Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Pump it up

I've fond memories of petrol stations - I used to moonlight at them during fifth and sixth form which partly explains my exam grades and how a schoolkid had a motorcycle. Back then a pump jockey (as we liked to think of ourselves) would not only fill your tank for you while you sat in your nice, warm and dry car, we'd be expected to check oil and battery fluids. There was commission to be earned by selling anything over-and-above the petrol, and the friend who got me the job quickly taught me the ropes. Like offer to check the oil as soon as you could - the sooner you got that dipstick out, the lower the oil level would appear, with a lot of it still up in the head and galleries. I cringe now, knowing what can happen to an overfilled engine, but back then all cars used a fair bit. Or so I tell myself.

Next up was trying to convince folk to buy a new battery - I see that in today's terms a battery cost around £200 when Queenie came to the throne in 1953 - no wonder people were paranoid about checking them or leaving car lights on. The job we dreaded was cleaning windscreens - no money to earn, and a real risk of waiting customers moving on to the next garage before we got to them.
Because here's a thing - there were around 500 cars for every petrol station back then, compared to nearly 4,000 today. In and around my home town I can recall 12 service stations as they were called - today there are just three. And you have to serve yourself, then queue to pay behind someone doing the weekly shop. Same thing's being tried in supermarkets with self service tills and of course online shopping - we do all the work, and the chap who used to serve you has long gone. Along with the shop, the cleaners and everything else that made a small town tick. I'm sure there was at least as much delivery work back then, because most shops would deliver, and of course stock had to get to them first.

This is why, batteries, oil and fuel aside, everything's cheaper now in real terms than it was 60 years ago. But that means far fewer semi-skilled jobs are available too. Some you win, some you lose. Or rather, some win, some lose. Anyway as a bit of nostalgia here's my old Darmah as seen past issues of Benzina plus a great bit of reimagining forwarded to me by Jan Leek


  1. Brilliant. I worked at a Jaguar dealers. No extras to be earned beyond the odd gallon of juice for my Bantam 175. I was sacked aftery first shift for recording the wrong readings. Made it look like I'd sold 100000 gallons of fuel in an afternoon. The owner gave me a lift to te bus stop in his V12 EType. So impressed with my knowledge oh Jags he gave me the job back. Happy days.

  2. Greg, you Darmah bum you. First time I ever filled up at this gas station was on way to North Glos road races at Keevil. Me on C15. My mate Mike on a Villiers-engined Ambassador. Amazing what you find surfing the net when you're sat waiting for the mist to clear on the Mountain! All good with you dude? Beak!

  3. I was told you no longer answer to Beak! I too suffered a C15, and have happy memories of getting into Keevil weekday evenings to "test" the 400/4. Glorious sunshine here, so maybe the TT should relocate to Wiltshire. I might get to watch it then...

  4. Ha, ha. Don't remember your C15 but I recall you terrorising Devizes on that 400-4!

  5. I try to forget the C15; do remember you awarding my brother and me the "limp wrist" award in the club newsletter for being the fastest round a treasure hunt on 400/4s. Mine actually ended up being raced at the TT by Richard Stevens - it blew up.