7:40am – My news day starts with reading that last night at 10pm, a double truck carrying among other things toilet paper from a warehouse to the stores has somehow caught fire on Brisbane’s Gateway Motorway. Firefighters fortunately were able to save half the load so half a tragedy at least averted. Sabotage, perhaps? The toilet paper mafia trying to restrict supply to drive the prices up for their black market stock?
8:30am – I have resisted so far because I refuse to get caught in this social panic, but I finally relent and check under the bathroom sink. I have exactly 21 toilet rolls there. I smile because 21 is my number (my birthday is on the 21st of the month). [Warning: too much information ahead] I have been blessed in that I only need to use very little toilet paper, so that should last me month and months [End warning].
9:35am – I came upon a reader’s comment under my blog post from yesterday: “Brilliant! Just found your 2 posts on toilet paper after my sweet Aussie first cousin (I’m American) told me about the ‘shortage’ & I looked online. Alas, it’s the same here in the US. Crazy! Keep up the good work!” I’m always delighted to welcome new readers, particularly from overseas. Fifteen years ago it was often Good News from Iraq, now it’s Crazy News from Australia, but it’s only reflectve of the fact how much more insane our world has become in the meantime.
11:05am – Speaking of good news, this from the Northern Territory:
News Corp tabloid The NT News, known for its levity, has printed a few blank pages in today’s paper as a gag about Australia’s toilet paper panic buying.
“Run out of loo paper? The NT News cares,” the paper reads today. “That’s why we’ve printed an eight-page special liftout inside, complete with handy cut lines, for you to use in an emergency.”
People are wusses; newspaper ink has never harmed any butt, as many an older Eastern European can attest.
1:30pm – “My Sharona” comes on at my gym. I’m wondering when someone will do a new piss-take cover called “My Corona”.
2:15pm – While running errands I come upon an unexpected venue with lots of toilet paper on the shelves. I’m not going to tell you what or where it is, but if you have been genuinely caught short by the panic buying and are in a desperate need of some for your own use – and not to hoard or put it on eBay – PM me and I’ll pick some up for you.
3:00pm – Another visit to Coles, because I forgot to buy shampoo yesterday. The toilet paper aisle has been stripped bare yet again. Paper towels and tissues are likewise gone. Very little soap left but of shampoos there is plenty of choice.
3:10pm – As I’m getting into my car in the shopping centre car park, my father calls to ask if I have enough toilet paper because his local pharmacy has just received new stock and he can get me some. This could have been a Polish conversation circa 1983. Armed with this morning’s knowledge, I assure him that I do.
3:15pm – I inform by a group SMS a group of friends coming over for a regular dinner in a fortnight that I have preemptively purchased some ingredients like black rice and cous-cous, just on the oft-chance that the madness of crowds continues and more foods disappear from the shops between now and then.
Friend A asks if they can be assured of toilet paper if a need arises while at my place. I confirm and ask Friend A not to steal any.
Friend B mentions she has been at the same shopping centre yesterday and that Aldi had all its stock gone too, with one lady buying napkins instead, which is bad news for the lady’s plumbing (as in her house’s, not metaphorically) but a bonanza for plumbers.
Friend A now wonders if cafes and restaurants will have to hide the paper from their toilets and only provide a bit when a customer asks to use their facilities.
An interesting question. I would say they have to, otherwise they will need to keep replacing stolen rolls several times a day. I tell the group I’m yet again reminded of my communist childhood, where all the public toilets had their own “toilet grandma” (babcia klozetowa in Polish), an elderly attendant whom you would hand over a coin in exchange for a few squares – or pieces of newspaper if toilet paper was lacking, which it often was. Will we see the rise of Australian toilet grandmas during the Great Australian Toilet Paper Emergency of 2020?
6:00pm – I see on Instagram a photo by Friend C of a 24-pack (a carton?) of toilet paper on an airport baggage carousel. It has been tagged and checked as luggage. Oh Australia…
7:05pm – News.com.au reports:
Woolworths has told news.com.au it now has limits on toilet roll, rice and hand sanitiser and could introduce more.
The supermarkets insist they’re restocking shelves but the Woolworths CEO has admitted these are “unusual and challenging times”.
7:50pm – More wild news – a man in Tamworth, NSW, had to be tasered by police after a scuffle broke out over toilet paper at a local Big W store. At least there were no knives involved like yesterday in western Sydney.
8:30pm – As I write I keep also reading the latest – apparently it’s all capitalism:
Dr Paul Harrison, a human behaviour expert at Deakin University, explained the reasons why Australians in particular were stocking up on toilet paper.
“Research shows that in capitalist cultures like Australia, you deal with problems by buying things,” he told news.com.au. “Through times of trouble we are encouraged to spend our way out of it.”
Dr Harrison said humans in general were drawn to “simple answers” in times of crisis.
“Coronavirus is an abstract problem, with an unclear effect and it’s unfolding minute-by-minute,” he said.
“Humans struggle with nuance and unclear outcomes and research shows that when people feel like they have lost control, they tend to be drawn to small things that they can control.
“In Australia we are constantly told that we can solve problems by buying things, and research shows that buying utilitarian items such as toilet paper and cleaning products can rebalance that sense of lack of control.”
One example of Australia’s tendency to throw money at something to solve a problem, was the current calls for a stimulus package to boost Australia’s economy.
“I’m not saying that it can’t,” Dr Harrison said. “But it makes it seem like the simple solution is to buy stuff.”
A secondary “herd effect” happens because people can see shortages happening and they don’t want to be the one left without toilet paper.
Buying toilet paper as retail therapy? I call bullshit on that. Only an academic would think that panic buying toilet paper is a way for people to spend their way out of the scary Coronavirus situation. He’s certainly more correct about the herd effect. This is a social contagion, of which there are countless examples in history, not all of them connected with buying things. One of my favourites is the penis stealing panic, which happens from time to time in parts of Africa and the south-east Asia.
9:30pm – I come across a Tinder profile with just one sentence: “I have toilet paper”. That’s enough Internet for today.
[The title with apologies to Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I’m sure that lack of toilet paper was the least of all problems in the gulags]