The Great British Fuel Fiasco

I needed a fill up today. My scooter isn’t a thirsty beast, but it works better with petrol than without. A £10 tankful of about 7 litres keeps me going for a week, with a return of about a hundred miles for a gallon. That’s a uniquely British oddity. We buy in litres, but measure in gallons. The switch from imperial to metric is far from complete.

The first station I passed had queues stretching so far back it caused a busy road to come to a standstill. I couldn’t tell where the queue ended and where the jam began. The next station was out of fuel altogther. And the next. Tanker drivers have been threatening a strike, and panic buying had set in.  I headed to a smaller, quieter station on the outskirts of town. I knew they’d have petrol. For a fact. I managed that service station in the year 2000.

In the late summer of 2000 the UK came to a standstill. Protesters had blockaded key refineries, preventing tankers from supplying the countries service stations. One by one, petrol stations ran dry and closed. I had a local radio station on in my service station, and they were reading out a list of stations in Dorset and Hants who still had fuel. At first it was a longish list, and mine was on it. The list got shorter and shorter.

As the next few days went by, more stations dropped off the list. Five. Then four. Three. Two. Then, finally, just mine. Then none. My station had a strange tank/pump set up.  One of the biggest tanks under the forecourt fed just a single pair of pumps. Even when continuously dispensing fuel, it takes days and days to empty that big tank.

The entire country ground to a complete standstill. Even some supermarkets had their shelves emptied as the fun of panic buying spread. I’m sure that rather dramatic September has  left its mark on the British psyche. The first hint of a fuel issue, and forecourts fill up with motorists desperate for their petrol fix.

In 2000, we (service station managers) closed our sites with a couple of thousand litres of fuel set aside. Saved for the emergency services. I refuelled a few ambulances. I turned several police cars away though. The crisis turned the local constabulary into a bunch of little Nazis, threatening service station managers with arrest – the traffic chaos caused by queueing was, apparently, our fault. I wasn’t the only one to turn a police car away.

We kept fuel for ourselves too, of course. And our families. Perk of the job. During the last day I had fuel, the chap who services my bike popped in. Funnily enough, my bike was in for a new rear tyre that very day. He asked, a little sheepishly, if I could do him a massive favour. Could I sort him out by filling a couple of his pretty sizeable jerry cans?

I told him to come back the next day, once we’d closed – if the queuing motorists patiently waiting their turn got a whiff of someone pushing in,  they’d become a baying mob. Other forecourts had already seen outbreaks of fisticuffs. He returned the next day, and I obliged*. As agreed, my bill for the new rear tyre, and the fitting of it, came to the princely sum of £0. I’m just as corruptible as the next man.

*To clarify, in case of any misunderstanding – he did still pay for his fuel. Normal rate.

5 Comments

  • Love to see a few more close ups of the Texico station. I worked at a Shell station in high school. People were upset when prices climbed over .50 cents a gallon! (just over 11 cents a litre) The Suzuki 250 sold for 3,700 approximately 2 years ago. Now it’s 5,200 after a 200 discount. I think winter is the only thing keeping motorcycle sales from going through the roof here in Canada. My ten year old car is on it’s last legs and with gas prices forecast at $6.50 an Imp. gallon this summer, less expensive transportation for 8 months a year is appealing. Times are changing.

    • I guess the Texaco brand in the US and Canada largely disappeared after the merger with Chevron. Chevron had no presence in the UK so they stuck with the Texaco branding they had here. Although they no longer own any service stations – they all got sold off in 2005/2006.

      The garage in the photo is the one I ran during the fuel blockades. I’ll get a few more photos someday. I still pop in there from time to time. Their jet wash is excellent.

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