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Living: Polite sort of panic.

IDIDN'T exactly see anyone throw a punch and apart from one man who told me to stop eyeing his ration of bread rolls, everyone was being terribly polite.

Food shopping in the throes of a fuel crisis was not as horrific as I had expected but (a) it was 8.30 in the morning, (b) I was third in the shop and (c) I had anticipated knuckle-dusters, trolley-ramming and one person walking out with all the bananas.

I steered clear of my normal supermarket as I didn't fancy negotiating the petrol queues. Sadly, everyone else must have had the same fear.

By 8.40am the shop was teeming with ashen-faced shoppers, lunging at anything edible and tossing it into their trolley, seemingly regardless of whether they liked it or not. Can one family ever eat 20 tins of sardines?

I was at a distinct disadvantage. Firstly, it wasn't my usual shop so my obvious confusion on the whereabouts of the dairy section was misinterpreted by fellow shoppers as blind panic.

Secondly, one glance at the tower of contents in my trolley and people assumed I was well and truly into panic bulk buying.

'This is what my shopping looks like every week,' I wanted to shout from the top of the freezers. 'I may have four family boxes of cereals, five bottles of squash and four pounds of cheese but that's what we need every seven days.'

Yes I did put in 36 fish-fingers, eight tins of tomatoes, two family packs of bacon and umpteen different sorts of pasta but that was caution, not panic. I also made sure I had my quota of four loaves of bread and six litres of milk for the same reason.

Some people were panicking, not in a malicious frenzied fashion, but in a way that stopped them from thinking clearly. I've mentioned the over-kill on sardines but what about sugar? Who on earth would need five two-pound bags of the stuff?

Some were grabbing something of everything to take them through four years hidden under the stairs, while others seemed to be choosing indulgent items such as tins of toffees and brandy snaps to cheer them up through petrol-less days stuck at home.

Your vital shopping list

TO help shoppers who don't want to panic next time it happens, Jill Bunn, cookery author, from Oreton, near Kidderminster, has helped compile a list of the ten most crucial food items to buy.

1. CHEESE: Either eaten as it is or made into a sauce.

2. VEGETABLES: Fresh or frozen.

3. POWDERED MILK: No milk - no sauce, tea, coffee, custard or cereals.

4. TINNED GOODS: Tomatoes, tuna and beans.

5. DRIED PASTA: It will keep for ages.

6. CORNED BEEF: Team with potatoes or slice into sandwiches.

7. POTATOES: Eat them on their own.

8. FLOUR and PACKETS OF BREAD MIX: A standby if you can't get hold of bread.

9. EGGS and DRIED EGG: As my grandmother used to say, if you have an egg in the house, you have a meal.

10. COUSCOUS and RICE: A welcome change to potatoes.
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Author:Cowen, Sarah
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Sep 17, 2000
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