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Corner shops are reflecting the best and worst of us in lockdown | Zoe Williams

Heroes and villains of the business world are quite boring: Richard Branson is always the villain; James Timpson is always the hero. We didn’t need a crisis to learn this; any fool could have said it a decade ago. Timpson has been rehabilitating prisoners, fixing them up with employment upon release, actually setting up training workshops in some jails, for years. And Branson has been the man he is, also for years.

Corner shops, however, are less clear cut: I am fascinated by the raw emotion they ignite, and am obsessed with whether or not I will maintain my fierce new loyalties and hatreds once lockdown is lifted, or forget them within a week.

So, there was an everything-and-nothing shop I always felt guilty about, after a small supermarket opened and just sold more, better, cheaper stuff. But since lockdown, they have turned out to be price gougers. Full fiver-for-hand-sanitiser, loo-roll-out-the-back-for-roughly-the-price-of-drugs bad guys, the kind of people who would swap you a jar of jam for an emerald broach in the middle of a siege. About three weeks in, they stopped serving people at all, and would only serve Deliveroo drivers, through a hatch; fags for £25 and whisky for the kind of price that even someone in the grip of delirium tremens should think twice about.

“Are you for real,” I asked, trying to score some Carlsberg through the hatch, “after all the Haribo and Monster Munch I’ve detoured here for, to keep morale up?” “Yes, darling,” they said, deploying this empty endearment as if their hands were tied by the gods of health and safety.

But then there is an establishment with a surprising but very niche butchery counter and a hardware section out the back, known to us as the testicles-and-fuses shop. I never thought I would be able to buy Nutella in there. Nor did I expect much reciprocal loyalty, given how seldom I needed the gonads of a lamb. Oh, mate. They have deeper mines of Nutella than I knew there were in the world, and are like the Euripides of DIY. If I am back on Ocado, eight seconds after normal life resumes, I shall have severely disappointed myself.

Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist


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