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Who are these panic petrol buyers?

Let’s just be clear. Fuel shortages don’t exist, there is no fuel crisis, the perception of shortages has been created by panic buyers and it has all been caused by the media’s power to announce a crisis at its own whim just to have something interesting to say.

And above all, none of it has anything to do with Brexit.

A reserve tanker fleet is now operating, the army is poised to assist if necessary, the Government is ready with short term visas so we can suck in truck drivers from other countries if necessary (although we are also told that the driver shortage is an international problem so I don’t know where we will get them from).

The Government’s line seems to be ‘everything is under control’ and that the real baddies, as we always secretly knew, are us: the dumb-ass mob of compulsive shoppers and news junkies that make up the British public.

This seems to undermine the official line that there is no real crisis because generally speaking, the first sign of a crisis in Britain is the Government blaming the people for something: too much going out and spreading viruses, too much staying in and ruining the economy etc etc.

To clarify my thoughts on the matter I have tried to identify who a panic buyer really is.

Someone comes crashing into the Semilong Co-op with wild staring eyes, knocking shoppers out of the way, grabs handfuls of dry goods and tins and hurls them through the checkout screaming: “Out of my way I’m a panic buyer!” Is that a panic-buyer?

On Friday I was a panic-buyer at the pumps myself.

Having just retrieved my excellent daughter from school I rightly predicted that the empty light would flicker into life on my dashboard before I got us home. At that point the queue for the pumps at the Kettering Road Morrison’s was reaching ‘don’t even think about it’ proportions so I anxiously motored on to Abington Avenue. I was very fortunate to be able to sneak onto the forecourt with only three cars in front of me before I could fuel up but I had got myself in a line where the pump was on the wrong side of my vehicle.

I was driving our Mazda Bongo people carrier so there was an underlying sense of panic that if the tank ran dry my daughter and I would not be able to push it the last few frustrating yards to the pump, which we would then be on the wrong side of. The whole forecourt was basically a gridlock of small queues with no room for manoeuvre or second chances. Can you imagine the tutting? The thought made me shudder.

We made it to the pump and after some slightly non-standard parking the hose did reach round far enough and I was able to fill up. Yes the purchase was justified but there was simmering panic through the whole process. I needed fuel not just to get home but also to go and see my parents at the weekend. By any reasonable definition of the phrase panic buyer I was one.

What I didn’t see at the pumps was someone arriving with their own tanker or bowser and carting off a load of petrol to store at home along with their hoard of toilet rolls and sliced bread.

I began to question how much pressure, in terms of quantities of petrol, that panic buying can really cause.

Once your car is full it’s full. For the ordinary person there are very few options for storing petrol at home, as the extraordinary social media image of a woman filling carrier bags with fuel proves.

You might have another car or a petrol can but even if you did fill them too should it bring the whole system grinding to a halt? People have been pointing to the finely balanced mechanisms of a ‘just in time’ supply system not being able to cope with sudden extra demand but the system has to work for us, not the other way round.

If we all behaved in the way that suited the system best we would fill our tanks with just enough petrol to get us to the next petrol station and we would live in constant loop of traffic queues and chiller cabinet chicken-based sandwiches, ensuring a constant stream of revenue into the system in return for an easily deliverable level of service.

I’m starting to think that this whole ‘panic buyer’ thing is a bit more smoke and mirrors than the guilt ridden British public might realise.

At the very least isn’t the real enemy here the ‘casual buyer’ of fuel rather than the panicking customer. People with an impending urgent need for fuel are likely to be panicky. It’s the laid back, nonchalant, customer who is pretty much buying petrol for the fun of it who is the real enemy. Or at least one of them.

What I’m most tired of in this country is the vast mass of the unprivileged public being told that their needs, concerns and actions are the problem when some kind of system lets them down. And it’s not about blaming the system either. We have a body of people whose job is to be accountable for the way our lives are run and that is the Government, whichever flavour of politics is in fashion. We should always be suspicious when they are telling us it’s all our own fault.

I'm the editor and owner of The NeneQuirer.

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