COVID19, supermarkets and grace under fire.

Elizabeth G. Boulton, PhD
4 min readJul 31, 2020

It was Friday afternoon, during the 2nd COVID19 lock down in Victoria, Australia. The numbers were still going up so it was decided the State would mask-up from Sunday. The news headlines flashed images of ‘anti-maskers’, social media erupted with commentary, and the population went back into preparation mode. It was now a well-oiled drill. First, head en-masse to the supermarket and stock-up. Second, plan Netflix viewing and house renovations.

With home issues a heightened priority, a major concern for me was that both my cheeky cats had some how wriggled their way out of their collars. They were now strutting about the street, into and out of neighbors yards, completely starkers. Worse, Champ, the 3-year male, was now bell-less. He was such a lethal hunter that, to give native birds a chance, he needed at least 3 bells on his collar.

“Champ”, with his previous 3-bell collar. So cute, but so deadly. He also likes eating margarine.

The supermarket buzzed with the spirit of COVID19 preparations. Toilet paper towers were at the end of every aisle, special display pedestals featured new varieties of hand-sanitizer. It was like Christmas shopping but without a soundtrack. I was in luck, there was a new variety of cat collar that was harder for cats to shake off. I selected yellow, closest to gold for old Prince — to reflect his royalty, and blue for young Champ— to interrupt his black and white urban camouflage fur.

On return home, however, after eating more than “just one Tim Tam” … I realised the blue cat collar was missing. I rang the supermarket, “did I leave it on the counter by chance?” A serious woman answered the call, she sounded a bit like a police officer from “Law and Order.” All details were taken down carefully. You could tell she was analysing the situation already, turning facts over in her head, contemplating the possibilities.

Time of shopping?

Which cash register was it?

Rough amount of spend?

Where did you walk after purchasing the item?

We’ll get right on it, and let you know once we know anything,”

The call ended and the house was quiet, my housemate was out and Prince and Champ stared at me, their fluffy necks defiant. You could tell they were settling in to life without collars — it sure made neck scratches and head pats much more pleasant. I thought of dressing Prince in his new gold attire, but it seemed wrong to do the ceremony before Champ’s collar gear was found. So I got onto the internet instead.

I could only bear the news for 1 minute. COVID, Bushfire inquiry, China, Ghislaine Maxwell, Trump, Arctic melting, coal investment. Twitter was full of indignation. Facebook featured a short video of a pilot crashing-landing a jumbo jet. I headed to You-tube and typed “Aquarius” into the search bar and a whole range of helpful advisers appeared—

“Next weeks’s full moon reveals everything! You’’ll be shocked!”

“Soul mate arrives bearing gifts!”

I clicked immediately, leaning into the screen, to hear more, but then the phone rang. It was Jamie, one of the young school kids who worked at the supermarket who had a squeaky voice.

Hi, we’ve run the CCTV footage, may I ask what you were wearing when you went to the supermarket?

Sure, it was a white and orange stripe jumper, blue tracksuit pants and a cream coloured beanie.

‘Okaaay… Were you also wearing a blue scarf?

Oh! Yes! I was! that was me!

“OK, great, in that case”, he said with relief, “we’ve found out what happened with the cat collar. As you moved the shopping basket onto the counter, it fell out and slipped between the benches onto the ground. You weren’t charged for it or anything.”

I was stunned at the efforts made and thanked him profusely for his detective skills. He was cheerful and happy to help, while we were both pleased that in a world falling apart, one small thing was achieved.

It was the same with the tradies who came around to do quotes. They were flat chat with the lock-down renovation boom, in the centre of the action, but nowadays they seemed to stay longer. It wasn’t just about a quote or a job anymore. It was humans meeting, and meeting with fresh eyes. Slowing down. Small exchanges of good will. Problem-solving together, reflecting on what was going on. People looking each other in the eye.

Friends popped by, “we’ve moved to our block on the coast, we wanna go off-grid, planting fruit trees right now.” Another gal was changing her business model and making webinars, “its all back to community now, that’s how its going.”

Warships steamed across the seas, Northern hemisphere fires burned. Australians flinched knowing their summer wasn’t far off and that now, ‘summer’ meant fire. Government’s flayed about trying to save an era that seemed like a sinking ship.

People saw all this on the news, in their peripheral vision, but didn’t talk about it much. Instead, with delicate cheer, grace and humour, they quietly reassured each other, but without saying so. And they readied themselves for what seemed like the inevitable, but partly welcome, collapse of the old world.

‘Prince’ with his new collar.



Elizabeth G. Boulton, PhD

Researcher in climate emergency responses, the climate-security nexus, threat framing & narratives. Located in Regional Victoria, Australia.