What is it that really drives people to panic buy petrol? | Matt Mohan-Hickson

It has felt a bit like a redo of March 2020 over the last week or so.

Tuesday, 28th September 2021, 8:32 am
Long queues at Shell petrol station in Goldsmith Avenue on September 24, 2021. Picture: Mike Cooter

Panic is in the air and rationality has seemingly been thrown out of the window.

But this time instead of toilet roll being snatched from the shelves, it is a rush on petrol stations causing traffic and disruption for days.

Now, as a person who has failed his driving test more times than I would care to admit and as such do not own a vehicle, I have felt much more like an external observer this time around – instead of someone desperately trying to hunt down loo roll.

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Fortunately there were no fist fights over Andrex, as far as I can remember.

And from my outsider perspective, it has all seemed a bit like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There is a shortage of HGV drivers, that fact cannot be dismissed, and that is causing supply chain issues.

But it felt like the moment Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, went on TV and compelled people to carry on as normal and not panic buy, it caused people to go out and do that very thing – as if the suggestion that some folks were already panicking, meant that they should also do the same.

It is also quite possible that if BP hadn’t mentioned the fact they’d closed a ‘handful’ of petrol stations late on Thursday, this weekend would have panned out very differently.

To be honest, I thought that if panic buying actually came it would be people rushing out to stock up on food – given all the noises coming out of the supermarkets in the last week that seemed like it could have been a real possibility.

Hopefully I haven’t just spoken that future possibility into existence. Although I feel as if it is far more likely that any food shortages would materialise in the form of empty shelves and not so much a mad rush.

But I still can’t quite wrap my head around the reason why so many people rushed out to get petrol. Was it simply because they saw the lines and worried about being unable to get fuel in the near future?

Or is there a deeper reason? I remember the talk around the time of the toilet roll rush being that people gravitate towards that product because it is a Big Item and psychologically that is important.

Did I have a role in the panic buying?

The whole panic buying incident has also had me pondering my personal role in all of this.

First up I did feel quite vindicated on Friday, after having many comments directed at me for ‘scaremongering’ for simply reporting what the bosses of Iceland and Bernard Matthews had publically stated.

Petty I know, but being bombarded with Facebook notifications due to my line of work will do that to you.

But then I also got to worrying whether I made things worse by reporting on the closure of petrol stations on Friday morning. Did those early stories spark others to rush out to fuel up and this compound the issue?

Then again it is quite the act of hubris to think I could have any influence over people at all. Talk about being a narcissist.

After spending much of the weekend with these concerns bubbling in my mind, I’ve come down on the side that reporting on the queues and the fact that forecourts had shut was in the public interest.

I accidently broke my Wetherspoons boycott

I had firmly intended to never set foot in a Wetherspoons ever again. Same as I won’t be shopping at Sports Direct anytime soon.

In fact I hadn’t even really missed going to Spoons – even the cheap drink prices couldn’t tempt me to return.

But then this weekend while back up north I went for an impromptu night on the town with my friends.

Despite having not been out in Middlesbrough for close to two years, it was easy to slip into old routines.

Meet up, get a taxi into the town centre and start the night at the Swatters Car. It wasn’t until I was halfway through my first pint of the evening that I realised what kind of pub the Swatters Car actually was.

Yes, you guessed it – a Wetherspoons: The chain that I had sworn off more than a year ago.

It turns out you can in fact accidently trip, fall and break a boycott.

I’m not sure if it makes me more of a hypocrite to step foot inside a Wetherspoons unintentionally – or if it would have been worse to have done it on purpose.

But I do intend to keep avoiding Spoons as much as I reasonably can.