Tuesday 31 March 2020

Coming To Terms With Coronavirus Life

As the lockdown continues I see that a herd of wild Kashmiri goats that normally live on a Welsh mountain have decided to visit Llandudno and seem to be enjoying themselves as well as providing free entertainment for the people watching their antics from inside their houses.

I went shopping on Sunday and noticed that although the main roads are bereft of pedestrians, the side streets are full of them, with a small green that has benches and children's swings being full of people taking in the early spring sunshine.

The main road to the supermarket seemed to have more than its usual amount of traffic for a Sunday, with entrance to the Tesco that was my destination being strictly controlled to keep the numbers shopping manageable. My son had ordered his food online, so all we had to do was collect it from the area reserved for online orders. Getting a slot was easy, so it looks as if the panic is over.

Scottish humour is up and running with this video doing the rounds and providing laughs for all who see it.

That said, not everyone finds it easy to work from home, as this doorman discovered to his cost:

Other people have given up bothering and are slowly but surely trying to get back to normal, especially the self-employed. My gardener texted me two weeks ago to say that he was going into hibernation until the crisis was over, but he has now decided to start mowing lawns again as of this week, so my grass will be cut the week after next.

Life goes on as it has to do.

Saturday 28 March 2020

The Light Nights Are Back: Today Is Feast Day!

Every December I buy two turkey breast joints from Old Mother Tesco. One is eaten at Christmas and the other goes in my freezer for the last day of GMT, which just happens to be today.

So as I write I have that turkey in the oven, the gravy that was bought with it has defrosted overnight and is ready to be heated up and all I need to do is slap the goose-fat covered spuds in the oven when the time is right. They are also in the freezer, naturally.

I have enough decent port for afters that can be enjoyed with the Christmas pud that was bought in January when they went on sale. The custard is out of a can that was kept in the cupboard with all my other supplies.

The light nights are back and we are gonna get through this Chinese Fever thing.

Why You Should Make a Will

The Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister, the Health Secretary and the government's Senior Medical Officer have all come down with the Coronavirus. God knows where it will end, but the death toll is still climbing, so we must assume that we are nowhere near the worst of it yet. So, have you made out your will? I made mine out about three years ago and put the bulk of my savings into one account just to make life easier for my executors. If I can do it so can you, especially now that shit really is hitting the fan. If you don't, then you run the risk of leaving chaos in your wake and I don't believe that any of you want that.

The previous tenant of my housing association flat died in mid-2018. He was only in his late twenties, but it was not unexpected and his health had been poor for many years. I don't know how his estate was managed, but this story is important so that people understand that the Grim Reaper doesn't just visit the elderly: he can tap the shoulder of anyone and at any time. So even if you are a young 'un that is no excuse not to have your affairs in order, especially with this wonderful Chinese import that is going the rounds.

In June of last year, a very good friend of mine died at the relatively early age of 59. His estate should have been simple to manage, being little more than his house, his car, a good collection of books and the household furniture and some limited savings. He also had a good pension and the right to specify to whom he wished it to be paid. Had he bothered to make out a will it would all have been very simple to manage, but he didn't.

I have no idea why, so I take it that he reasoned that he had plenty of time to do everything he wanted in the final years of his life and in his own good time. He wasn't granted that good time, so his widow, from whom he was separated, has probably got it all. The woman he cared for and who he often spoke of bequeathing his pension to will probably have nothing. That is what happens when you put off things until tomorrow and then put them off forever.

Normally, people go to a solicitor to make out a will, but there is a website called Your Will Be Done which I used to create my will, and I reckon that it is ideal especially for simple wills. I paid £25.00 and I can now make whatever changes I want to the will whenever I want.  Luckily, my estate is a very simple one, so I doubt if I will ever want to make changes to the will, copies of which have been given to my two executors. Why did I choose two? Probably because I reckon that executors are like tits and they come better in pairs. Besides, if one of them snuffs it before me then the other should still be upright and mobile to handle my affairs if the need arises before I can appoint a replacement.

At the moment, anyone over 60 can use the Your Will Be Done service free until the Coronavirus crisis had ended. So, you have no excuse, do you?

Wednesday 25 March 2020

The Coronavirus Hits the Postal Service

A parcel arrived for me this morning about an hour before the mail is usually delivered. Chatting to the postman, he told me that the reason was that his depot is sixteen men down owing to dry coughs, high temperatures or both together. The virus has not been confirmed, but the fellows have been told to stay at home, or have made the decision for themselves. So my postie is doing two deliveries a day, hence his early arrival. It seems that we will only get mail on three days a week since the men are just not available to handle the deliveries.

In the afternoon I went to my local post office that is located inside a shop. Only one woman was working with all the other staff either being in their homes or working in other post offices that otherwise would have no staff at all.

The postal workers really are in the front line when it comes to infection risks and if this carries on it is likely that this vitally important service will be reduced to a skeleton operation or even suspended altogether.

Shit is getting real as the Americans say.

How to Prepare for a Future Crisis

Just two years ago, in March 2018, I published A Sensible Prepping Guide. I was inspired to write it in the aftermath of the Beast From The East, the big freeze that left roads blocked with snow and railway lines frozen solid. During those few days, the just in time distribution system broke down completely and the only reason why the shops did not run out of food altogether was that most people could not get out of their houses to panic buy groceries. That said, there were shortages and had the arctic winter lasted longer than a week they would have become as critical as they are right now.

In A Sensible Prepping Guide, I argued that we can no longer rely on the distribution system working in the event of an emergency in the way that it did in the past. I used the example of the Berlin city authorities in April 1945 who distributed froward rations to the people that were to be consumed when their local distribution points were overrun by the Soviet army. They also continued to distribute rations form those points to the shops that then sold them to the people right up until the fighting reached the area concerned. By the end of April the city had more or less fallen, and by the end of May, just one month later, the new Soviet rulers distributed their own ration cards to people and food began to be issued via them.

In Britain, during the terrible winter of 1962/63, the country was pretty much frozen solid from late December to mid-March. Yet, supplies got through because councils employed an army of workmen who could be sent out with shovels to clear just enough of the roads to allow supplies that reached the railway stations to be shipped to the wholesalers and from there to the shops.

What kept Berlin and Britain alive during those terrible times was the redundancy that was built into the respective systems. If one part of the system collapsed, people could be shifted to another part to ensure that supplies got through and we do not have that these days. What we have is a super-sophisticated, computer run distribution system that works perfectly until it doesn't, and when it doesn't people who have not thought ahead start to go hungry.

Funnily enough, the people who may be coming through this crisis better than anyone are the residents of the council estates, that are called council schemes in Scotland. Many of them still do their weekly shopping in the parade of shops that are on their schemes. Just today I saw a family walking home with their shopping. Dad had a massive bag of potatoes over his right shoulder and a shopping bag in his left paw. Mum walked just behind him pushing her wheeled shopping trolley and one of the sons brought up the rear carrying a massive multipack of toilet rolls.

Today is a Wednesday and for many people it is payday. It also a benefits' payout day so shops such as Farmfoods are well stocked in anticipation of the windfall that will come their way on this and every other Wednesday and Thursday. The middle classes who shop online using their credit cards are only dimly aware of the council schemes and are terrified of the schemies who live in them so there is no competition for local groceries in local shops.

The way that the schemies live is the way that everybody used to live and will probably have to start living again. We have now had two near disasters in 2018 and again in 2020 when the distribution system has broken down. The theme that ran through A Sensible Prepping Guide was that we cannot rely on the system to always work and we have to be prepared for life's little vicissitudes.

It makes perfect sense to keep a goodly stock on hand of tinned and dried goods that can be used as part of day to day living and then restocked on a one for one basis as they are used. That way, when the next crisis hits us we will not see people desperately stocking up on anything and everything.

It is not about preparing for the end of days: it is about accepting that the system that we live under is just prone to failure and getting ready to ride out the next failure when it arrives.

Which it will.

Tuesday 24 March 2020

How the Distribution System Broke Down

Why has the distribution system broken down to such an extent that something as basic as a toilet roll is now out of stock? The quick answer is panic buying, and I am sure that panic played a part in all this, but there is still a limit to the number of bog rolls that will fit into a house, to say nothing of the disinclination of normal adults to have many of them taking up space in the average home.

I know that these days you cannot get a chest freezer for love nor money in the UK as the sharp-elbowed middle-class bought them all up at the beginning of this month and then filled their new purchases to the brim with meat. However, red meat was rarely in short supply and even chicken and fish was usually available. You don't put bog rolls and dried pasta in a freezer, so we can discount the owners of the new chest freezers from this.

Clearly, people did stock up in a hurry at the start of the month and are still buying more than they did last month for the simple reason that they are now at home. Last month they went to work and had lunch in a pub or cafe near their place of work. Maybe one night a week they decided not to cook so the family went out to an Indian restaurant or ordered pizza delivery.

Increasingly, many people do not do the old weekly shop at a giant supermarket; instead, they have the week's groceries delivered to their door by a man with a van. The supermarkets know roughly what they will sell in any given month of the year and have their supplies arriving on a daily basis. It's called just in time distribution and it works very well until it doesn't and then chaos ensues.

People buying more than usual hurt the system, but I suspect that a lot of the chaos came about because tens of thousands of young, single people who live in the cities suddenly realised that the distribution system that had served them so well all their adult lives was suddenly not working so they added to the panic.

These are the people who pop into a Tesco Express on their way home from work and buy some food to cook for that evening, with maybe a box of just 40 teabags or a small jar of coffee to go with it. If they buy milk it will be the smallest bottle they can find and sugar will be in a tiny bag. When they buy toilet rolls they tend to go for the pack of two, rather than the multipack of 36. It costs them more money shopping that way, but since they spend so much time outside their rabbit hutch sized flats I suppose they think that the less time they spend indoors the better for their mental health. Anyway, once they realised that their usual small shops were running out of groceries, they went to the big supermarkets and helped them run out of stock as well.

To make matters worse, the supermarkets have to pay a small fortune in business rates so it is no longer in their interests to maintain a large storeroom to keep stock on hand. Far better to use the giant warehouses that all the supermarket chains have and then truck the supplies in as the computer systems say they are needed. 

This brings us back to the just in time system which really does work perfectly until there is an unexpected surge in demand, and then there are just not enough trucks and drivers to keep the distribution system working. Once upon a time drivers could have been paid double-time to carry on working, but thanks to the EU and its regulations, driving hours are restricted. We may be legally free of the EU, but we have agreed to observe its wacky rules until the end of this year. That being so, the Coronavirus arrived just 12 months too early.

In a nutshell, what happened was that a perfectly fine-tuned, ultra-sophisticated system that works on getting supplies to the point of sale just as they are needed, broke down because of a surge in demand that nobody could predict.

The lesson for the future that we should all take from this is that we need to keep supplies on hand in our own homes. That is something that I will discuss in my next posting, so stay tuned for that.

Monday 23 March 2020

Further Proof That Shops are Recovering From the Chaos

The bog roll aisle today at my local Tesco was no longer filled with easter eggs in a desperate attempt to avoid that section of the shop looking so sad and forlorn. True, they are kitchen towels and not actual toilet rolls and not all that many of them, but they will do as bog rolls at a pinch and I suspect that is why people were buying them. 

We also had pasta back for the first time in over a week as you can see in this photo. Most of the supply had been purchased before I got there, hence the empty boxes, but there was still a reasonable supply left and nobody was fighting to get the packs, either. 

Elsewhere in the shop, there was a good stock of chilled pasta, and signs everywhere that supplies are now getting through and their sale rigorously controlled. Tesco is restricting sales to a maximum of three for most items, and the punters seem to be accepting that edict with equanimity, as they should.

All in all, the shop was nearly empty of punters and those who were there were not frantically buying whatever they could grab. There was an air of calmness about the place, helped by the army of new staff who have been taken on and who all seem very nice indeed. The lack of customers meant that the staff were more than happy to chew the fat with me and the general consensus is that the worst is over and that supplies are slowly but surely getting back to normal.

And the sun was shining over Edinburgh today, just to make it all seem very jolly indeed.

Sunday 22 March 2020

Food Supplies are Slowly Returning to Normal

The sun is shining, the birds are singing and the rich produce of the land is slowly returning to normal. OK, the shops are reasonably well-stocked, but I wanted to head this post with the photo of the girl and her nice pair so I had to come up with some reference to the richness of the land to justify it.

My local Tesco is almost back to normal in turns of supplies, and to make sure that it stays that way the shop is restricting some items to a maximum of three. There is still no toilet paper and to make sure that we all know that it won't be coming back any time soon the aisle has been given over to easter eggs. Likewise, pasta is not in stock and neither are most of the tinned goods, but baked beans are back with a vengeance and members of staff told me that the rest should be available this coming week.

On the subject of the staff, a hell of a lot of new people has been taken on and started today. Tesco doesn't have enough uniforms for them, but they are easy to spot as they seem so eager to please.

Many are university graduates who have been laid off and I fell to chatting to two fellows from the University of Edinburgh and it was quite good fun discussing if Edinburgh really counts as an ancient university as it was founded after the Reformation. It does, by the way, according to my interlocutors. They were quite firm on that.

From Tesco, I went to a Lidl and again the place was well-stocked, but lacking bog rolls, UHT milk and most of the tinned goods. Baked beans were in plentiful supply and they were Lidl own brand so cheap as chips.

Funnily enough, as most of the pubs are now shut, the panic buying today involved people of the male persuasion buying large quantities of booze. There are no restrictions on the amount a punter can buy so fellows were filling their trolleys with boxes of whatever tickles their palates. The laws that will force the pubs and clubs to close have not yet been passed by Holyrood so some pubs are open, but people obviously know that they will all be closed this coming week so to avoid the raging thirst, they are getting their supplies in now.

Presumably, then they will turn their houses into pop-up boozers and invite all their mates around which kind of subverts the idea of closing the pubs but never mind.

At least the rest of us can buy food.

Panic Buying Spreads to the USA & Mexico, Continues in London

The Americans are not all that different from us as it is reported that they are also panic buying toilet rolls. Yesterday, 21st March, the land border between the USA and Mexico was closed by the Mexicans which has to be a first of some kind, but until then, Americans had been crossing into Mexico to panic buy bog rolls in that country.

Remaining completely unfazed by all this, my sons in Mexico City told me the other day that Mexicans were buying up bog rolls and taking them to the border to sell to the Americans. That is what I like about Mexico, the knowledge that life is bad and will get a lot worse, so you might as well make an easy peso or two out of whatever shit happens to be flying around. Literally in this case, of course.

Here in the UK, there are regional variations with the madness. You can't get a bog roll in Edinburgh for love nor money, but basic foodstuffs like milk, bread and fresh meat are all available. Elsewhere the situation is very different.

A Facebook friend of mine named Dee tells me that shops in Hereford are stripped bare of everything as soon as it arrives. I looked up Hereford on a map to find out where it is and discovered if anyone cares, that it is about twenty miles north of the M25, so just outside London. It has the M11 to the east and the M1 to the west, so it's probably a dormitory town for London.

Tony in Putney, South London, tells the same story. People buy anything in the shops as soon as it arrives, leaving nothing for the people who were not quick enough off the mark to get in and panic buy.

Why these regional variations exist is anyone's guess. I know that you can't get a chest freezer for love nor money these days so it may be that people in the wealthier parts of the country still have space in their nice, new freezers, and can continue to stockpile. The part of Edinburgh where I live is basically a massive council scheme, so people haven't bought massive freezers and don't have space for vast piles of fresh meats and pasteurised milk. Certainly tinned and dried goods, along with UHT milk and the famous bog rolls are not available, so Edinburgh can't feel too superior to London, tempting though that might be.

Friday 20 March 2020

The Internet Debates a Name for the Coronavirus

Donald Trump was on the right lines when he dubbed the Coronavirus the Chinese Virus, but I reckon that we can come up with something better.

I know that internet lore has it that the first Chinaman to get is was called Ah Choo, and the first to cash in his chips was Fuk Mee, but the internet has not yet decided on a name for the bug. Yellowman Fever is sort of OK, as is Flu Manchu, but the real belter is the one that I heard yesterday and which I think will become the new, internet bestowed, official name for the virus:

Kung Flu!

The Crisis Hits GP Surgeries

The Coronavirus crisis appears to have reached the GP surgeries, at least it has at mine, in Edinburgh. I went in to pick up a prescription on Wednesday and found a rope across the entrance with a bloke stood behind it dishing out prescriptions and giving advice. Mine was not ready and I was told to return the following day.

Come Thursday, the place was shut, and the telephone lines were busy for most of the day. When I did finally get through I was told that the surgery will be closed until further notice, but my prescription could be sent to the chemist of my choice.

Today, as the final icing on the cake, I went to the chemist and was told that my prescription for elastic socks that I wear to help the blood circulation in my lower legs cannot be fulfilled as the socks are ordered from Germany and God knows when they will arrive as that country is in lock-down.

I am sure that by next week the surgery will have figured out some way of opening without running the risk of infecting all and sundry inside with the Coronavirus, but for now, it really is a case that people are being left to their own devices.

Thursday 19 March 2020

The Supply Situation Seems to be Improving

I woke up this morning and discovered that I am almost out of toothpaste, which is kind of embarrassing for a man who not only prides himself on being prepared but who has written a damned book about the topic. So I took myself off to Lidl and was pleasantly surprised to find that the branch had plenty of the stuff.

Nosing around I saw that there was a lot of fresh milk but still no UHT. What little had arrived around noon was quickly grabbed. A bloke told me that they have never run out of the pasteurised stuff, so milk is available, just not the sterilised variety. Pasta is still not in stock, but bread is plentiful and some of the ready meals are starting to return. Meat, fish and chicken are all readily available.

A friend theorised that there had been a run on chest freezers, so the tossers who bought them now had them filled to the brim and do not need to buy any more fresh meats. 

However, panic buying began here at the start of the month, but only for deliveries. That suggests that it was the middle class who were having a funny turn. Lidl do not deliver, so stock was pretty much as normal until last week when their shelves were stripped bare. The funny thing is that the red meat never got sold out anywhere, but the chicken did. There is still no toilet paper, pasta or UHT milk, so folk seem be getting the stuff that does not need to be kept cold. Make of all this what you will.

Wednesday 18 March 2020

Panic Buying Continues at Lidl

To the Lidl in Granton this morning to buy a pack of their very nice burgers. Next to it is a branch of Iceland that has restricted its opening hours from 10.00 am to 6.00 pm, so had a long queue outside at 9.30 am. I am not convinced by this restricting hours lark as it just seems to encourage punters to panic more.

Lidl was busy, but not heaving, probably because the stuff that the silly sods want was out of stock. I got my burgers without any problem and wandered to the tills pausing only to chat to a worker who looked as if he had just come out of a battle. He told me that the day before two full pallets of bog rolls had arrived and had all been sold in 90 minutes. Punters were restricted to one pack each, and he shuddered as he remembered them arriving like vultures to a carcase.

From there to a second-hand warehouse to ask after a bookcase, and then into the Lidl next door to it to have a nosy around. The girl there told me that as soon as the bog rolls, pasta and the like arrive they are sold before the driver can offload all his cargo. One driver had wanted to buy a pack of bog rolls and couldn't as they had all gone by the time his load was delivered. Even the staff can't buy all that they want as there is no set-aside system for staff purchases.

So, the distribution system is working, but people are in full wank mode and buying the same items time and time again.

Sunday 15 March 2020

A Bit of Light Relief from Coronavirus Fears

Say what you like about the Scots, they have their moments. The Prime Minister advised people to wash their hands for at least twenty seconds and recommended signing Happy Birthday as a way of timing yourself. Not to be outdone, this meme is going the rounds in Scotland.

So is this note from a man to his wife. God knows if it is genuine, but it is very funny, and we need a laugh at times like these.

Tuesday 10 March 2020

Panic Buying Hits Edinburgh

The Asda store in Leith, Edinburgh today. The panic has hit and people are buying bog rolls which have now sold out as you can see in my photo. Pasta has also sold out, but everything else was right there on the shelves, including a lot of pasta sauce.

Presumably, people are planning to make bog roll and pasta casseroles, or something. 

Wednesday 4 March 2020

The Chinese Virus Inspired Panic Buying is not General

I enjoy going shopping late at night when the roads are clear and the supermarkets are almost empty. I did a big shop the other night at a Tesco and the shelves were not full by any means. As I reported in my last posting, people are having stuff delivered to their homes, according to a Tesco worker.

Yesterday I went to a Lidl to pick up some milk, and the place was empty in mid-afternoon and all the shelves were fully stocked. Speaking to a worker there - in Spanish of course - I discovered that Lidl sales are actually not all that great. They are not bad, just not what you expect if people are panic buying in large numbers.

Then I realised that Lidl do not do home deliveries and the panickers are trying to avoid leaving their homes.

What I think this means is that a section of the middle class, who can skive off work easily and afford to pay for home deliveries, are sat in their houses shitting their loads. Meanwhile, the people who actually work for a living are going about their normal routines, oblivious to it all.

I have a feeling that this restarting the blog idea may turn out to have been a false alarm as the Chinese virus may turn out to be something and nothing.

Sunday 1 March 2020

What Are We to Make of This Chinese Virus?

I read somewhere that people are buying chest freezers so that they can stock up with more food. I didn't believe that but going to the big Tesco yesterday morning changed my mind.

The place was near empty so I was able to wander around quite happily and even pause for a natter with various workers who I have got to know over the years.

I made a comment about the seeming press overreaction to one worker and she answered that the panic exists, but it involves people buying food for delivery and that the deliverymen are rushed off their feet with enough overtime to keep anyone happy. She then pointed out all the empty spaces on the shelves where frantic staff are filling trolleys to load onto the vans and there are not enough of them to keep the shelves fully stocked. So, the panic is happening, it is just not happening in the stores where regular punters like me can see it.

I still reckon that a well-stocked pantry is enough, along with a wad of dosh in a wallet under the bed. The world is not gonna end, so let's relax.

With that in mind, I can't face the thought of doing a daily commentary on items from the press, but I have decided that the Coronavirus might turn out to be something important so I will restart the blog and comment on the things that I see in Edinburgh.

Just don't expect many commentaries as this could all blow over very quickly.
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