Can one stockpile a carrot?

According to Sky News – yes, I do occasionally take sneaky-peek at Sky News, when the BBC won’t be looking – there is set to be a revival in Salsify. At Sky News they all professed never to have heard of Salsify, but then they’re all about fifteen and no one of about fifteen has ever heard of anything. I knew the word, and that it was a vegetable of some sort, but had never actually seen one.

On Sky News they showed a picture of Salsify, and one of the fifteen year olds pronounced that it looked like “a carrot with a nervous system”. He presumed that one would need “to shave” all those nobbles and whiskery bits off, in the process of preparation. A lady fifteen-year-old then suggested that he might mean “to peel”, whereupon he replied that he had not done domestic science at school and did not know the jargon. I love all this witty banter: an early morning distraction from cat boxes, washing up and delivery of post office parcels.

I gather Salsify is good for you. I doubt if I will try it, though, as I have a problem with fruit and vegetables that feel unpleasant. Kiwi fruit is good for you too, but I have never been tempted to handle one. Ugh, hairy!

I am becoming quite the social media person, in a second-hand sort of way. According to the BBC news app, a poor young lady (is everybody young?) by the name of Justyna Kowalczyk has been Twitter-stormed or trolled or whatever for revealing (why do people reveal things at all?) that she has started stockpiling in case of a no-deal crashing-out type Brexit in the spring. Personally, I would be only too glad if we could crash out, and only wish we had crashed out a couple of years ago and been done with the Froggie Bounders – we’d have been all sorted and back to normal by now.

The idea is that we may run short of certain things because, in particular, food imports to this country operate on a just-in-time basis. So if there are delays at the border as a result of inadequate, incompetent, incomplete or (as we are beginning to suspect) no preparations at all for the crashing-out scenario – we will find ourselves short of imported food items, and without facilities for storing them in any case.

My thought on this is that, rather than bleating and whingeing and issuing dire warnings to the Government, businesses should long since have set about returning to the sensible system we used to have, where we stored a lot of food, spare parts, medicines or whatever in warehouses, just in case. Now, it appears, there aren’t even any warehouses.

So actually I am with Justyna on stockpiling. I do wonder why, though, she has chosen to stockpile, in her plastic box under the sink – tonic water, French marmalade and extra shampoo. She is terrified that “we may not be able to shop as normal.” Welcome to the club, Justyna. She has obviously never been poor. Or maybe it’s just the airy-fairy foolishness of youth.

I mean, I am not one of these hardcore Preppers, like you have in America. I must admit, though nuclear bombs may rain down on any of us at any moment, or vile pandemics sweep the globe – I think it would be better to find a way to die quickly in those circumstances. I am not a survivor. If the atom bomb was on it’s way, I would hope to be right underneath it when it landed. If a pandemic, I would volunteer as a nurse and hope to catch it quickly.

However, I have in the past “prepped” in a small way each autumn for hard winters. And if you are on your own it makes sense to stock up, because if you were to be snowed in, or go down with the flu, or slip on the ice and break a leg, there would be no one else to go to the supermarket for you. It would be so much easier to have a few cardboard boxes full of tins.

I reviewed my “emergency” list just now, and find that I have put on it stuff like:

  • catfood
  • cat litter
  • porridge
  • tea and coffee
  • powdered milk
  • crackers
  • honey
  • tinned fruit and custard
  • tinned beans, curry, pasta and similar
  • soap
  • pasta
  • rice
  • powdered mashed potato
  • tinned vegetables

I notice some sites are suggesting stockpiling fresh carrots and eggs. How would that work? You only have to look at a carrot and it wilts. And eggs – eggs go sneakily nasty and suddenly – pouff!

The thing is, Justyna, you can live without extra shampoo. One bottle of shampoo, even if you wash your hair every day, will last for ages. Also, soap, or even plain warm water, will work as well; you can live without marmalade, French or otherwise. What might tide you over for a while are the deadly dull things, the basics.

Of course, after the apocalypse (or when spring comes, as I have found before) you are left with boxes of stuff you don’t really want to eat, but then you can be thankful that the apocalypse is over, and skip back to the supermarket to stock up on tonic water, anti-wrinkle cream, gateau and bottles of prosecco. Whatever that is.

What would you stockpile, if disaster was imminent?untitled

All is safely gathered in…

I don’t know how it happens but there comes a day towards the end of every summer when I start getting that “autumn” feeling. Something to do with the weather, no doubt, but also something more subtle in the air, something I’m attuned to.

It’s that feeling that you need to be preparing, gathering in. This week I ordered more “store-cupboard” stores than usual – the sort of thing you horde in a cardboard box in case of power-cuts or getting snowed in – baked beans, peanut butter, rice, soup. Stuff that will last.

I remember the hurricane. I was living in a different village then. Over one long night window-glass flew through the air, roof-slates smashed onto pavements, all the old trees got uprooted and we had three days without electricity. I watched a succession of blue flashes on the horizon as first one electrical item blew up and then another.

I remember how everything instantly fell to pieces in an amusingly British way. Politeness abandoned, in the following days ladies fell to elbowing one another out of the way in the local mini-market for the tins on the bottom shelves – tins they could scarcely read the labels of because there was no lighting (it’s surprising how dark the interior of a shop can be, even in daytime). If it was a tin, they made a determined grab for it. At the till, or what would have been the till if there had been any electricity, a worried teenager attempted to total long columns of figures in pencil on a paper bag, and the ever-lengthening and increasingly-irritated queue trying to help her out with mental arithmetic of their own.

It’s particularly important to have at least some sort of contingency plan, living here. There is one small shop, woefully stocked at any time of year, but even more so when the caravanners have gone; and only one road in or out, which has been known to flood. Apparently, before my time, supplies had to be airlifted in and dumped on the seafront for distribution. I can imagine the free-for-all that would have been.

Important to stock up on cat-food too, because how to explain to twelve cats that feeding time – the highlight of their day – will be postponed for a day or two. I’d probably end up as lunch and even if not, the pester-power of cats greatly exceeds that of infants.

Of course, I may never need to use the contents of the cardboard box, in which case come spring I will be obliged to live on rice, baked beans, peanut butter and soup for weeks on end. I won’t make the mistake of stockpiling those crispbreads as substitutes for bread, though: nothing is more depressing, or more likely to be jettisoned when the snow starts to thaw and the birds start to sing, than a heap of faded crispbread packets.

But how do I know when the gathering-in is due? What makes me think of knitting woolly mittens and getting through all those outdoor jobs while the weather is still fine? Because it is still fine, still intermittently too hot in fact, and there are only a handful of fallen leaves.

I like to think I am hearing echoes of Stone Age instincts, the same thing that cats and birds have – a weather sense, or winter sense. I have often wondered how the first humans managed to survive any winter, let alone an Ice Age. Of course, they would have sheltered in caves, lit fires and huddled around them. They would have added an extra layer of furs and skins, and presumably they would have continued to hunt. Maybe prey would have easier to spot in the snow – but then you’d have to chase things through the snow. And what about the “gathering” bit? Could you have stockpiled? Nuts might keep, but would roots and berries? Perhaps there wouldn’t be any roots and berries. Mammoth, mammoth and yet more mammoth – it would be a terribly restricted diet. Almost as bad as crispbread.

They must have been tougher than us. Here I am slightly apprehensive- not terribly, having grown up without central heating – because my central heating has packed up and I am going to have to “overwinter” with just plug-in radiators; yet earlier today I watched an interview with a young man who loves to sleeps out in all weathers, and without a tent. He wants to be one with nature, he says, and live as the animals do. It’s called wild sleeping. I must admit I was tempted, though I believe wild sleeping is technically illegal in England – not Scotland, for some reason. What must it be like to lie on the ground and watch stars wheeling overhead? How much we have lost.

Since it’s illegal – and I would hate to be wakened from my slumbers by a uniformed bobby at 3 in the morning in the middle of a dark wood – maybe next year I could just sleep out in my own back garden. Surely it wouldn’t be illegal to do that, if I was discreet? Might nervous neighbours mistake me for a vagrant and report me? Might the hedgehog come snuffling blindly along and mountaineer over my prostrate form? Would I hear worms, slithering underground beneath my head? Might that stray ginger tom anoint me as he anoints virtually everything else in my garden, in passing? Would I attract the attention of ants?

Questions well worth pondering in the long, un-centrally-heated months to come.

The lady vanishes

I did try to run away once. I ran away to the Recreation Ground and sat beneath some horse chestnut trees in the rain. From beneath these same chestnut trees, some years later, I was to remove a conker and grow it in a pot for my Brownies gardener’s badge. We measured it with a knitting needle. Basically, I think Mum grew it. I lost interest in things pretty quick.

Anyway, I sat under these horse chestnuts in the rain and a woman came and spoke to me, and then she went away again. And I wondered why Mum hadn’t come looking for me. She must be beside herself by now.

I waited a lot longer. She still didn’t come. It kept on raining. Eventually, being five or six or so, and having no idea what to do next, I went home. There didn’t seem to be much of a reaction one way or another. Didn’t bother to run away again.

Occasionally I have wondered – if I did run away – supposing I’d done something dreadful, or someone had accused me of doing something dreadful although in fact I hadn’t done the dreadful thing – where would I go? Of course, nowadays the disappearing act would have to involve twelve cats. I couldn’t run away and leave them.

I looked up a website – it seems to be full of these really serious men who practice something called prepping. I had been under the impression prepping was for nuclear apocalypse or similar, but these seem to be prepping for all manner of desperate scenarios, including having broken out of prison or having murdered someone, to avoid going into prison.

There’s all sorts of suggestions. I could dye my hair red and shave off my beard, or grow one if I didn’t have one. Both of those are no-no’s. I’m allergic to hair dye and the beard bit, well… testosterone deficit. I could bulk out my face with cotton-wool. Really, it doesn’t need bulking out any more.

(This reminds me of a sales event I perforce attended last Friday during which, as a species of bonding exercise, a man salesperson and a lady salesperson tried to outdo one another in the matter of stuffing their cheeks with marshmallows. The lady salesperson won, if you call looking grotesque and having to vomit soggy marshmallows into a bin sack in front of everyone afterwards winning. The man salesperson didn’t try very hard.)

I should – apparently – ask to stay the night with someone I used to be close to but have rather lost contact with, like an occasional sex partner, who would be unaware of any current… murders or whatever. Close to, Huh! Occasional sex partner, Huh!

One chap was quite specific. He would, he said, travel to Central Bosnia, where he has in-laws. He would go to a place called Gore Turbe, close to Travnik… This is all very well but, didn’t he just tell everyone where to look?

So maybe I ought to keep my secret destination to myself. In any case, it seems to me there’s an easy enough way to be invisible. Travel to a strange town, with your worldly goods in a shopping bag rather than a suitcase. Be over fifty and female. Sit around in a shopping mall or occupy the corner of a park bench. Shuffle anywhere crowded or even anywhere not – down a windswept street, on a station platform – and pause occasionally to shift that heavy bag onto the other shoulder. Sit by the window in a coffee shop, watching the rain and wearing a preoccupied look.

Don’t worry, no one will see you.