It was a routine trip to the supermarket. Trouble was, I was about five days too late. Having refused to succumb to panic, I was instead faced with having my choices substantially limited. The place was eerily quiet. Much as when you go anywhere that has recently experienced something deeply traumatic, everyone looked a little shell-shocked. I’d seen footage of people coming to blows in order to secure a packet of 2-ply but it’d been hard to believe. I’m not sure what this says about us as a nation, but we’re far less prepared for a zombie apocalypse than I’d thought.
There was no rice. Or, at least, there was no ‘traditional’ rice but lots and lots of microwave rice. Clearly, whatever our dystopian future has in store for us, it will not include a microwave. I’ve no idea what has to happen for the nation’s microwaves to all stop working, but some people are obviously picturing a future without electricity and are ready to start preparing their meals over an open fire. Alternatively, rather than ‘survival’ mode, a fair number of people have accidentally gone in to ‘Survivor’ mode, where all they ever do is eat rice and sleep outdoors. It’s a mistake that anyone can make. If a member of your family tells you that you’ve been voted off the island, feel free to correct them.
There was very little pasta. Except for angel hair pasta – which is obviously way too fancy and fiddly for a lock-down situation – and gnocchi. I’m not sure what panic purchasers especially have against gnocchi. Too starchy, perhaps? I can imagine someone standing in the pasta section; cramming spaghetti, penne, fettuccine, rigatoni, macaroni, tagliatelle, linguine and pappardelle into their trolley, but leaving the gnocchi behind for fear of going overboard. Perhaps they feel that pasta is the secret to beating this thing. Forget washing your hands, carb loading is the way to go.
There were no walnuts. For the love of everything I hold sacred, what possessed my fellow citizens to hoard all the walnuts and, in doing so, deprive walnut-lovers such as myself to go without? Clearly, having elected to eat pasta for the next three decades, they’ve decided a Waldorf salad is the perfect side dish. Or, in the event that you do have to self-isolate, there’s never going to be a better time to bake. Perhaps that was the reason there was so little flour left. People want to bake and definitely not make their own gnocchi.
Maybe people are simply looking ahead. The fiscal outlook is nothing if not uncertain and negative growth is a distinct possibility. But as bleak as things may be, there’s always the chance of a baking-led recovery. I, for one, don’t know what the nation’s economy is going to look like when we come out the other side of this thing, but I do know that we’ll be perfectly placed to run a cake stall so large that you’ll be able to see it from space. Sponge cake is recession proof. That’s a fact.
Then I stumbled across what once would have been the toilet paper isle. All that remained was shelving. The only people in the aisle were there to take photos. I’d heard of runs on banks during the Great Depression, but clearly some people are preparing for runs of a completely different kind. The evidence suggests that some folks have drastically misunderstood the symptoms of corona virus.
It goes to show where our priorities lie. Forget bottled water and canned tomatoes – just make sure I can continue to go to the lav in relative comfort and I’m as good as set in the event of a shut-in. Given that the will of the nation has been so clearly been expressed, it’d be foolish not to listen. Indeed, it’s only a matter of time before we ditch the cute looking fauna and crown a packet of Sorbent silky-white 2-ply as our national symbol. In future, political parties will run on platforms that promise an uninterrupted supply of loo rolls. Fringe parties will promise out-house stationery for everyone, regardless of cost. But not everyone is impacted.
My father did National Service back in the 1950s. He often used to tell his children that at Puckapunyal, toilet paper was rationed out at two sheets per man per day. Originally, I had misheard ‘sheet’ and regarded the arrangements as a little on the generous side. Once I realized that the term was, in fact, ‘sheet’, I was mortified. It simply didn’t seem possible. I lived in terror that my father would introduce a similar rule in our house – for there could be no other reason for bringing it up so often – and that my profligate habits on the thunder-box would be exposed. Humiliation would inevitably follow. But it made me realize – my father has been preparing for this moment his entire life. Whilst others are losing their minds with panic, my father can rest assured that a single roll will take him comfortably through to 2025.
These are strange times. Perhaps it’s no surprise that people do whatever they can to prepare for what is, in truth, unprecedented. But if the run on our supermarkets shows anything, it’s that people are ready to take action. Hopefully, that’s something that will hold us all in good stead. Best wishes to all. And bon appetite.