The posts which make up this blog are not linked in any obvious way, although I guess some themes may develop. So there is quite a jump from the previous note about commentators’ sayings to a view of petrol on sale down the road. [Ok, so that other post was a while ago – sorry. This one was written early on, but I put it in another blog by mistake.]
The odd thing for me here is the fact that (uniquely in terms of retail in the UK) petrol is always sold with a decimal point of a penny. For heaven’s sake, we did away with the half-penny way back, early eighties at latest, yet now we have this theoretical precision. (By the way, don’t imagine that against decimals – on the contrary, I’m a huge fan.) It’s just that this obsession with pricing things as £999, or £9.99, or 99p seems pretty daft, especially when it introduces a whole new unit that you can’t even pay.
Oh, and I also realise that occasionally you come across places like Asda where they sell petrol at something like 126.7 pence, which is at least getting away from the “.9” syndrome, but still seems really arbitrary. It does at least make you look harder – like that car showroom I saw the other day where the cars had prices like £9,981 or £11,482 – values that look real, instead of the formulaic £11,499, etc.
Anyway, what is odd here, apart from the use of a non-existent unit of currency, is the idea that there is any real saving attached. Let’s say that our local garage (picture) sold petrol at 131 pence. Someone who put 40 litres in their car would pay 4 pence more, on a bill that is already £52.36. Would they really worry about the 4p? (Think of a ten-thousandth of the bill, and rejoice in saving 7 of those!).
Petrol prices are always a source of irritation or outrage, depending on how combustible a person you are. Sure, they can seem high. But to satisfy curiosity, I did some sums to work out what proportion of salary a fill-up would have cost me when I started work back in 1972, as opposed to now (using an equivalent post on the salary scale for the modern version). And the answer was that whereas my monthly salary back then would have bought about 40 fill-ups, my modern equivalent would get about 38. It’s within any sensible margin of error, isn’t it, to say that things haven’t changed very much. Though the price in my own town, with just one service-station holding an obvious monopoly for miles around, is coincidentally at least 3p per litre more than it is in most outlets 20 miles away. Strange, isn’t it?