THERE’S been no shortage of moral outrage about “selfish idiots” and “mindless lemmings” racing to petrol stations to buy fuel we assume they obviously don’t need.
But let’s give the people a break. They — well, all of us, really — are actually behaving rationally.
It’s a point I heard made by someone who we should listen to — Professor of Social Psychology at the University of St Andrews, Stephen Reicher.
My ears pricked up when I heard him saying on BBC radio that: “If we’re told that everybody else is buying up fuel, if you’re told that everybody else is panicking, then it makes perfect sense for you to act.
“In fact, the irrational thing would be to do nothing because, if you’re not careful, all the fuel will have been bought up. This is a problem of ‘provoked buying’ rather than panic buying.”
Yes Prof, that is quite right. Someone has blundered, and it’s not your average buyer of fuel for cars.
Blame the Government; blame Brexit if you like, or not; blame the media, by all means, but don’t blame the people. They’re last in the line for blame. To misquote Robin Williams’s famous line to Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting: It’s not their fault.
I well remember the last fuel shortage panic of 2000. It was so serious for me that I very nearly decided not to go to Crewe Alexandra v West Bromwich Albion on a Tuesday night in September.
In the end, I did make the journey from London. I’d gambled on refuelling in Birmingham but, like most of my bets, it didn’t come in. So I had to leave my car just off the M6 in Aston and cadge a lift with a mate the rest of the way.
He dropped me back to my car at about midnight and, by driving at a steady 50mph, I just about made it back home to London at three in the morning. A 350-mile round trip, in the middle of a fuel crisis. Crazy. Even if we did win, 1-0, since you ask.
I shouldn’t have gone. I should have stayed at home and saved the precious fuel I used for someone who really needed it. It was selfish of me, and irrational, and not remotely sensible, so I’m in no position to criticise anyone filling their tanks now.
OK, there are exceptions. Filling up petrol cans to take away with you is surely daft, as is filling your car right up on the merest off-chance you might suddenly, out of the blue, need to make a 400-mile journey. Even then, it’s all very well to take some moral high ground, but who knows what perfectly good reasons these so-called panic buyers might have.
? Read our petrol crisis live blog for live updates on the crisis
Public transport, if you’re lucky, might be an option in your part of the country but outside London, and a handful of other major cities, the carless are helpless. I’m thinking particularly of older people who, without their own transport, will struggle to get to the shops or the doctor’s or anywhere else. For many people a full tank of petrol might not be strictly necessary, but it does afford peace of mind and that isn’t nothing, it’s a precious thing.
Our professor blames us, the media, for a good bit of all this bother. The media was only reporting what was being told to ministers in Whitehall meetings by the likes of fuel suppliers and supermarkets.
And he might have a point. But FUEL CRISIS PANIC! is always going to be a better headline than VERY FEW GARAGES OUT OF FUEL AND THERE’S PLENTY TO GO ROUND SO EVERYTHING IS NORMAL.
He even suggests that instead of showing pictures of petrol stations with long queues or no fuel, we should “have more pictures of petrol stations that are functioning perfectly well”.
He points out that, at the start of all this anyway, the vast majority of stations were working perfectly normally but they didn’t get any coverage.
Well, yes. As he well knows though, this is just the way of the world.
It’s just human nature to be influenced by what you believe other humans are doing. The pandemic lockdowns worked until we saw evidence that others weren’t complying with the rules, at which point we asked, why should we?
This weekend we were all prepared to exercise restraint for all of five seconds before we decided others wouldn’t be doing the same. But this is how we’re built — complaining about it is about as pointless as being disappointed that we walk on two legs. It’s for those who govern us to work with how we are, rather than how we should be.
As our social psychology professor puts it: “Don’t use the term ‘panic buying’ because it implies that it’s the people who are the problem. And if you treat people as the problem, they become the problem.” Well said, sir.
Still waiting for my Chiles-hood dream – to meet my 007 namesake
IT’S customary for men and women alike to have a favourite Bond girl.
Mine is rarely chosen by anyone else. She is the woman in Moonraker, Holly Goodhead.
“What is it about her?” I hear you ask. Well, she was played by one Lois Chiles, who, back in 1979, was the first person I’d ever come across outside my immediate family with the same surname as me.
As a teenage boy, I’d fantasise that my lovely Aunt Lois would one day come visiting, at Christmas perhaps.
But still no word from her I’m afraid, all these years later. I live in hope.
Rayn it in Angie
IT seems Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, used the word “scum” to describe Tory ministers generally and/or Boris Johnson in particular.
I mean, it’s not the nicest word in the dictionary, but does at least accurately convey exactly what Ms Rayner thinks of her political opponents.
The Chambers dictionary has the meaning as “a worthless or contemptible person or such people”.
When a potty-mouthed outburst like this emerges, rather than despair at the state of public discourse, I always marvel that it happens so rarely.
We know many of our politicians think these things – and worse – about each other. What self-control they must have to not splurge them out more often. Honestly, they’re souls of discretion, bless them.
What a dream team
FOOTBALL, like life, often generates moments of beauty and horror so close together that the effect can be dizzying.
A perfect example is the story of a 13-year-old Fulham fan called Rhys Porter.
Rhys, who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy, plays as a goalkeeper for the Feltham Bees disability team. When Fulham scored at Bristol City on Saturday several of their players ran over to Ryan to celebrate with him.
Well, after posting a video of himself saving a goal on TikTok, Rhys received hundreds of abusive comments from other users.
“There were a lot of really nasty comments,” said his mum. “Things like, ‘you can’t play football, you’re disabled’. It was shattering to read, but at the same time we know that life and reality can be quite harsh.”
Words fail me.
Fulham heard about this abomination and responded by making Rhys an honorary member of their team and listed him as a first-team goalkeeper on their site.
Again, words fail me, other than to say: Rhys, and Fulham FC, we salute you.
Medics need a break
GPs seem to be getting a huge amount of stick.
I can’t join in with this. I used to be one of Britain’s leading hypochondriacs and bothered a series of GPs over many years. Then, as I entered middle age, I developed real ailments.
My GPs have invariably been great. Except one I consulted about chronic itchiness of a part of my anatomy I won’t reveal.
After a series of treatments he finally exploded: “The reason they’re itching is that you won’t stop scratching them.” Fair enough.
I know several family doctors who have to deal with the likes of me, and worse, every day.
The GP I’m closest to rang me in tears at the weekend, enraged and upset by calls for them to see more patients face to face. She and her partner between them see around 120 patients a day virtually and ten to 15 face-to-face in the surgery. Then add a couple of home visits.
How, she asks, is she supposed to find time to see more patients face to face without the whole operation crumbling?
It’s a fair question.
Scoop on poo
I’VE never been a fan of autumn.
Yes, the colours can be quite nice for a while, but what’s to love about a season that marks the end of summer and heralds the coming of dark, miserable winter?
Well, if I may answer my own question, I have found something good about autumn.
As a dog owner I’ve realised that it really is the best time of year for picking up the poo.
The leaves are a godsend.
You can scoop the whole lot up together, stash it in the bag, and it’s like the whole ghastly business never happened.
One tip though – leaves being all shades of brown makes for very effective camouflage, so do keep your eyes peeled.