Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday 18 January 2013

"When this storm is over, we'll be in a new ice age."

My nearest town - a worthy modern-day successor to the Newgate described by Dickens in the heading of this blog - offers a variety of supermarkets.

As a rule, I avoid the biggest one; serving two notoriously rough estates, it has an unenviable reputation for violence and shoplifting - and in any case, the Spouse's habit of referring to it as 'the Ugly Bug Ball' means I can't get the tune out of my head for days after a trip there.

So, anyway, to yesterday morning, and a routine trip to one of of its quieter rivals in a nicer part of town; it became obvious as I neared the place, however, that normal rules were not going to apply. The queue to get into the car park stretched out past the traffic lights on the main road, at which point a significant proportion of motorists had decided to make it up as they went along.

Once in the line, there was no backing out - literally. Having fought my way through the melee to a parking space  (a task requiring the eyes of a hawk and nerves of steel), secured one of the few available trolleys and managed to lay hold of the groceries I needed, I made my way home and sat down with a restorative cup of coffee to catch up on the news before work.

Thus it was that, in due course, I found myself looking at the Mail's lead story, and all suddenly became clear: "Don't travel tomorrow" shrieked the headline, "Motorists warned to stay off the road as Britain faces six inches of snow"

The scrum at the supermarket probably included a fair few stampeding Mail readers, all intent on buying the wherewithal to see them through, judging by their trolleys, most of the next ice age. Meanwhile, A K Haart, who had a similar experience in his local Sainsburys, describes frenzied shoppers seizing vast quantities of potatoes and cake, presumably in fear of some kind of appalling carbohydrate crisis.

And, just to compound the problem, recent news of unexpected ingredients in cheap, own-brand burgers seems to have badly frightened the very shoppers most likely to be swayed by the Mail's frenzied predictions and sent them upmarket, making Sainsbury's this week's panic-buying venue of choice.

By yesterday evening, the lead story had changed; the new headline vaunted the results of the Mail's self-fulfilling prophecy in a rather long-winded headline accompanied by appropriate pictures:
Panic buyers strip shelves after Met Office issues blizzard alert for Wales as Britain braces for blanket of up to 12in of snow tomorrow
It's the Holy Grail of sensational journalism; cause the panic, then report in depth on its consequences. Just as Robert Peston's gleeful coverage of queues outside a single branch of Northern Rock sparked the national scramble that catapulted him to reporting stardom, the news story creates the news.

And the Mail is in its element, sending its readers out in their thousands to empty the shelves of the supermarkets rather than their own store cupboards - how many of us really don't have enough food in the house to see us through until the roads are cleared?

Even the more sedate Telegraph is getting in on the act, with live coverage of the '40-hour snowstorm' and an interesting insight into the mind (if you can call it that) of the panic-buyer. In the words of one shop assistant in the impenetrable wilderness of the Home Counties:
"One woman told me that all the TV forecasters and newspapers are predicting the country will be under a foot of snow and all the roads will be blocked by tomorrow.  
She said she decided to rush in and do a massive shop because all her friends were doing it, and if she put it off, there would be nothing left and she wouldn't be able to get here anyway through all the snow."
The rest of Europe must be laughing themselves sick; why do we make such a fuss about a few centimetres of snow? Does it really matter that we might run out of bread or potatoes for a day or so and have to eat rice or pasta from the store cupboard instead? Surely, once upon a time, we would have taken it in our stride; now it's a disaster of epic proportions, requiring suitably dramatic presentation.

Update: latest Mail headline - which nominally applies only to Wales, but when did reason ever stop the impressionable taking fright?
...public warned to stay inside and avoid all travel


  1. Am mystified about all this. During the winter we always have backup supplies in stock. Also our spubs are in a large bag from the farm. Mind you we also have left overs when they are available.

  2. Bloody Hell! I avoid supermarkets at all costs during 'panics' and Christmas. There's always at least two months supply of food in our house though.

  3. Well down here in Sarf Lahden it's all been a bit 'meh' so far . the snow has barely covering the pavements.
    South East trains of course had to cancel 3 of my train today though due to 'Extreme Weather'

    That isn't to say the Co-op wasn't stripped bare last night and people were blocking the road queuing to get into the petrol garage

  4. I was told my local Asda looked like the Battle of the Somme this morning as the first few flakes began to fall, building up towards their eventual depth of 1/2 an inch...

  5. Once in the queue, there was no backing out - literally. Having fought my way to a parking space through the car-park melee (a task requiring the eyes of a hawk and nerves of steel), secured one of the few available trolleys and managed to lay hold of the groceries I needed, I made my way home and sat down with a restorative cup of coffee to catch up on the news before work.

    I'm breathless already.

  6. Demetrius/Bucko, there's a lot to be said for the ability to plan ahead; the no-reserves, 'just in time' system of supermarket supply seems to have been adopted by many households, if the past 36 hours are anything to go by.

    Of course, it could simply mean that people are accustomed to better things and are not prepared to enjoy the traditional winter challenge of creating a meal from a tin of soup, half a pound of lentils and a box of sponge fingers - or, indeed, anything from raw ingredients.

    PC/Julia, what else can you expect of a population that rushed to lay flowers at the gates of Kensington Palace? Mass hysteria takes many forms.

    JH; 'speechless' better describes my state when I got home...

    It's the 'massive shop' aspect that really annoys me; I'm sure some of those people had far more in their trolleys than they could reasonably consume before it went off, and, though they may have been buying for neighbours as well (at least I'd like to think so), it adds insult to injury to know that at least some of the food, rather than being left on the shelf for a later shopper who really needs it, will eventually be thrown away because the shopper has bought too much.

  7. Two weeks ago, we had 30cm over night (About a foot). What happened?

    Well, one stupid bitch decided it was a good idea to brush all the snow off her car on the ROAD side, which made GREAT entertainment watching her try to drive over a, by now 60cm deep snow drift.

    But other than that?

    NOTHING. Bussiness as normal! Same procedure as EVERY year.

  8. FT, you have winter tyres in Germany - not that they are the panacea some claim; nothing is entirely idiot-proof - which presumably meant less likelihood of collateral damage.

    I shudder to think what happens to the other cars in the vicinity when someone does that here.

  9. "FT, you have winter tyres in Germany .."

    One of the amusing things about recent 'Ermagerd! Snowmageddon!!' news clips on tv is the sight of people in 4 wheel drive Audis & Beemers going sideways, with vaguely puzzled looks on their faces. 'How can this be?' they seem to be thinking.

    Then you look at their streer-cred raising low-profile tyres...


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