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Anorak | Panic Stations

Panic Stations

by | 19th, September 2005

‘AS an organic product, petrol carries a premium. But not everyone is on-message, and the week began with news of action by the Fuel Lobby.

On Monday, the Telegraph reminded us that there has been a 20 per cent rise in petrol prices over the past few months. Many professional drivers are unhappy with this and protests were planned.

Andrew Spence, a spokesman for the Fuel Lobby, told the paper that the cause even had an international bent – he’d been contacted by lorry drives in Spain and France who were planning “sympathy protests” and may target the port of Dover.

Brynle Williams, who led the stand-off at the Stanlow refinery, Cheshire, that triggered the big fuel protests of 2000, and now a Conservative member of the Welsh Assembly, told the Telegraph that hauliers may “park up” and stay put until fuel duty was reduced.

It was a dastardly plot. It had us all worried, not least of all Jordan who for her sensationally tacky marriage to little Peter Andre forwent the traditional petrol-hungry wedding car in favour of horses pulling a coach.

By Tuesday, it was panic stations. The cricket was over, there was nothing to watch on the telly and millions of motorists were filling the void in their lives by driving out to their local filling stations and making ready to sit in a queue for a few days.

The official call was for calm. “Don’t panic! Don’t Panic! Don’t panic!” yelled the oil firms and the Government, the latter blaming the entire global fuel crisis on Opec.

But at the same time ministers had noted the panic buying and were concerned that there might not be enough fuel for essential users, like John Prescott, Mrs Prescott, Doctor Prescott, Nurse Prescott and Chief Inspector Prescott of the Yard.

Hell, there might not even be enough fuel to power the England cricket team’s open-top bus through the streets of London.

On Wednesday, the panic reached fever pitch. Drivers were racing to the pumps to get what petrol they could. They were handing in the tokens to get their free tumblers and then filling them with petrol.

There were rumours of drivers hermetically sealing their car windows and doors with tape and filling the entire interior with unleaded. Children were being ordered to hold petrol in their mouths and spit it into a sink at home. People were bringing sinks!

The queues began to grow ever longer. But don’t panic. The Department of Trade and Industry had drawn up what the Telegraph called “an oil emergency response plan”.

The plan would see the Government ration forecourt sales and limit opening times at filling stations.

But there was no need to panic. Panicking was a mug’s game – even if it was good news for petrol sellers. The Times said that some garages were taking advantage of the climate of fear and putting up their prices.

People like Masood Meah, the owner of Nad Petroleum just outside Manchester, who raised his prices by 8p to 108p a litre. “It’s supply and demand,” said he, quoting from the Opec handbook.

We were worried. Even England cricket hero Andrew Flintoff was stressed enough to smoke, first a cigar and then a cigarette. Lord Richard Layard, a Downing Street adviser, told the Mail that the NHS needed 10,000 more people to tackle depression, “Britain’s biggest social problem”.

And then on Thursday it came. Hundreds of people were spotted standing on forecourts and outside oil refineries. The protest had got underway. And maybe, just maybe, one or two among the massed ranks were protestors, the rest being a mix of journalists from the press and TV.

While the media looked on, oil refineries and terminals operated as normal. Tankers made their usual deliveries. There were no blockades. And at the Shell refinery in Jarrow, south Tyneside, demonstrators were outnumbered by the good men and women of the media.

People like the Independent’s Martin Hickman and Terry Kirby, who spotted Nick Pallett outside an oil depot in Hemel Hempstead. Not quite alone. But with Tramp, his pet dog.

The protest had come to nothing. It was Thursday and the papers needed another story fast. And, as luck had it, it was Prince Harry’s 21t birthday.

Twenty-one today, twenty-one today, he’s got red hair and Nazi underwear, 21–one today. A cheer for Prince Harry. Hip-hip! Hooray! “Speech! Speech!” demanded the press, and Harry obliged.

The Express heard Harry says he wants to fight for his country – “There’s no way I’m going to sit on my arse while my boys are fighting for their country.”

He’ll always just be himself – “I don’t want to change. I am who I am. I’m not going to change because I’m being criticised in the press.”

And the Duchess of Cornwall, the fragrant Camilla, is no “wicked stepmother” – “She’s a wonderful woman and she’s made our father very, very happy, which is the most important thing. William and I love her to bits”.

That’s just great. But would we have preferred it if Harry had spat vengeance at Camilla, the women who undermined his mother, and said how his ambition was to roll a spliff the size of Devon? This was Harry being nice, and that won’t do.

He even did without the big birthday party that would surely scandalise us and be covered in minute detail in the press.

We needed sensation. And there was Kate Moss snoring cocaine on the cover of the Mirror. On Friday, that story had become the big news. The Sun said Moss had a £200 a day coke habit (which may or may not be a lot). It was a revelation that would, according to the Mail, put her career in jeopardy.

Only it won’t. MODEL TAKES COCAINE” is the big news, to rank up there with “FOOTBALLER IN CLUB BRAWL”, “ROD STEWART DATES BLONDE” and “SATURDAY FOLLOWS FRIDAY”.

But while we wait for some other news, perhaps from Iraq – where, apparently, there’s a battle going on – it’s the kind of stuff we’ll have to make do with…’



Posted: 19th, September 2005 | In: Broadsheets Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink