Posh people are mocked for the things they’re supposed to say while queueing at Waitrose, although to me “Sebastian, stop hitting your sister or you won’t get any brioche” sounds like a parody.
I really do believe this example, however, which was allegedly overheard at one of the supermarket’s branches in leafy Surrey: “Our house has its own postcode, it’s really handy for the satnav as it takes us half way up our drive.”
Some of those stockbroker belt homes actually are havens of rural privacy, and there are plenty of similar houses in the north where people live in splendid isolation, probably with their own postcode, and perhaps without worrying too much about coronavirus. Social distancing comes as standard at such properties.
But most of us live almost cheek by jowl in towns, cities and suburbs to be near friends and family and, as estate agents love to say, be close to all amenities. In the post-coronavirus world, though, there is a lot of talk about people relocating from urban to rural areas, motivated by a desire to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the air-infecting, surface-touching masses.
In London one estate agent reports that the number of people getting their homes valued prior to putting them on the market suggests almost four in 10 are considering moving out to the countryside, driven by fear of Covid-19 and a second-wave recurrence of the restrictions that made lockdown life in cities particularly claustrophobic.
I have heard of people in Leeds who are now eyeing up properties deep in the Yorkshire Dales, and the great exodus from London that seemed probable back in April, when the capital was the nation’s coronavirus hotspot, was said to be heading north on the M1 and M6.
But by June the rate of new infections in London had plummeted while in the North West and North East the virus was not only still raging but had yet to reach its peak. Anyone hoping to find a safe bolthole in the Lake District was forced to think again when figures revealed that a small town like Ulverston on the south side of the national park had 24 deaths, while picture postcard villages like Hawkshead and Cartmel had 11 between them. So even for those people who are rich or comfortably off, the inescapable truth this summer is that there is nowhere they can safely escape to in the UK.
For anyone with little or no money there are even fewer options, and that is especially the case for homeless people. You can bet they’re not talking about finding some rural idyll with roses round the door. Their concern is surviving social distancing rules that have adversely affected hostels and refuge shelters and the provision of free meals.
According to government figures, from the start of lockdown more than 90 per cent of rough sleepers were offered hotel accommodation, but what happens when the hotels start eyeing the tourist trade again? With thousands more homeless likely to result from rising unemployment, I fear an unprecedented crisis later this year. If the government can find £1.57 billion to bail out our cultural life after pressure from the great and the good, I hope as many voices will be raised in support of the post-lockdown homeless.