At the weekend I went to Broadway Market in east London for the first time in seven months, because – and you don’t need to know this, but I’m telling you anyway – I became semi-obsessed with some walnut saucisson I saw tagged there on Instagram, and emerged blinking and pale from my hole just to find some. I’m glad I did, because the entire venture felt like a normal-world autumnal thing to be doing: shuffling round a food market in a long coat, holding a slightly overpriced latte someone made with an imported Japanese machine, marvelling at small, aesthetically bred pedigree dogs, looking at a vintage trinket stall and considering if I want to have a copper diving helmet in my house (no): revelling in that gorgeous early Saturday afternoon ritual of slowly deciding that you want a pint.
For a moment I felt normal, and then I gazed out over the crowd and the intrusive thought came back into my head: “Guh, they should all be at home! Covidiots!”
That phrase, GTSABAH! C!, has been in my brain more or less on a loop since April, when the first clench of lockdown loosened just an inch, and people went tentatively to the park, and other people – let’s be honest, snitches – took photos of them there, and tweeted those photos and sent them to the newspapers, which then presented small clusters of people quietly eating a 99 on a park bench in the same way you or I might regard a war crime. Ever since then I’ve been careful not to find myself in too big a crowd out in public, because it only takes one person with a wide-angle lens and there I am, trapped in the same nonchalant, angular pose as Bigfoot in that photo, a super-spreader criminal with a rapidly melting Feast halfway up to his nose, damned online for ever. So mostly, I’ve stayed indoors.
This would be fine if the public didn’t still blame me for, well, coronavirus. As YouGov found this week, the wider public – ie the victims of, and necessarily the spreaders of, coronavirus – predominantly blame each other for the crisis and not – random example – the government that has overseen a succession of calamitous cronyism and policy failures on a thrice-weekly basis since March. Of 1,972 adults surveyed, 53% hold the public (that is: themselves) responsible for the rise in coronavirus cases over the past month, with only 28% pointing their (freshly washed, for 20 seconds or more) finger at the government. Split that data by voting intention, and 78% of Conservative voters blame the public, with only 7% mad at the government. Labour voters went 29% public, 55% government. As for leave voters, 71% said public, 14% government, while remain went for the most balanced split: 42% public, 43% government.
So it’s hard to know, really, who has mucked this up more: is it me, the man who didn’t get a bus for five months and has adopted a hand-washing routine that a panel of reclusive 1920s millionaires has deemed “a bit weird, mate”? Or is it a government that spent a summer posing in Wagamamas instead of developing a working track-and-trace system, lost a substantial amount of public health data due to an Excel oversight that would have got a GCSE IT student held back a year in school, and keeps making up public policy by spinning a glamorous wheel and hoping something good turns up (“How about… three tiers? And the best tier – the best possible scenario, remember – is ‘medium’”)?
Related: The missing item on the UK government’s new menu of Covid rules is trust
It feels pretty critical now: looming on the horizon is the threat of history’s least jolly Christmas, and before we get there we have to scramble through the Tough Mudder terrain of the most paranoid cold and flu season in 100 years, and so far the government’s only big plan is: some places will have a little lockdown; other places (if your mayors agree to it) will have a lot of lockdown. It does feel odd that we are still blaming each other for this mess, after we’ve all spent months together watching the people in charge repeatedly mismanage the crisis, and then make up a new slogan for its latest not-good-enough on-the-fly policy, and then ditch that as well, on and on and on.
Ultimately, it doesn’t affect me so much – I’m just going to spend the winter cutting coin-sized slices of saucisson and eating them with a knife while counting how many times my neighbours leave the house and reporting the data to the police. But it will affect others, who, for example, love and want to see their families. Still, I suppose this is the management we voted for. And when it comes to that, I definitely do blame the public.
• Joel Golby is a writer for the Guardian and Vice