Not a kindly thought

Wednesday October 5, 2005

I’d rather expected a gold-plated oil tanker to pull up at the end of the drive to deliver my heating fuel today. No such luck. Instead it was the usual dowdy Shell truck. I’m not even sure they’d bothered to wash it.

You see, the price of domestic heating oil has gone up. More than somewhat. Close to double, in fact. Just like petrol, electricity, and gas. Someone, somewhere, is making a fortune out of this.

But, in the real world, who exactly is it who has a heavier purse today at my expense? It’s not the guy who delivered the oil. Nor those who drilled for it and pumped it out of the ground. The guys at the refineries aren’t getting it, either, nor those who labour to distribute it around the world and, ultimately, to me. Honest labourers all, they’re not richer today at my expense.

No, it’s someone in between, someone who I don’t know, you don’t know, someone who sits behind a desk and gets richer at the expense of all of us who need a bit of fuel to heat our homes, transport us to and from the shops, and light our dark evenings.

Now, I’m not daft. I know that the wheels of global commerce need to be managed, and financed, and I know that the people who do that job are worthy of their hire. I’d not get my supply of oil without them. It’s not the folks who do that job that I resent.

It’s the breed of men who sit shifting money around that I suspect are making unfair profit from my need for oil, and for other forms of energy. Even here, fairness and common sense dictates that I make allowance for those who provide the finance to keep the engine running. They deserve a fair reward for their labour, too.

But. Somewhere, hidden far out of my field of vision, someone is richer today at my expense, someone who manipulates supply, and shortages, who buys and sells oil as a commodity but never gets to smell it, far less dirty his hands with it. And the degree to which his riches have grown is out of proportion with his labour, his cleverness, and his risk. That, most emphatically, I find offensive.

Hey ho. Nothing I can do about it but to shrug, turn my thermostat down, put on an extra sweater, and think hard about the ways of making the next house even more energy-efficient than this one. I shall not have to go out on a frost-cruel night, gathering winter fuel, so I’m grateful that it’s no worse.

When I was a kid a mix of poverty and post-war energy shortage obliged me to turn off the gas fire most winter evenings, wrap up as best I could, and go out to seek the warmth of libraries, lecture halls and meeting rooms. When I got back home it was to a mug of hot cocoa and a well-filled hotwater bottle, and bed, pulling up the covers against the cold.

There’s enough slack in my budget to cover the extra cost of the oil that keeps me warm so it’s unlikely, though not impossible, that I shall ever have to return to that way of life. I’m grateful for that, too.

But there are people out there who aren’t as fortunate, who will not be able to pay the extra cost, and who will be hard pushed to keep warm this winter. For their sake as well as my own, I damn the eyes of those secret men in secret places who’ve profited unduly today at my expense and those of millions of people like me. The existence of profiteers, of greedy men, and their political supporters, has no place in a world of fair play, of democracy and freedom.

When the collection boxes for those charities who aim to put a little warmth into the life of the poor are rattled under my nose this winter I shall dig deeper into my purse than I usually do. At the same time I shall spare a thought for the profiteers of the world. It will not be a kindly thought.



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