RogerBW's Blog

Life in the Plague Weeks 05 April 2020

So we finally got something like precautions being applied, though piecemeal and rather later than would have been sensible.

I cut out non-essential travel after Airecon (and pretty much all my travel is non-essential), and really should have done it before that. My face-to-face role-playing sessions have moved on-line, and that seems to be working well. I haven't been able to persuade as many of my friends as I'd like to use Tabletop Simulator, so I'm doing less boardgaming than I'd prefer.

This early isolation wasn't because I thought I was infected or infectious, but I normally travel to quite a few different groups of people who don't necessarily meet each other very often or at all, and it would have been very easy for me to bring something from one of them to all the others. And I know several people who are at high risk for a bad disease outcome.

I've talked elsewhere about the iniquity of the delay in making formal the closure of businesses, so that their business continuity insurance won't pay out and there will be no compensation from government either (after all, a pub with no customers might just be a terrible pub). The Eastercon committee was told by its hotel that there would be no refunds unless they were forced into it by law – which of course makes perfect sense if your primary business objective is to make money rather than to be liked by your customers, and that's how you get to be a huge hotel chain that nobody likes but they go there anyway because that's where the event is happening. (Fortunately they have now been so forced.)

As for shortages, if I were a scaremongering journalist I'd post this picture, of Lidl where they normally keep the flour:

but this was the shelf on the other side of the same aisle:

I think specific things have been running out because a few people start talking about shortages on social media (truthfully or otherwise), then everyone who reads them stocks up on those things and they really do run out. It's basically Larry Niven's flash crowd idea, only with even stupider people. On 24 March, everywhere had run out of flour except for the odd packet of self-raising, and most places had run out of the cheap eggs (though not the expensive ones). I suspect that by now there will be different things missing.

I've been going out for walks in the woods / farms / golf course behind the house, as I often do when I feel like getting some exercise. Usually this space is entirely deserted except for the occasional golfer. Lately I've been seeing about twenty people in an hour's walk…


  1. Posted by Chris Bell at 12:22pm on 05 April 2020

    Apparently the Eastercon venue is now being turned into an emergency hospital, and the hotel used to house doctors and nurses. For some reason this amused me. (The information may not be correct and I have no idea where it came from, possibly an American posting somewhere about Trump, but it still amused me.)

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 12:26pm on 05 April 2020

    As I understand it the venue was the hotel - the Eastercon isn't big enough to need the NEC's facilities (nor rich enough to afford them).

    The NEC is certainly to be used to provide hospital space: BBC. Nothing there about the hotels surrounding it, though.

  3. Posted by Owen Smith at 12:39pm on 05 April 2020

    Up here in Yorkshire we're still seeing almost no-one when going for a walk. There's a lot of space available to walk in just up the road from my parents house, we could walk all the way to Lancashire over the Pennines and only pass about 6 houses.

    There is going to be a lot of wasted flour we reckon. People who bought the wrong stuff: "what do you mean there's special flour for bread?" one friend said to my mum on the phone. Self raising versus plain, or people that haven't baked for 30 years trying to do it again. Yeast has also run out, so we think it is people thinking they'll bake bread. If you've never made bread it's not simple.

  4. Posted by Gus at 11:20pm on 07 April 2020

    Not least among the small inconveniences - which are often more irksome than the big ones - for some households* will be the Truly Horrible Home-baked Bread being foisted on people who will then be expected to be Grateful for it.

    Since I am venturing no further than the tiny Tesco up the road, I have no way of replenishing my stocks of strong bread flour. Well, I could buy it in positively silly amounts online, I believe, were I to persevere, but I am not that bothered.

    *see also Grim Crafted Items

  5. Posted by RogerBW at 09:45am on 08 April 2020

    A theory in another place is that since it was flour and eggs specifically that vanished in the second wave of shortages everyone's making nasty sponge cake…

    I suspect that the main problem with the huge sack of bread flour is the risk of its turning into a huge sack of weevils.

  6. Posted by Gus at 01:23pm on 08 April 2020

    "a huge sack of weevils"

    How does that compare with the standard can of worms in terms of undesirability?

  7. Posted by RogerBW at 01:28pm on 08 April 2020

    Weevils are a lot more lively.

  8. Posted by Chris at 10:06am on 09 April 2020

    Weevils have been known to land in my keyboard suddenly, presumably falling from the ceiling, whereas worms on the whole have never done this. Also weevils, unlike worms, congregate (and for all I know indulge in community singing) under the doormat into the garden, and behind the washing machine.

    I am now told that one of the reasons for the shortage of bags of flour in the shops is simply that bagging it in small bags has been a problem because they had not laid in vast numbers of extra bags, so the flour mills are concentrating on getting it to the bread factories, to whom it goes in much larger containers. There seems to be no particular shortage of bread that I have heard about.

  9. Posted by RogerBW at 10:28am on 09 April 2020

    There was certainly no shortage of bread in four shops I visited today. Still no flour at all, though, and it looked as if there hadn't been any for some weeks judging by the smeared flour-residue.

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