I tend not to worry about things until they have happened. This is somewhere between a policy and a habit – and has its ups and downs. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have fewer appalling surprises, but not often enough that I try to change.
Mr Z is the exact opposite. He conducts a minute-by-minute threat-level analysis of the medium term, as if he has one of those angled dental mirrors into the future. Consequently, he is extremely worried about gas prices and very worried indeed about food shortages. He also has some ambient concerns about nuclear submarines.
He spends his life, or at least the portion of it covered by radio news bulletins, trying to bring me up to speed on things I should also anxiously engage with. He is remarkably unperturbed by his lack of success. Maybe it is not remarkable – maybe he has seen into the future and there is a time when I start paying attention.
I cannot get exercised on the subject of whether or not we will be able to source a turkey for Christmas, partly because it is so far away, partly because I am not wild about turkey and partly because my kids will be with their dad this year. I am not moaning. I can see that I made this divorcee bed and have to lie in it. But the shortage of your own offspring on Christmas Day is a famine so profound and unnatural that whether you are eating turkey or rat is a second-order concern.
“It’s the lack of CO2,” said Mr Z, with all the authority of someone who has just read an internet explainer for the lay worrier. “Something-something fertiliser by-product.”
“Not to worry,” I replied, which I believe is a well-worn English phrase, but I use it more as a Yoda-style instruction to others.
“CO2 is also important to the manufacture of crumpets,” he continued. “Warburtons had a shortage in 2018.”
My brain went immediately to all the bread products I would eat happily instead of crumpets. That took ages, and I didn’t share it with him, because I am trying to preserve my mystique. Besides, he knew that was what I was doing. “I’m going to carry on going until I find something you care about,” he said. “The shortages are also threatening production of soft drinks and beer.”
Gas prices, meanwhile, I find even harder to care about, since, dur, it is still 21C outside (according to my phone). “Looking beyond the next 48 hours, can you see any cause for concern?” he asked, mildly. “Given something-something-something-something, are you even a tiny bit curious about what’s going on?”
While, emotionally, I remain completely inert, I will admit that this piqued my interest. My friend C’s partner is a gas trader, so I texted her to ask him what was going on. If I had asked her what the guy in The White Lotus was also in, or how to make Irish stew, she would have replied within five minutes. Instead, two days went by. Then, finally: “He has a lot to say on this.” They are, I realise, having the same relationship as us, one and a half miles away; he tells her things to worry about and she zones him out, the difference being that his stuff is mainly gas.
Although the decision to ruminate or not is, of course, mainly temperamental, at this point in 2021 it is also political. I do not want to be arguing on social media about whether or not these are Brexit effects, or whether long-haul lorry drivers would have left the UK anyway because of Covid, or how every country runs out of CO2 every now and again, but the meedja doesn’t talk about it. Never would an “I told you so” taste more ashen in my mouth than delivered across an empty bakery aisle, from one thinking person who couldn’t find any crumpets to another. I prefer not to notice that anything is going wrong anywhere.
• Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist