More fool me, I’ve never checked between petrol stations as to which is cheapest. I couldn’t even begin to guess at how much it costs to buy two litres of petrol, which I believe is the minimum amount, unless you go equipped with a jerry can and beg. Like many, I have a vague idea how much a full tank usually costs and let the pump do its terrible work, hand over my debit card and assume they won’t impound my car if it’s declined. The prices are well-displayed and there’s nothing underhand but you are entirely at their mercy. It’s a necessary part of life and, if you’re really imaginative, there is something morbidly glorious about watching the dial spin around furiously as you literally pump your hard-earned wages away. No, the real horror of petrol stations lurk inside.
Perhaps you haven’t even got inside. Maybe you’ve suddenly realised a giant bag of charcoal briquettes is exactly what you’ve been meaning to pick up for the last fortnight (does anything else come in briquette form? Cocaine? Butter?) If you buy two bags, you can get a third off a giant flagon of anti-freeze. That’s a good deal, right? £50 for three items you could’ve bought for £15 at Asda. Who in their right mind would EVER fall for that? Seemingly, the majority of us.
Like service stations, railway stations and airports, there is an air of the apocalypse about petrol stations. You’re trapped: in the middle of nowhere; starving; cold; hot; ill; without a barbecue. You must pay the man and pay him well. Flowers. You must buy flowers. Doghouse, birthday or funeral, a late-night or early morning ‘shit-I-forgot’ purchase can be salvaged at a petrol station. Three roses left over from Valentine’s Day, bought in April? £12.99. The half dozen petals still attached after rattling around on back seat when you get home will have cost you over two quid each. The half-asleep bloke at the counter will not have batted an eye-lid, no more than a did when someone just paid over a quid for a Mars bar. An urgently needed Mars bar. What have we become?
There are things you can buy which make sense at ungodly hours, regardless of the cost. Headache tablets. Condoms. Crayfish sandwiches which cost a fiver. Imagine how long that crayfish hasn’t seen a body of water and yet, by the end of the day, the “fresh” sandwiches will have all gone, as will the “freshly-baked” croissants and sausage rolls. A fortune spent on a basket of botulism. Perhaps you too have urgently needed a copy of Razzle or a DVD of Flubber at 4am. Any film or CD on sale at these places are beyond criticism: lousy, appalling crimes against eyes and ears and the only places in the world which can still get away with flogging them at fifteen quid a piece. As a measure of humankind’s advancement in the 21st century, there is no more sobering place on Earth than your local Esso garage.