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In many parts of the world consumers bought unusually large amounts of goods in anticipation and fear of coronavirus Image Credit: AP

Coronavirus has got everyone up and running. It’s not the kind of running one might see at a gym on a treadmill, or even on one’s sedate morning jog.

This running is more zigzag. My mate Barney says that’s the way people generally run when they are panicked.

I said I thought that was the way you were meant to run when being chased by an elephant. “Well,” said Barney, “this virus might very well be an elephant, given the stats and the way it’s simply running people down.”

Here’s a list of everything we need. I’ve got to go get the grandkids. You get a trolley and, without any more dilly-dallying


He pauses to remind me that, “Of course you must remember never to run zigzag if being chased by a snake. That’ll just play into the snake’s hands.”

Creating mayhem

A snake with hands? But, naturally, I don’t voice that. I’ve been with Barney long enough to know he has a propensity for mixing or borrowing metaphors without a second’s thought. Barney, meanwhile, gets back to this “elephant” that has succeeded in creating general mayhem in Sydney.

“The government only warned people to be prepared. It didn’t say go out and buy up half the supermarket, for crying out aloud!”

Apparently, his neighbours, the Alfords — dad, mum and four children — have picked up enough stock to last them two whole months. “If you go to the chemist and happen to be looking for hand sanitiser and fail to find any, call on the Alfords.

They’ve commandeered the last two cartons.” Ditto with cereal and tinned stuff. Baked beans, black beans, lentils, chickpeas, sardines. Three meals a day for six people, for two months.

“They’ve worked it all out to the minutest detail,” says Barney. He’s very cross with the Alfords and I suspect it’s because they’ve somehow managed to get the jump on him.

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Got in first. Barney always likes to be ahead of the pack. Never a follower. Now, two things happen after this.

Barney has had his rant, he’s still in a sulky mood, but the coffee is hopefully helping. As luck — or ill luck — would have it, who should walk by not a few minutes later with a cheery “hello” is Mike Alford himself!

It happened quite suddenly. Had he been granted a little time, I think Barney would have dived under the table, in preference to returning the greeting.

Knockout blow

As it stands, he’s not given a chance because Mike gushingly thanks Barney for all his help! Barney, for his part, looks like he’s been dealt a knockout blow by Mike Tyson, not Mike Alford. “What help?” he manages to query, querulously.

It’s like his vocal chords have been lassoed. “Oh, not you in person,” says Mike, “but your wife. She’s an absolute angel!

Had she not sat with us and drawn up all those items on the list — how many meals per person, who’s eating what, how many days etc etc — gee she’s a whizz at math — had she not done that we’d have found ourselves floundering in the face of this oncoming adversity.” And Barney’s pale features somehow manage to turn paler.

Anyhow, Mike, his thanks now expressed, bids everyone — including those not listening — a cheery farewell and heads off on his way. And almost as if this was the staging of a two-act play, right on cue, who should walk around the corner and head straight for our table, but Mrs Barney herself.

Business-like as usual in her stride. Without any preamble, she wades in: “I knew this is where you’d be, watching the hours go by.” She forcefully places a folded slip before him.

“Here’s a list of everything we need. I’ve got to go get the grandkids. You get a trolley and, without any more dilly-dallying go straight and get all that’s on the list. Straightaway.” No zigzagging, she means.

Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.