Wednesday, 30 December 2009
VAT and salt
There was not one grain of salt on Morrisons' shelves this evening, even though today the temperature touched the friendly side of zero for the first time in at least a week. The glacier outside my house took the opportunity to melt its surface and smooth itself, ready to freeze again tonight. I think there's a postman in there. We'll find out in a thousand years or so.
I've never seen such a run on salt and it's not an unusually cold winter so far. There have been worse ones, and I don't recall any similar salt panic. It did snow last night but it was only half an inch, and there was a little flurry this afternoon that made no detectable difference. Otherwise, it's a normal winter, not too harsh and not too mild. It's cold enough to silence any local global warmers. Those who claimed we'd be growing grapes within the decade are staring into their beer and avoiding eye contact. Others have switched to quoting 'The Day After Tomorrow' as if it's some kind of documentary. Sometimes, people are so scared to be seen as gullible idiots they'll cling to whatever line they've been spun no matter what happens.
There are three possible reasons for the salt rush, as far as I can see. First, there was a time, not so long ago, when councils had memories that spanned a time greater than the date of their last expenses claim. They used to prepare for winter and stock up on rock salt. There's not so much of that any more. Councillors are stunned at the mysterious white stuff that appears every year because their little brains can't recall seeing it before. So people are buying their own salt.
Second, people are lazy selfish bastards these days, on the whole, and the idea of actually digging the snow with a shovel horrifies them. They pour loads of salt on their driveways because they're too idle to do a bit of digging. That certainly seems to be the prevailing attitude here. The pavement outside my house is the only bit that's been cleared so far (although I'm not venturing past the kerb, onto the glacier. The ice is higher than the kerb!). Nobody else has made the attempt, not even on their own paths and drives. They pour salt on the ground and drive their cars over it. In the spring I'll be chuckling at the sprouting rust-bubbles they've planted.
Third, and this is the least likely because it implies an ability to think ahead being far more prevalent in the population than I can believe - perhaps they've noticed that the Salt Police have been flexing their banning muscles lately. This weather is a good excuse to stockpile without anyone noticing. Nah, I don't think there are enough people who'd think that way. Thinking ahead is what they pay the council for, not something they'd do themselves.
I have a few kilos of salt here. I like to dip cholesterol-laden boiled eggs into it. It's far too nice to throw it on the pavements.
There's also the frenetic activity in all the shops. That mystified me for a while. Don't these people have enough stuff yet? There are always hordes of people suckered into buying stuff they don't need just because it's half price. Every January sale, they come out in droves as if someone's poked a stick into their hive. I notice they aren't January sales any more, they are Boxing Day sales now and they start before Christmas. Anyone else remember when every single shop, without exception, was closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day and the sales actually started in January? We used to have a few days of actual relaxation back then. Even the Righteous took a day off from nagging.
This year seemed worse than usual and there is, in fact, a simple reason. On January 1st, VAT goes back up to 17.5%. I noticed this because the lab rental is in two parts - the rent itself (zero VAT) and the service charge for electricity, heating etc, which is VAT rated and is higher on the bill due in January.
So everything will be that little bit more expensive on Friday. Now that's a Day After Tomorrow everyone should pay attention to. Especially if you drive. Petrol's about to go up again.
Ah well, the saltless Morrisons didn't bother me. I wasn't there for salt. They did have a good stock of the Singleton (now one unit less) and of Bruaichladdich (one unit less) and I picked up a bottle of visitor whisky for tomorrow night, just in case. It's Grants Ale Cask reserve, which is very nice for a blend and at £11 a bottle on special offer at the moment.
This crazy holiday continues until Tuesday. Monday is a bank holiday so it'll be the middle of next week before anything sensible happens. It's irritating because all the companies I work for are closed. They're on paid leave. I'm not. The sooner the country gets back to normal, the better.
Although 'normal' is probably asking way too much.
And now it's time for food. Morrisons did have some nice fillet steak at very reasonable prices. I've eaten enough turkey and ham this week to deplete the livestock of an average farm so it's time for a change. Medium rare, I think. With mustard and chips.