There was widespread panic across the Home Counties this weekend as Tesco put out a warning that it would soon be unable to supply middle-class Britain’s Thai orchid needs amid continuing disruption to passenger and freight flights. UK airspace remained closed for a fourth consecutive day as a sombre volcanic ash cloud appeared to be startlingly absent from the bright blue spring skies over southern England. A Surrey lady explained curtly that such Oriental flora was “quite essential” for her weekend plans, before scurrying off to scour supermarkets for the last remaining specimens. Meanwhile a man soaking up the spring sunshine on an Islington café terrace said “I’d never heard of a Tie Orchid before today. But now that I know I can’t get them, I want one desperately. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to eat it or look at it but I don’t care, I’m not going to be happy til I get one”. All the while, the famous ash cloud hung in the sky like a manifesto pledge, high above our heads and curiously transparent. Citizen journalists were firing in reports of strange phenomena occurring all around the country. “I’m standing outside my farmyard”, said one, “and there’s a definite odour of something sulphurous”. Reports of a strange cloud formation in Scotland that appeared to spell the words “Who’s laughing now?” in Icelandic have not been substantiated.
The disruption caused by the ash cloud of course goes much further than fancy flowers. Dinner party tables may also be without pre-cut pineapple chunks for almost an entire week, leaving would-be chefs with the unthinkable alternative of taking a knife to a sea-freighted but otherwise identical fruit. Election commentators have been thoroughly disrupted as their carefully planned script for swinging favour cyclically between the candidates has been ripped up by such heroic antics as deploying the Royal Navy, Dunkirk-style, to rescue British citizens stranded in France – though this particular gesture was rather exposed by the cruel fact that getting an aircraft carrier into Calais harbour is about as easy as parking a 747 in a suburban carport. David Cameron was reportedly planning on blaming the eruption on New Labour sleaze, taking inspiration from an Iranian cleric’s view on earthquakes – but aides advised that he contain those opinions just another few weeks until after May 6th. Environmentalists are also torn, divided between the disappointment of not being able to see their loved ones and the urge to preach about how this is just deserts to those armies of unrepentant emissions-spewing globe-trotters .
Speaking of which, the biggest disruption of all is of course to air travellers. A snapshot of a normal Thursday afternoon revealed Britons spread far and wide around the four corners of the globe. Some were returning from long trips away. Others had gone to get married on a far-flung beach. Business people were rushing back from 24hr trips to unmissable foreign meetings. All found themselves either stranded or at the mercy of other nations’ surface transport networks. Some were quick to point the finger at their hosts. “These Croatians can’t be trusted” said one tired holiday-maker, “they’ve gone and put their country so far away that without a cheap flight I won’t be home in time for work on Monday. But really I blame Brussels. If they hadn’t let these jokers into the European Union then we wouldn’t have been fooled into thinking that this was a close-by place for weekend jaunts”. Thousands descended on France hoping to make use of its sea and rail links to the UK. The French rail workers rose to the challenge and came to the aid of their northern neighbours in the way they know best – by continuing unabashed into the 10th day of their strike and cancelling almost all services across the country. Moon visits have also reportedly been affected. One lunar tourist expressed his fury at having this week’s space holiday cancelled. “I can’t believe that we can’t get there – it’s only the moon after all, not Mars or anything. We normally go for the week. And now my insurance company won’t pay up because they say this is an Act of God and anyway I’m a spoilt rich b*stard. I mean how can they say that – I don’t even believe in God. I’m gonna sue them for religious discrimination. That’ll pay for my next trip”.
All the while CNN has been keeping a sharp eye on proceedings, one anchor noting that Iceland is “too cold for a Volcano“. He was joking, wasn’t he?