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OP-ED: We Brits love a good queue!

  • Published at 06:20 pm October 1st, 2021
Britain plastic packaging

A rumour is enough to get people stockpiling

There are certain statements best avoided by politicians. “The prime minister has every confidence in the secretary of state,” usually issued the day before said secretary of state is sacked.  

Or the philandering MP standing at the front gate of his house: “My wife and family are standing by me during this most difficult of times,” just hours before she and the kids pack their bags and leave him.

Perhaps the most famous utterance of this kind was said by Neville Chamberlain after crisis talks with Adolf Hitler in Munich in 1938: “I have returned from Germany with peace in our time.”   

Less than a year later, World War II broke out.

You would think politicians would learn from these past mistakes. But apparently not.  

This week the British public were told that prices for domestic gas are set to increase dramatically and that there was a national shortage of carbon dioxide (CO2). Most people knew that CO2 was used in the production of fizzy drinks and beer, but few were aware that it was also used to preserve fresh food and used in abattoir to sedate sheep, cattle, and other livestock prior to slaughter.  

It didn’t take long for newspapers and social media commentators to predict that not only would there be no turkeys or cola for Christmas but that people would be freezing to death in their homes because they wouldn’t be able to afford to heat them.  

A government spokesperson tried to reassure us: “Everything is in hand. Please don’t panic.”   

Well of course, that is precisely what people did. Within hours, supermarket shelves were stripped of bottles of lemonade and cans of lager and freezers emptied of chicken and turkeys.

The same message was heard later on in the week in regard to petrol supplies.  

A combination of Brexit and Covid-19 has meant that the country is short of over 100,000 truck and tanker drives. After Britain’s decision to leave the EU, about 20,000 of these drivers returned to their homes in (mostly) eastern Europe. The pandemic has meant that it has been impossible to train and test replacements from the UK.

So on Thursday and Friday, a succession of government ministers appeared on TV and radio comforting the nation and assuring us that there would be no interruption to supply chains and that there were plenty of reserves of petrol at the depots.  

And then those fateful words once again: “So there is no need to panic buy.” Well, that was like a starting pistol to Britain’s motorists who promptly jumped in their cars and headed for the nearest service station to fill up.  

As a result, roads and motorways were blocked for hours as drivers queued for a precious gallon or two of fuel. And to no one’s particular surprise, the petrol pumps soon emptied. No sooner had a tanker of fuel arrived to replenish them, then another queue formed and the whole sorry circle was played out yet again.  

By Saturday evening many service stations across the country were forced to close such was the demand.

I know we Brits love a good queue, but this was ridiculous!  

Over the weekend another rumour started: We were about to run out of toilet paper.  The long lines of anxious, ashen faced shoppers at my local supermarket on Sunday morning, reminded me of Soviet-era Russians queuing for bread or housewives waiting patiently for a slice of bacon during the Blitz.

With Christmas only three months away, there is always some rumour of shortages of one thing or the other. It’s a tabloid headline writer’s annual gift: “No gin for mum or sweeties for the kiddies for Christmas this year.”

Why we have to have everything absolutely perfect for Christmas is a mystery. It’s only one day after all.

What with Brexit, Covid, and the idiots who stockpile anything they think is going to be in short supply, we are in for a joyous old yuletide.

No beer or fizzy pop, no petrol to visit relatives, no festive turkey, no heating, and no toilet paper. Can’t wait!  

Merry Christmas!

Ho Ho Ho! 

Kit Fenwick is a freelance writer and historian.

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