Seven Camels

It’s like this: if you sort of squint at the screen, or look out of the juuuust the corner of your eye, then Hebdomadaires looks a lot like Hebdromedaries – which would mean, of course, “seven camels”.  So, with apologies to Varun, proprietor and moderator, I admit I’ve been calling this the “seven camels blog” behind his back. 

And the idea of camels and their humps—this being hump day, as I mentioned yesterday—leads nicely to the subject of water.  Moving here from drought-prone California, I was appalled at how profligate the British are in their use of water, and that they could be so wasteful despite the fact that—and this was a major surprise—the south of England has droughts just as often as California does.

The only problem with blogging about water—and I assure there’s lots to say—is that I chose the topic late at night when I clearly wasn’t thinking straight, because in the light of a beautiful sunny morning, I remembered—I’d already posted the things I wanted to say about water.  Oops.

Even worse, in reading about camels I learned that they don’t store water in their humps at all—that’s a myth.  But the topic of camels can lead in to other subjects, surely.  Britain’s historical involvement in the Middle East?  Britons’ barminess about animals?  Transport options for lateral thinkers? (Not transportation, which in the UK means that Her Majesty has decided, in lieu of execution, to banish you to Australia for life; getting you to work and back is transport rather than transportation.)

Yes, given the news today, I’ll talk about transport.  Let’s start with the price of petrol—that is, the price of gasoline.

The rental car (UK: hire car) I drove in California recently used unbelievable amounts of gas.  Okay, it carried more luggage than a camel probably could, and certainly more passengers (although if I had seven camels…), but I could watch the gas needle dropping as we went from the ocean side of the San Francisco Peninsula over to the Bay side, less than 15 miles via the route we used.  It wasn’t just that the tank on a Chevy Aveo is small (though it is); the car was guzzling.  That model isn’t supposed to.  Maybe the tires had the wrong pressure or the rental company hadn’t maintained the car well, but for whatever reason, I bought a *lot* of gas.

And the cheapest gas I saw, by far, was $4.25 per gallon.  Some stations charged as much as $4.63.  The population was—figuratively only—up in arms about gas prices, and Obama’s approval rating dropped from 50% to 41% apparently as a result of gas prices alone, while contenders for the Republican presidential nomination said that Obama had **wanted higher gas prices all along (an idea that the  Washington Post’s Fact Checker site rated three pinocchios for “significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions”, on a scale that goes up to four pinocchios for “whoppers”).

The Washington Post's Fact Checker site's Three Pinocchios

It’s not at all clear to me how Obama personally, or even his adminstration’s energy policy, can be completely responsible either for higher prices or for lower gas prices, when so many factors go into the calculation, but I have to admit that at this point, camels seemed an option worth looking into.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what camels eat.  Presumably your average date-palm oasis doesn’t have a shop selling Purina Camel Chow, and the Wikipedia article only has a section about camels as food, not one about food for camels.  The article does mention that camels eat “thorny desert plants”, which might be hard to get here in Surrey, and which isn’t very specific, and in any case, I would have to look into how many miles they get to the bushel.

Whatever it costs you in imported desert foliage, keeping a camel has to be cheaper than buying gas here in the UK. At $4.67/gallon, American gas looks like the deal of the century to us.  Petrol at the Sainsbury’s where I usually fill up is 1.39, and at the station nearest my house (a Texaco which I breeze past on the way to Sainsbury’s) it’s 1.43—but that’s in pounds sterling per liter.  At today’s exchange rate, those numbers correspond to $8.33 and $8.59 per gallon.  (That’s using an American gallon; a British gallon is different because life would be too easy if they were the same.)  That 4 pence per liter price difference works out to a difference of almost 30 cents per gallon, which is why I breeze past my local petrol station to go somewhere cheaper, but it still routinely costs me well over 100 bucks to fill up my car.

Chevy Aveo -- the model I rented in San Francisco, which cost me megabucks in gas

The amazing thing is that when I moved to the UK in 1999, petrol was 67 pence per liter (4 bucks per US gallon).  What happened?  I don’t know, but I know what was in the news today: a 3 pence per liter tax increase on fuels, including the unleaded that goes into the tank of my Volvo.  That’s the equivalent of an 18 cent tax per American gallon.  That’s when we already have some of the highest petrol prices in Europe.  The government (though in US terms this really means something more like “the administration”) announced the increase today as part of a new budget that virtually all commentators say will make life cheaper for the wealthy and more expensive for the rest of us.  (Remember, you can’t say “the middle class” because that means something different here.)

People are talking very seriously about having to change jobs because they can’t afford their commutes any more, and some are talking about fuel protests, which last time (this was in 2000) consisted of truck drivers blockading the ports so supplies of fuel couldn’t be delivered, something that would be a heck of a lot harder in the US than on our little island.

But just think how much more dramatic it would be if they blockaded ports with lines of camels!  Because as sure as politicians tell whoppers, you can bet they’d slap a tax on camels, too.

(All photos from Wikipedia and used under the Creative Commons license.)