IT’S MY OWN FAULT REALLY. I mean, it’s not like this is the first time I’ve suffered such a disappointment. After all, I’ve been round the block a few times and really should have known better. Every time good old En-ger-land are in a major football competition it’s the same. I get all excited. Will this be the time when it finally all goes right? The line-up looks good, the planning has all been done, the pundits really believe success is possible. And then what happens? Almost nothing. Barely an achievement worthy of note.

I’M TALKING SHOP SALES HERE, of course, not football. The mountains of booze, Coke, crisps and chocolate my punters were supposed to want to buy from me to slam down their necks in front of the telly watching Becks and the boys still resemble sizeable Portuguese foothills. The anticipated surge in my shop sales was blown away either by the hypers selling at prices less than I can buy at or by the growing trend of watching the match on the big screen down the pub. Add the drop in fuel sales as cars stay parked on driveways and the usual June rain that knackers car washing and you could say Euro 2004 was a bit of a damp squib for me. Apart, that is, from those lovely car flags. I wouldn’t like to guess how many were sold across the nation but judging from my sales it must have run in to millions. Now for the World Cup in 2006: if I bought a containerful early enough at the right price…

OF COURSE, WHAT MADE JUNE’S results look more depressing than they probably were was the fantastic May we enjoyed. Even I, the proverbial gloom-and-doom merchant, have to admit it was an absolute belter of a month. Superb fuel margins as we all got into the swing of raising prices (well, with all the newspapers telling our customers how much the stuff was going to increase by, it seemed a shame to disappoint them really), beautiful hot weather for drinks, ice cream and barbecues, and the trees shedding sap and blossom while the birds did what came naturally to ensure the car needed washing at least twice a week. I almost thought I had died and gone to heaven.

AND THEN WE HAD OUR MINI FUEL CRISIS. What absolute plonkers the great British public are. A couple of mentions of resurrecting the fuel protest and the forecourts are jam-packed with everyone filling to the brim and petrol cans disappearing off the shelves like we were giving them away. Still, it scared Uncle Tony enough to promise a review of the September duty increases, overriding Prudence’s attempt to cop a deaf ‘un. Mind you, it was only a review that was promised, so we’ll have to wait to see whether our guaranteed ‘holiday pay’ will materialise or not.

THE WHOLE FURORE over duty increases just goes to show how dangerous persistent annual percentage increases can be. Just like the old time car salesman’s liturgy of ‘it’s only a couple of quid extra a week,’ it only takes a relatively small number of years to find the whole thing’s got totally out of hand. Which is why you would have thought the Government would take a little more care with the Minimum Wage. The rise in October from £4.50 to £4.85 an hour may not seem a lot in absolute terms but in percentage terms it’s a whopping 7.8%. And that’s at a time when the RPI is going up by only 2.5%. Apply 7.8% for another five years and we get a Minimum Wage of over £7 an hour!

OF COURSE PRUDENCE doesn’t mind wearing his short-term spectacles. Not only does every increase create even more people starting to pay income tax for the first time but it also cuts the amount paid out in working tax credits and the like. But these increases are going to have to be paid for. Some will have to come from even higher taxes to pay the burgeoning public sector, some will be paid for by higher prices to the consumer and some will be paid for by job losses. Which is a very good starting point for understanding why some of the hypers are beginning to move to unmanned, credit card only operation.