Real life

How I fought the urge to panic-buy – and won

28 March 2020

9:00 AM

28 March 2020

9:00 AM

‘Get me Heygates on the phone! I need that order of pony nuts now, damn it!’ It was like a scene from a disaster movie, only at the country store. The owner’s son was yelling at staff. The car park was a seething mass of battered 4x4s. Men with walkie-talkies were corralling the panicking horse owners.

Inside the main hanger of the store, women in jodhpurs were loading up nuts and chaff like there was no tomorrow. And indeed there would be no tomorrow, for a lot of ponies, if they didn’t stop bulk-buying horse feed.

I heaved on to a trolley my usual sack of oaty mix, happily still in stock, a sack of the store’s own brand pony nuts from a dwindling pile almost at floor level, and a bag of Alfa-A. Over at the dog food, I loaded up one sack of biscuits and two cartons of wet food. ‘I will not panic buy I will not panic buy…’

At the checkout, the normally cheerful manager was ashen-faced. I tried to cheer him up by pointing out that the grass was coming through. Once horse owners’ fields turn green, they won’t be stockpiling feed, surely.

He grimaced. ‘If it rains again we’ve had it.’ I looked at the weather forecast on my phone: sun and rising daytime temperatures for the next week and beyond. If true, this will be one act of God amid the madness.

On the way home, I pulled into Sainsbury’s car park feeling resolute. ‘I will not panic buy I will not panic buy…’

Five minutes later, faced with nothing but empty shelves punctuated by the odd dented tin or ripped packet, I found myself putting tins of strange stuff into my trolley. I guess I picked the right time to lose two stone.

My trolley was only a quarter full when I got to the checkout. Interestingly, there was plenty of soap on the shelves of the otherwise empty toiletry section. So I bought two four-packs. I could have put 100 bars of soap into my trolley. But I didn’t, because I want others to wash too.


I hummed a little tune that occurred to me as I waited in the queue, with apologies to Pete Seeger: ‘Where have all the loo rolls gone, swiped by morons every one, when will they ever learn…’

The lady on the till said if you want meat you have to join the queue outside at 6 a.m. When people get inside, they put their arms inside the chiller cabinets and sweep entire meat sections into their trolleys. It’s a good job they lifted that lefty pigeon-shooting ban. That sort of thinking is starting to look very outdated.

There will be all manner of daft priorities reordered if this goes on, and that will not be a bad thing.

At the filling station outside the village, six pumps were shut. A large white van pulled up at the pump next to me, two men got out and began filling huge containers with petrol.

I tried the Co-op and One Stop, but both were empty of meat. No pasta or flour, obviously. As for loo roll, I was over it. To those who bought it all, I say: I hope you don’t have to eat it.

I texted the builder boyfriend, on a job in south London, who said: ‘Don’t worry, I know where there’s lots of food.’

That night, he returned home with an unmarked plastic bag containing three juicy lamb chops.

‘Didn’t you get anything else?’ He pulled four other items from the bag. ‘Calm down, I got a jar of frankfurters and three avocados.’

‘Well done,’ I said, trying not to be cross. He really is last of the big spenders.

‘By the way, where did you score the lamb chops?’

‘Praise be you-know-who,’ he said, for his new best friend is the man who runs the Sharia store near the job he is working on. ‘There’s lots of food in there. The lefties don’t know they’re allowed in.’ While the BB was buying lamb, someone went in and asked the shop owner if he was allowed to buy his food as he was not one of them.

The shop owner laughed and pointed at the builder b saying: ‘What do you think he is?’

I felt bad for the sheep, all things considered, but it was greatly appreciated.

The next day, I sent the BB off to his roofing job with instructions to buy another portion of meat for our dinner that night. If we continued buying one meal at a time, day by day, we would be all right.

That evening he returned home with a bag containing the smallest chicken I have ever seen. The store, full to bursting with food a day earlier, had been emptied out.

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