So the shelves are emptying.
You'll have seen it at your local supermarket. Gaps, where things used to be. A disruption of the usual service. It's disquieting, as consumers we are, perhaps wrongly, used to abundance, to the availability of all things. This carries echoes of those news reports from the end of the Soviet Union. An intimation that all is not as it normally is. The strange, seemingly arbitrary nature of the disappearances hides, to an extent, their cause. That's weird, this week the mayonnaise is missing, this week the cucumbers. McDonald's has run out of milkshakes. Nando's hasn't got any chicken. Each discrete news story a puzzler.
The story, of course, isn't what's missing, it's that things are.
The reasons are various and manifold, but they essentially boil down to Brexit. Yes, you might have a little bit of a Covidian fig-leaf covering our national embarrassment, but the brutal reality is that the haulage industry, the seamless transport of goods, had a giant spanner thrown in the works by our dunderheaded act of national self-mutilation, and the results are starting to become visible.
But only just, it's trickles, intimations, signs and portents, a mild symptom belying a nasty dose of something we caught when we were doing something we shouldn't have. The shit, I would imagine, probably won't properly hit the fan until (drumroll, clap of thunder stage left....)
Yes, yes, I know, I'm really sorry. It's still August, the weather is positively balmy and the kids are blanking out the fact that they have to go back to school next week. But I'm afraid that retail and the supply chains entailed therein are well ionto their Christmas planning. I know Hospitality is, I'm nearly booked solid for Christmas eve already, the menus are in the process of being written.
The reason I mention the C word, is that it seems to be the only time that we as a nation take some of our problems seriously. Remember last year, and the Government tying itself in deadly knots with its insistence that everything would be fine?
It's not a spoiler alert to say that it wasn't. And this bizarre insistence on business as usual yuletide-wise lead to a massive wave in January and February, tens of thousands more deaths and another lockdown, which, ironically enough, wiped out Easter and Mother's Day.
Likewise the current shortage of HGV drivers, a bit of a quirk of the news cycle, nothing to see here, until someone mentions the C-word.
And they will, they already are. Marks ands Spencer are reducing their range, a man from Iceland (the shop, not some random from Reykjavik) was on the radio warning about reduced stock over the festive period. And this is true, and it is a problem, but what I wonder is this:
Why are things only ever a problem because they affect Christmas?
The interviewer was only concerned with whether there would be shortages in December. Much as last year all the tabloids cared about was "Boris saving Christmas" (again, not a spoiler alert: he didn't, did probably knock a sizeable bunch off the pension budget though, so there's that). The entire discussion was framed as problems further down the line, threatening the happiness of children and the fucking Coca Cola ad that people seem to like so much.
The HGV driver shortage is a problem right now. I'm getting stock shortages right now, beers disappear, wines are held up in storage for weeks. And if there's one thing I really, really need to spell out, it's this: there's a lot of British produce in the shops at the minute. It's only a few short weeks until there isn't. Oddly enough, we don't grow much stuff all year round. The haulage industry gets more and more vital as Autumn rolls into Winter.
The Government suggests airily that they hire more British drivers, as if HGV drivers aren't incredibly skilled people who take six months plus to train. They relax the working time directive, some of that fabled Brussels red tape, so what few drivers there are can work longer hours, because that's a safe thing to do and in no way insane.
And we roll merrily on. Because, for some reason, on this totally normal island where everything is totally fine we don't take any notice of problems unless they threaten to "Cancel Christmas". Ho ho ho.