Tootling about the supermarket, I ventured into the icy air of the butchery aisle and stood eyeing up all the lumps of pork that were on offer. I picked a few up and inspected them for crackling potential, then placed them back on the shelf. Then, having found the perfect joint, I popped it in my trolley. As I did so, the older lady beside me spoke:
"Would that feed a family of four?"
She had in her hand a piece of rolled belly pork.
I said: "depends what you want to do with it".
She explained she was a vegetarian, that she didn't have a clue about buying meat, and then she told me why she was buying it:
"My son in law lost his job in the Oil & Gas Industry a few months back".
"Oh I'm sorry to hear that. Who did he work for"? She didn't know the name of the Company.
All she knew was that he worked in Subsea and hadn't had any contracts in months and that the Company had let them all go.
She was tall, elegantly dressed and smartly spoken. I'm guessing an ex school teacher and somewhere in her late seventies. She was a Granny determined to see her daughter and grandchildren got fed.
I peeked at the rest of the contents of her trolley. All the basics were there.
"How long have you been doing this"? I ventured.
"A couple of weeks" she said.
"My daughter's got herself a wee part time job, but there is nothing on the horizon for John".
I tried to buoy her up with a few encouraging words... but none of them were enough to lift her gaze from the terrazzo floor. She thanked me for my help choosing the pork and turned her trolley round to continue with her task. I wished her all the best.
As she left the aisle, I was left thinking how many other families were being bolstered up by Granny?
One of my family tells the tale of the never-ending pot of jam that his Granny would leave in his mother's cupboard during the strike at Longbridge in the West Midlands in the 1970's; How they all grew veg and helped each other out. He talks of those times fondly as if it was the best adventure he ever had. He proudly tells of a community that got together and rode out the strike. But this is different. This is not an Oil & Gas community helping each other out. These are retired people keeping their families afloat...on the quiet.
Being in the shire of Aberdeen, I hear tales of ROV Operators now working as security guards, OIM's taking any job they can get, and of wives returning to work for the first time in decades. This is as much of an economic crisis for these people as a strike, but there is no perceivable community response. Some Oil & Gas people lived 'high off the hog' when times were good, their lifestyles expanding to fit the income available. They do not understand poverty.
Houses are on the market, sports bikes and numerous 'man toys' are up for sale, pawn shops. I understand, are doing a roaring trade.
When an equally well paid sector fell on hard times, the UK Government were quick to bail out the bankers
who returned to bolly and bonuses in no time. But no-one is lining up to help the Oil & Gas sector deal with these lay-offs.
I don't know how long the Grannies can hold out.