IF THERE’S ONE MONTH that’s absolutely guaranteed to make me feel utterly depressed it’s January. The month starts off badly, screwed by yet another fatuous Bank Holiday, and hardly improves till the capital F of February appears on the horizon. To begin with there’s the petrol tanks filled to the brim because you didn’t want to run out over Christmas. Every year I look at the previous year’s sales when placing my tanker orders and every year I think “I know that’s what we did then but I daren’t risk running out and with no deliveries for four days I’d better play safe”. And every year I’m filled to overflowing. Then there’s absolutely crap fuel sales – we know that the first couple of weeks after Christmas everybody is skint, but why does it have to take till February before normal activity is resumed. Then there’s the New Year Resolutions. Now I’m sorry, this Resolution thing may offer some short-term soul-cleansing but don’t the public realise that we NEED our cigarette and confectionery sales to keep our bottom line in black ink! Last, but not least, is the almost guaranteed tumble in fuel prices. If the hypers looked at their previous year’s sales they would know that cutting 10p off a litre won’t get the buggers to buy more, so what’s the point of giving margin away?

OF COURSE, THE COMBINATION OF FULL petrol tanks and big drops in pole-sign prices used to be the final knee in the groin. In the pre-Platt’s deals days most of us were faced with the choice of either blowing our brains out to keep sales slowly rising or holding on to the margin for the sales we were still making to the three customers a day who stayed loyal. And it’s been the move to Platt’s pricing that, despite all the depressed sales misery, would have put a smile on most retailers’ faces over the past six to eight weeks. Margins of 8-10p a litre don’t happen very often!

THERE’S PARKINSON’S LAW, there’s Murphy’s Law, there’s Hutber’s Law… and now I give you Mo’gas’s Law – the Law of Unintended Consequences. Put simply, this law states that whenever the Nanny State decides to intervene to ‘safeguard’ the interests of its poor, mistreated citizens, there are always people who end up worse off than before. Last month I highlighted the OFT’s pressure to reduce the intercharge fee banks could make for non-customers using an ATM. The result has been the banks’ retreat from free-to-use non-bank sited ATMs and their replacement with fee-paying machines. The punter is paying more!

CONSIDER THE DISABLED DESCRIMINATION ACT. Designed to ensure that disabled people have access to the same facilities as the non-disabled, the idea was that providers of services would upgrade their existing facilities. Very laudable. I don’t know how typical I am, but faced with estimates of £7,500+ to upgrade our customer toilets to enable disabled access, my reaction has been to close them completely. Now I comply with the law. By the same token, my existing able-bodied customers no longer have access to something they previously enjoyed. Number of disabled customers in wheel chairs I had before the law? None. Number of non-disabled customers –1,250 a day. Mo’gas Law! Incidentally, is there something special about toilets at a petrol station? Is there a secret sign somewhere that directs the dirtiest, filthiest, most disgusting dregs of British society to use only our loos? My cleaners are very grateful indeed to the DDA!

THESE DAYS THE SUBJECTS OF GLOBAL WARMING and the need for eco-friendly policies never seem to be far from the front pages. Adverts and slogans assault you from everywhere. So why is it that so many big companies seem to alter their invoice procedures and replace one piece of paper with three or four. Arval PHH used to send out one sheet that was perfectly adequate – now it’s three, mainly empty, pages. I recently terminated the rental of a BT phone. BT’s invoices used to be one A5 sheet. To tell me I had £2.35 in credit took BT seven sheets of A4! Roll on February – even I’m fed up with my own moaning!