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Wednesday, 13 September, 2000, 18:10 GMT 19:10 UK
Why we secretly like a crisis
Even in midst of a national disaster, there is room for a spot of humour. And no matter how much the fuel drought is hurting, most of us secretly like a bit of a crisis.

As fuel supplies evaporate and fears spread of "panic buying" in the supermarket, one commodity there will doubtless be a run on is tea.

The oil blockade has plunged Britain into a crisis, and what's the first thing we do in times of national emergency? Reach for the kettle.

Picketers at Cardiff Docks
Trouble brewing, but picketers soothe their troubles with lots of tea
The truth is many of us secretly welcome a spot of disruption - something to break up the monotony of everyday life; something to talk about while sipping reassuring cups of tea.

And for most people the fuel blockade is still a "manageable crisis". Thousands of jobs have not been lost, ambulances are still running and anarchy has yet to hit the streets.

The disturbance may be costing the economy 250m a day, but the long-term effects have still to seep through.

Like a rail strike or a bout of heavy snowfall, the fuel crisis has united people by common experience.

For some it is an opportunity to exercise that renowned British quality, Blitz Spirit.

Protestor's truck
There's always room for humour in a crisis
In Birmingham, bride-to-be Patricia Mountney has booked her brother's electric-powered milkfloat to get her to her wedding ceremony. The move came after the company which had promised to drive her on the big day said it couldn't guarantee a car.

Businessman Tony Appleton showed the petrol problem was not his problem when he dusted off his old Sinclair C5 electric buggy to get about.

But while some dig in their heels, others are quite happy to find themselves unable to get to work, says Peter Marsh, of the Social Issues Research Centre.

"For a lot of people it gives them an excuse not to do anything, they have an excuse to skive legitimately."

Artist Karl Wagener
Oil painting: Artist Karl Wagener caputures the dispute at Grangemouth, near Falkirk
Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills had not been skiving when he turned up half-an-hour late for his breakfast show on Tuesday, but he admitted the fuel shortage was "the best excuse for being late I've had in ages".

Crucially, perhaps, is the fact most people back the protestors. In a survey by GMTV, 67% of people asked said the blockades should not be lifted.

Psychologist Roy Bailey says we all have "affiliation needs", but day-to-day these tend to be subdued. It takes a collective experience like this for those feelings to surface.

"At the moment there is a kind of collective catalyst for shared affiliation. It's bordering on camaraderie," says Mr Bailey.

It also gives us a common topic of conversation, he says.

Welsh farmers in Cheshire
Shelter from the storm: Protesting farmers take cover in the rain
"There's always a myriad of stories to be told in something like this, about how people coped and muscled through. It's something you can talk to anybody about."

Peter Marsh was astonished by the good will among drivers who queued for up to an hour to fill up at petrol stations, before stocks ran dry.

"It was very perverse. But at the same time, the fact you are in a long line of people all similarly suffering and all having to queue is a great leveller. Whether you are in a Fiat Uno or a Jaguar, you have to wait just as long to fill up."

But will the banter and benevolence still be there when everyone, from lords to labourers, have to clamber on to public transport?


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