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Panic buying following a leaked memo from the Dorset Rubber Company has led to ugly scenes on the Dorset High Street as would-be rubber band purchasers engaged in hand- to-hand fighting in their increasingly desperate attempts to secure an adequate supply of this vital, but now surprisingly scarce commodity. Customers at W H Threadbones and several Rybones witnessed unprecedented acts of violence as tempers ran high and supplies ran low. Many customers - some said to be first time buyers with no clue as to what rubber bands are actually for - were left angry and frustrated as they trudged home empty-handed. Surveys indicate that most will try again tomorrow.

Beauty expert Pritti Face says crowds have turned ugly - a sure sign that shortages of moisturiser as well as rubber-bands are all too common. Some of those pictured say they haven't had hold of a rubber-band for over three weeks and many blame the government rather than their normal once-every-five-years suppliers

Though manufacturers have reiterated their assurances that rubber band stocks remain high and supply chains robust, a shortage of rubber bands at the point of sale has meant that many customers have been forced to queue for hours for the product - largely without good cause - and in many cases to no obvious purpose. University of Afpuddle Social Psychologist Hird Ince-Stick believes such behaviour is habit forming and is likely to spread to the pursuit of other goods including paper-clips, bulldog grips and drawing pins.

Plastics, Rubber Goods and Stretchable Products Minister Notso Flex-Abel has been accused of "twanging whilst Batcombe burns" and of callous indifference to the obvious suffering of others.

Speaking for the government yesterday, Plastics, Rubber Goods and Stretchable Products Minister Notso Flex-Abel said that his extensive team at the Ministry was doing everything in its powers to resolve the situation but warned there was no quick fix. He added that many were working from home in difficult conditions, juggling child care and coffee making duties whilst "putting in at least two hours a day" in a concerted effort to bring the crisis to an end. He further added that had ruled nothing out extreme measures including asking some to switch on their computers befor 1pm and issuing temporary visas to anyone able to “bring assorted rubber-bands from abroad in a decent-sized suitcase”.

Opposition leader Sir Kier Royale who is currently not attending his party’s Annual Conference whilst he practices essay writing said that he had warned the government of an impending crisis many months ago - ever since he had discovered his own supply had gone quite hard and lost some of its stretchiness.

Quite apart from its impact on the ordinary consumer now unable to hold in place an unwanted rolled up wall chart, bind a set of twigs together, power a model racing car or just “keep some in a drawer”, the shortage of rubber bands has had a number of unexpected downstream consequences including that of grounding several military-grade rubber-band-dependent over-stuffed box-files and confining several balsa wood model aircraft to base. “Few people realise how vulnerable our defence capability is to a shortage of stretchable elasticated-loop-based products” Air Chief Marshall Wyndham Uppe-Andlettemgoe said today. “A modern defence force relies on such products for power, structural rigidity, rapid response and general cupboard tidying” he added, before urging the government to prioritise supplies to defence establishments over those to the general consumer.

Sector analyst Rubb Erbande described the rubber band (aka elastic band) shortage as the perfect storm. Not only is the product itself critical to several activities (including the work of home craft hobbyists, adolescent catapult enthusiasts and old fashioned correspondence organisers as well as registered coloured pencil tidy-ists) but it is also vital to the very transport industries that service such activities. Many small Post Office delivery carts, for example, rely on industrial-strength rubberised loops to hold bundles of parcels together.

Things of the Past: a Healthy pile of rubber bands and office-based colleague-maiming games.

Meanwhile, it is in the ordinary home that much of the impact of the crisis is being felt as hard working rubber-band dependent families struggle to cope. "No wonder people are panic buying", said Mrs Panik-Biya who normally gets through at least 2 rubber bands per year but has managed to stockpile only 700 this week. "I went out looking for another thousand today and heard that W H Threadbones might have had a delivery but in the end it was just a rumour and the queue I joined turned out to be for the Gaumont which is showing the latest James Bond". “I was so disappointed", she added. "They'd run out of popcorn - apparently the thing that turns the popcorn toaster needs a rubber thingy in it”, she further explained.

Whilst there is a belief in government circles that the situation may be easing and that some of the tension may already be dispersing, many wound-up consumers disagree believing that matters have been stretched to their limit. The Royal Dorset Constabulary issued a statement calling for calm but acknowledging that some members of the public are "stretched to snapping point".

Finally in a leaked statement late yesterday evening, sources close to the DHRA Stationery Office suggest that the authorities have not ruled out using the military to help ease the crisis “as a solution of last resort”. However a shortage of rubber-band supplies to the military means that they will need civilian help to fill up their own bureau draws before they are in any position to help civilians fill theirs - a conundrum the Minister for Plastics, Rubber Goods and Stretchable Products has yet to solve.

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