I don’t actually subscribe to the notion of a third party that I have this obsession, to me it is actually a sensible pecuniary interest in the price of petrol. I am told, however, that it has now reached new, and potentially insufferable, proportions.
You see, I read the price of your bog standard unleaded petrol, of every petrol station I pass. I appreciate on a long journey this might become somewhat tedious, when I point out that a Tesco petrol station in one part of Essex (Southend-on-Sea if you care) is far cheaper than a Tesco petrol station in the same county. (It’s Braintree… don’t stop to fill up there).
Although I live a stone’s throw from a BP garage, I don’t use it much (except for food and rather heavily in that department) because it is not CHEAP. Now, I know it is only a matter of a few pence per litre I am saving, but if I leave town, I carefully think about where I am going to fill up. Yesterday, I had enough to get to at least Chelmsford before the matter became urgent so, in my head, I’ve got to work out the cheapest from the ten petrol stations we will pass en route…
When you put it like that – it’s sad.
Sadder still? Yesterday I screwed up. I plumped for the Kent Elms garage which matched Tesco on price (Asda is usually cheaper but was in the wrong direction altogether.) I knew I was taking a risk.
Let me tell you, if you want to fill up between Southend-on-Sea and Sudbury in Suffolk, your best bet is the Sainsburys in Chelmsford. Ok?
I think this non-obsession arose in the 1970s, when I was that child who closely monitored Lincolnshire filling stations for the catastrophic day came when the 0.99 a gallon would click over to the whole pound. I had a long and anxious wait for that event I can tell you. It’s clearly left its mark.
Nb 1 imperial gallon = 4.54609 metric litres – that means that if we paid today’s prices at the pumps in the 1970s we’d be coughing up between £5.67 – £5.90. Now that’s what I call inflation.
By which I mean to say nothing quite escapes the up-turned palm of the gate-keeper as time rolls on. A family and a dog ravage a home, a garden and a car in their own particular way and, if you are busy with it all, you can’t quite keep on top of it at the same time.
That’s more or less what I was thinking about when I sat outside in the garden, an outside space that could pass for a film scene set in a nuclear winter. I was uncomfortable on a wooden chair that is coming up for 6 years old and could pass for vintage, on account of neglect. It’s more or less what I thought when I considered the aspect of the car from the inside of the petrol station earlier; when the woman in front pleaded with the inanimate object that was her bank card to, ‘Please work?’. She then simply announced she had no money in the bank when it didn’t work. The assistant asked could she pay with anything else, and she just said, ‘No’ and left. Someone apologised, it could have been the broke woman or the assistant. In my head, it was me.
Really, it was only a fiver or so, and as I too have no money in the bank, but my card was agreeing to work I should have offered to pay for the items myself. I only thought of that after she had gone, so surprised was I by her frankness when I suspect many of us would have offered at least some form of dissemblance.
When I drove into the petrol station I was thinking perhaps I would fill up the car on account of the impending petrol delivery strikes and then I thought I won’t be driving it by the weekend because it’s going to fail the MOT and I can’t countenance what it might cost to fix it. And I was also holding a thought from another, earlier, conversation. I had asked someone in London if there were queues for fuel there yet, and the reply had come, no there weren’t and who could afford to fill up their tanks these days anyway? With this in mind, and the impending MOT failure (no rear brake light offside, no wing mirror nearside, stone chip in the windscreen and god know what damage to the chassis due to a no-fault collision) I put in twenty-two quids worth of fuel (and twenty-two pence), mainly for the satisfaction of lining up all the twos.
These used to be my lucky digits, but I don’t believe in luck anymore, so I can’t claim them as my own. Someone else can have them if they like, I won’t mind.
So, yes, life takes its toll on the outside of everything, it takes away the notion of luck and in its place we can frantically replace and renew and paint and restore and fix-up and rub-down and then do it all over and over again another day, another year because that’s how it goes.
Or we can sit on the parched earth on the rickety old-before-its-time chair and read something about life by an 80 year old writer, translated from the Czech, and leave all of it and everything to its own devices.