Roving reporter Mark Frog gives an eye-witness report from Manchester, as the petrol crisis gripping England spreads to food suppliers
Darkness was falling as I drove through the deserted suburbs of Manchester yesterday [Wed 28th March 2012]. The only other signs of life were in queues of stationary cars at the few remaining petrol stations that remained open. At one, I caught a glimpse of a boy in school uniform struggling with a plastic jerry can almost as large as himself. Next to him stood a family with a baby-buggy containing a garden water-butt.
I edged my way past the line of cans, finding a further stretch of deserted road, thankful for the two hours invested at the supermarket petrol station on my way to work that morning. On the Poynton bypass, I counted a mere dozen or so vehicles visible in each direction. I was heading for the centre of Bramhall to pick up a takeaway meal of the kind that had made news after the budget recently, through the Osborne Pasty-tax change.
The next petrol station I drove past was a Tesco Express which was open for business, but with hardly a customer to be seen. Each pump nozzle had been neatly sealed off with a plastic Tesco bag. Moving on, I came across the first signs of something unsual. The tail-lights of stationary cars revealed that traffic was at standstill, blocking all exits at the mini-roundabout in the centre of the village. A few of the more more assertive drivers were trying to muscle their way across and out of the jam. In the distance, the line of cars could be seen extended to a Shell petrol station which apparently had been the attraction for the desperate motorists.
But after some minutes wait, it became clear that the jam was a far more complicated matter than a simple queue for petrol. One part of the queue was slowly edging left towards my own planned destination. This was a combination of two queues that had coalesced, one trying to reach the Shell station, the other to get to the fish and chip shop. The petrol panic had triggered off an aftershock in the shape of a fish and chip panic. Would I get there before supplies ran out? Would I get there before closing time?
After what seemed several hours, I squeezed my Yaris into a space too small for competing drivers. I walked to the end of the queue for the fish and chip shop, some half a mile away, and began to wait. One little girl ran back with the news that they had run out of pasties and sausages but they were still frying fish and chips.
We shuffled on. The man behind me was muttering ferociously to himself, bearing a passing resemblance to the classic TV character Harold Steptoe. Eventually, I reached the shop. Inside, two assistants were combining taking orders with a little social work, reassuring customers that they were just waiting for the next batch of batter, and had not run out of fish. The Steptoe character tried to duck down and get to the front of the queue but was pushed back by a wrestleomania sized customer, to continue his personal muttering.
Two pieces of freshly battered cod manifested behind the plastic screen of the counter. I made my order for the two pieces, and I heard Steptoe snarl out his order in frustration. I handed over my money, wondering if I had bought the last two pieces of battered cod in the whole of South Manchester.
To be continued
Mark Frog’s report will be concluded as soon as we receive it. We assume he has been too busy dealing with his personal food crisis to complete his on-the-spot account.