Do you remember a time when the phrase “filling up with fuel” meant just that? A rose-tinted vision of a time when a cheery forecourt attendant would welcome you to the garage and tempt you with his or her tantalising selection of either 4-star or diesel. You’d watch as the dial spun round to £10.00 and your tank was full.
A quick dash into the shop to pay, tempted by nothing more than perhaps a Marathon bar, a plastic Smurf, a Magic Tree or a fuel filter…for a Hillman Hunter.
There’d be a small bay to house the air for your tyres, with a handy Michelin wall chart showing the relevant tyre pressures for all make and models of car. If you had a problem with your car, there’d be a friendly older chap in a flat cap and overalls who could pretty much fix any problem you’d encounter on your travels. Halcyon days. The motorist was king and petrol stations were there to serve the king.
Today, petrol stations aren’t quite the cathedral of the car they once were. A combination of factors has squeezed the ubiquitous forecourt into a mixed-up existence. For the majority of people, visiting a petrol station is a dull and inconvenient part of a journey or routine. However, in true confessional style, I’d admit to ever-so-slightly enjoying the experience. Filling up with fuel gives you the chance to view your pride and joy under the forecourt lights. And, psychologically, the car always feels slightly better when it has a full tank of fuel. If nothing else, the gauge looks better when the needle is resting on ‘F’!
But even I have recently begun to dread visiting the forecourt.
Let’s start with numbers. Apparently we have fewer forecourts today than we had in 1912. Go work that one out. Supermarkets have squeezed the independents out of existence, resulting in less choice for the motorist. Bad news for rural areas and bad news for those who made a living out of running the garage. It also means the chances of finding a three-car-deep queue for the pumps are greatly increased.
Then, when you finally reach the pumps, you’re faced with another problem – the weekly shop. Your heart sinks as you see the owner of the Toyota Yaris Verso in the front of the queue heading for the shelves rather than the till. Worse is to come as they pick up a basket and start to peruse the aisles for a loaf of bread or jar of coffee. But wait, there’s a choice of bread to consider. Brown, wholemeal, softgrain, white, granary, slow baked, fast baked, half baked. Do you want Columbian coffee? Italian coffee? Instant coffee? De-caf coffee?
As they start to make their way to the till, your hopes are raised that you might soon get the chance to grab your fill of V-Power and head back on to the open road. But your hopes are quickly dashed as the customer chances upon a special 2 for 1 offer on Bounty (sorry, Plenty) kitchen rolls. Doesn’t matter that the customer will be in Morrisons tomorrow – they must grab the offer while they can.
By now, you’re beginning to lose patience. The pump next door but one comes free, so you put the car in reverse and start to manoeuvre into the free space. Just as a magnolia coloured Kia Magentis glides in and fills the gap. Just a shame it isn’t you doing the filling.
So you wait and finally, like a mirage appearing through the mist, the customer arrives back at the car. Of course, as their hands are full with bags, they struggle to find their keys. So the shopping goes into the boot and they finally settle in to the driver’s seat. Key in the ignition, there’s real hope now. But no, they need to unwrap their Galaxy Caramel before they head off.
Then they inevitably struggle with the seat belt, almost as though they’d never seen one before. You, meanwhile have lost the will to live, staring as you have been, at the back of a Yaris Verso for the past 10 minutes. That’s 10 minutes of your life that you’ll never get back. And the back end of a Verso is totally ingrained on your retina for eternity. Not nice.
Finally, as the Verso heads away, you reach the pump, which might just as well be the peak of Kilimanjaro for the amount of euphoria it creates. Filling up with your V-Power, you wander across to the shop, stopping for nothing and heading straight to the till. NO, you are not tempted by two Creme Eggs for a pound. NO, you do not want a CD of The Greatest Christmas by Johnny Mathis for £2.99. NO, you do not want a quality 100% polyester tartan rug for a fiver. And NO, you do not want a VAT receipt.
Maybe what you really want is an express till for those strange folk who come to a petrol station to buy petrol. Daft concept I know, but they do exist. Maybe the retailers should introduce a deli-counter style ticket device for those who aren’t buying petrol. Or, on the other hand, the audible system similar to you find in the Post Office, (remember the Post Office?). “Checkout number 5 plea”. It never seems to complete the word “please”.
Or maybe you just want to fill your car and go. Is that too much to ask?