It was, of course, the day of the Queen's funeral, and just a few hours earlier the streets had been silent as the nation paid a dignified respect to the much-loved monarch.
In many ways, Monday was a wonderful display of all that is best about Britain. It brought together people from all walks of life, from all backgrounds and all points of view, and focused on what unites us as a nation, rather than what divides us. All the bickering about Brexit, lockdown, and even the monarchy itself, were put on hold for 24 hours as people came together to pay their respects. The day had been declared a bank holiday, bin collections had been suspended for the day. As we watched the funeral on television – at least those of us who were not working – we did so in the knowledge that our neighbours, and indeed virtually every household in the country, were all doing the same. I suspect even Polly Toynbee was watching, on the quiet.
Yet the moment the Queen's coffin was lowered into the Royal Vault, there was a considerable section of society whose first thought was to head down to the supermarket. And, to a bit of embarrassment, I was among them.
The British have a strange relationship with shopping. For years our town centres have been sinking into a near terminal state of decline. Famous names such as Woolworths, British Home Stores, and more recently Debenhams, Burtons and Dorothy Perkins have disappeared from the high street, as the world moves towards the cold, sterile world of online shopping. Yet close the shops for just a few hours, and suddenly everyone goes stir crazy.
There was a time when young families would spend their entire Christmas camped outside furniture stores in freezing temperatures just to save a monkey on a three-piece suite in the Boxing Day sale. And in the days when I had to work Boxing Day in an office about half a mile from the Merry Hill shopping centre, I cannot tell you how infuriating it was to find people who not only felt it their unquestionable right to park on our private car park, but also to climb over our fence right in front of the window to save walking a few extra yards.
My, admittedly weak, excuse for venturing to the one supermarket that was open on Monday evening was that I had forgot to get my strawberries, an essential part of my heart-healthy diet, the previous Saturday. Incompetence on my part, I admit, and I'm not proud of it. But at least it was a quick in-out job to buy one item. Plus a copy of this fine newspaper of course.
I had also pondered whether it would be socially acceptable to mow the grass after the Queen's funeral. That's the trouble with these etiquette guides like Debretts. They're full of advice on how to address guests at dinner parties and what to wear in different situations, but there's nothing at all about cutting the grass an hour or so after the Queen has been laid to rest. In theory, there was no reason why not, but it somehow felt the sort of thing that might raise eyebrows, and it was better to leave it unkempt for another week.
But back to the shopping. The supermarkets had been open as normal all-day Saturday, and for quite a few hours on Sunday. Normal service was resumed on Tuesday, and let's be honest, how many people normally buy their groceries on a Monday evening? One suspects the urge to head for the shops the moment they reopened is not down to any genuine need, but rather a psychological pull where anything that is banned suddenly becomes irresistibly alluring.
Remember when people were warned against panic buying during the pandemic? You couldn't get a toilet roll for love nor money. And when pubs were only allowed to open a couple of hours at lunchtimes, and then from 7-10pm in the evenings, they were packed to the rafters. Now they can open whenever they want, and they're falling like ninepins.
Maybe it shows how the Government has got its healthy-eating strategy all wrong, with it's hectoring campaigns, advertising bans, and sugar taxes. What it should really do is outlaw broccoli. And watch the birth of a burgeoning black market in health foods.