Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Churchill’s Greatest Fear

If the last four weeks have taught me anything it’s that relying on grocery deliveries seems an easy option but that reliance can, in reality, be anything but straightforward.

After lockdown owing to the c-virus pandemic I was advised to stay home. My husband is unwell with an unrelated condition. But if I’d carried on shopping as I was, in queues, outside and inside the stores, I was risking picking up corona virus. 

Supposing I got sick my husband couldn’t look after me and he’d be very likely to catch it as I have to be his carer - at least in the mornings. Instead of going out and shopping, therefore, I exercise indoors, do the garden and all the cleaning and prep our food.

Three weeks ago Sainsburys sent me an email saying we had priority booking for a delivery slot. That was a huge relief and I duly placed my order. Since then nothing. Absolutely no delivery slots for us for the foreseeable future.  We had another delivery booked with Asda and that was great but Waitrose, Morrisons and Tesco have offered nothing. And now Asda slots have all gone too.

Thankfully I have extremely supportive neighbours who get what we need when they are out shopping but my waking hours seem preoccupied with placing grocery orders, emailing local butchers and greengrocers, waiting for a cheese shop, market stall holder or wholefoods shop to get back me, waiting for a delivery, paying by BACs, ordering from farm shops, finding delivery slots and planning when our next big online shop should be.

I’m sure in the panic buying of a few weeks ago folk must have purchased huge fridge freezers otherwise where could they possibly have stored their bulk purchases? Perhaps they have large kitchens and garages too. We have none of those. We do have two under counter fridges and a mini fridge plus a freezer but no extra storage space. Planning where to store our groceries, ensuring we eat the longest-stored items first and making space for a new order requires a spreadsheet! I have a chart where goods are listed and tallied then crossed out when cooked and used. My greatest fear is running out of, say, milk, Fage Greek yogurt or blueberries, porridge oats, fishcakes and vegetables. The basics.

But then we also need cat food, washing up liquid, bin bags and yes ... loo roll, and that other rarity: flour and yeast. If I can’t go out food has to come to me. If there isn’t an available delivery slot what to do? 

During the second world war Churchill wasn’t as scared of the Luftwaffe, the German army or Rommel as he was of the 
principal strategy of the enemy in the Battle of the Atlantic. The German tactic was to attack shipping bound for Britain to restrict British industry. The nation would be left starving if food didn’t get through, forcing the UK into submission. Foods were mostly imported into the UK and to our allies from the USA and Canada - crossing the Atlantic. 

In 1942 The Combined Food Board was set up by the UK and the USA to help get food to the Allies. Churchill feared enemy U boats more than any other tactic the Germans could use against us. 

I quote from Wikipedia:

As a small island country, the United Kingdom was highly dependent on imported goods. Britain required more than a million tons of imported material per week in order to survive and fight. In essence, the Battle of the Atlantic involved a tonnage war: the Allied struggle to supply Britain and the Axis attempt to stem the flow of merchant shipping that enabled Britain to keep fighting. From 1942 onward the Axis also sought to prevent the build-up of Allied supplies and equipment in the British Isles in preparation for the invasion of occupied Europe. The defeat of the U-boat threat was a prerequisite for pushing back the Axis in Western Europe.

Food or starvation. Victory or defeat. Atlantic convoy or the U-boats. This constant worry was Churchill’s greatest fear.

The securing of food delivery for me, now in 2020, is one of the stresses of the c-virus pandemic. We are lucky enough to live in a large house so that in lockdown we aren’t on top of each other. Our neighbours couldn’t be more helpful, the weather is lovely and we have a large garden to relax in and to work on. We are not cramped, short of money nor space but our little local shop has shut for the month and we can’t just ‘pop out for milk’. And that uncertainty of milk supply is a stressor.

Every meal, food order, space in our fridge, freezer and cupboards has to be planned and noted. Never have so many thoughts of food penetrated my waking hours so deeply. As soon as I find one outlet who will do a delivery any subsequent slots are quickly gobbled up by other hungry households. Then I have to find another store to take my order, my payment, my address and make a delivery    date.

Thankfully we have local butchers, greengrocers, brasserie and pub who are all delivering here. But we can only buy what they offer. It’s not the same as doing your own shopping. 

We won’t go hungry but heaven help you if you have special dietary requirements. Of course it’s quite right that essential workers and the very vulnerable have easy access to groceries. I am fit enough to walk to shops. But I can’t drive, tut, tut, which means shopping daily - more often than our government would like. Am I vulnerable, caught in the middle, over-thinking it or worrying unnecessarily? The lack of Sainsbury delivery slots has shaken me somewhat. The old familiar ways are gone, temporarily at least. 

Adapt and survive. It’s been a changing world since covid-19 made its first attack.

Hunger, weaken then surrender. A war of attrition. That was Churchill’s greatest fear. 

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