27 Sep 2021

The rush to the pumps

Queuing is in the news this week, as thousands of British motorists have joined the snaking lines of cars outside petrol stations, waiting for their turn at the rapidly-emptying pumps.

We have commented before on the British predilection for orderly queues. Back in the days of rationing in the long years during and after the world wars of the last century, the queue was an opportunity to catch up with the community, check that your friends were still alive and moan about the privations. But, underlying all the grumbles, was a general acceptance that queuing was a necessary evil, enforced by acute shortages, and was made much more palatable if the unwritten rules were observed. Spaces that opened up in the queue were to be closed at once by alert participants, and queue barging was considered beyond the pale, and deserving of withering, and vocal, criticism.

"Queue barging was considered beyond the pale, and deserving of withering, and vocal, criticism"

The queues that are now clogging up our roads and supermarket carparks, are – we are informed – the inevitable result of panic buying. Panic is defined as a sudden sensation of fear, so strong that it eliminates all reason and logic, swamping the sufferer with feelings of anxiety and agitation. Our fear of being deprived of petrol has completely obliterated our logical understanding that overwhelming the petrol stations with unprecedented demand will inevitably lead to shortages. Our rush to the pumps, leading to highly visible queues that are endlessly reported on news channels, only serves to engender more panic, and so the vicious circle rolls relentlessly on.

Motorists are wielding jerry cans (and much reviled for taking more than their ‘fair share’). Queues are so long and unwieldy that they are posing very real dangers to other motorists – in London an ambulance crew rushing to an emergency actually crashed into a queuing motorist. Tempers are inevitably becoming frayed and some motorists are berating members of the emergency services who are seen to be queue jumping, overlooking the obvious fact that their petrol supply should be prioritised in order to keep the roads safe for the rest of us.

It is surely time for us British to take stock and channel the calm resignation and courtesy of generations of queuing ancestors. Do we really need a full-to-brimming petrol tank? Is there another time, when the roads are less busy, when we can fill up?  Can we accept that stockpiling is selfish and greedy? Can we afford to sit back and stay off the roads for a few days until the situation normalises?

"Apoplectic railing against the slowness of the queue will get you precisely nowhere"

And if, despite all of the above, you still find yourself in a queue, follow queuing protocol. Make sure you’re queuing somewhere safe that will not endanger or inconvenience non-queuing motorists; close up the gaps as they open up; accept that, in the interest of the greater good, some people (such as police and ambulance crews) will have priority; cultivate an air of serenity and accept that you’re in for the long haul – apoplectic railing against the slowness of the queue will get you precisely nowhere.

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