Nearly weeping with relief, I join the 25-car queue

Our Man On The A1
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The Independent Online

Although I've never had any idea how many miles to the litre my somewhat unreliable Vauxhall Corsa 1.4 automatic can manage, I was pretty sure yesterday that the 10 litres of fuel I had in the tank would be unlikely to get me all the way from London to Leeds.

Although I've never had any idea how many miles to the litre my somewhat unreliable Vauxhall Corsa 1.4 automatic can manage, I was pretty sure yesterday that the 10 litres of fuel I had in the tank would be unlikely to get me all the way from London to Leeds.

Naturally I cursed the fact that I'd spent the previous evening having a drink when I should have been sitting in a queue for several hours at the local garage. By midday, my local Esso station was drained of unleaded fuel, so it was with more than a little trepidation that I headed up the A1.

I quickly became obsessed with my fuel gauge, sneaking a look every couple of minutes. Oddly, after 20 minutes, the gauge appeared to indicate that I had more fuel than when I'd set off.

But I knew I would have to top up somewhere. And I had a theory that the further away from London, the better my chances would be.

Near Hitchin in Hertfordshire, I became worried. The needle on the gauge was inexorably closer to the five-litre mark, which meant that unless I found petrol I would be forced to turn back. So it was with some relief that I took my place in a miraculously short queue outside a BP garage on the outskirts of the town. There, I just had time to study the "Saving Fuel" section of my owner's manual before an attendant told me they were all out of unleaded.

Next stop Letchworth, where the first garage only had four star. After briefly wondering whether to put it in my car, if only to teach it a lesson, I moved on.

Then, like an oasis, the blessed Icknield Way Esso garage materialised. Almost weeping with relief, I eased on to the end of a queue that amounted to only 25 vehicles. With the exception of a tricky moment when a taxi driver had a go at me for stealing his place, it soon became clear the queue was imbued with a kind of wartime solidarity, as strangers chatted.

Gordon Brown's name came up quite a lot in the conversations. Never favourably.

Forty-five minutes later, I slotted in next to a pump and filled the tank up to the brim.Thirty quid poorer and 30 times happier, I turned around and headed back home, because there was no guarantee I'd be so lucky further up the road.

So I never made it to Leeds but I do, at least, have a nearly full tank of petrol. And I reckon I earned it.

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