Those who can claim only a postage-stamp-sized slab of concrete as their outdoor space are forced to watch as their neighbours, not to mention a gazillion social media users, wank on about their peonies and what a “blessing” it has been to have “some outdoor space” (what looks like 30-odd acres of land, a ha-ha, an orangery, and a boating lake, all inherited from Granny).

They may say “we’re so glad to have a garden”, but what they mean is: “We’re so glad we come from the requisite socioeconomic background not to suffer in this pandemic”, as well as “wait until you see our pizza oven”.

The informant neighbours

“I have seen you leaving the house approx. 17 times this week,” the note on your windscreen reads, in the Mean Girl handwriting of someone called Kayleigh from school who used to terrorise the weaker members of the drama club.

The hearts above those i’s are giving you flashbacks  but it isn’t Kayleigh this time, it’s your informant neighbour. She knew there was something iffy about you when you didn’t wear a poppy last year. It’s only a matter of time before she shops you to the feds, or posts a blurry picture of you getting into your Fiat Punto on Facebook, or puts a sign in her window shaming you for “failing to protect the NHS SHAME ON YOU”.

Never mind that you’re a nurse.

The key worker cheerleader

Angels sent from heaven, those key workers. Working every hour god sends to look after us all. You’re clapping for our carers. “I don’t know what we would do without them,” you say. “They’re the backbone of our country.”

“So sad, RIP, crying emoji,” you post under an obituary of an ethnic minority doctor, the white nationalist Facebook group you joined during the EU referendum suddenly silent on your feed (now is not the time for politics).

Someone down the street shouted “Tories out” during the clapping last Thursday. Typical leftie. You only voted for them every election for the last decade because Labour left the economy in such a mess. It’s not like they would have given nurses a pay rise. Keir Starmer wouldn’t be handling his any better. It’s a shame that doctor didn’t have the proper PPE, but it’s a global problem. Boris will sort it all out when he’s back from Chequers.

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