‘Does it have a mini-mart? A small supermarket, fits inside a garage, sells antifreeze and pasties, that type of thing?’. The words of Alan Partridge back in 1997. One of the most loved traits of Partridge is his ability to highlight the absurdity of the banal. Partridge is in thrall to modernism but the modernism of the mundane is all that he can access, hence his affection for the supermarket-cum-garage.
I’m Alan Partridge arrived during a tipping point for the forecourt shop. In the 1990s a petrol station with a supermarket was a sophisticated new metropolitan invention and as such it was a staple of stand up comedy routines – the gold standard being Eddie Izzard’s surreal queue of murderers waiting at the late night petrol station’s hatch to buy a Twix. Petrol dispensing was, though, still an artisanal affair in many places in 1997.
For example, the petrol stations of my youth, far away from Birmingham:
There were two pumps. You drove in, your tyres crossed the pneumatic tube which made the bell ring and a young guy came out. “Fill her up please, with four star” you’d say. Some light chat, perhaps about the news, weather or football, then when you were done you’d pop in to the little office. You’d hand over a few notes or perhaps you’d “book it” (my local garage was the sort of place that did things on account). There might be a few packets of sweets at the counter, and sundry motoring consumables like oil, tax disc holders and road atlases.
Those were the petrol stations of my youth. Those places were dying off in the 1990s though and the newer garages had more pumps, car parking, a cash point and where the small office used to be, there was a shop. Continue reading “101 Things Birmingham Gave The World. No. 65: Little Tescos in Petrol Stations”