Monday, 5 August 2013

Fairways and motorways

Also known as autobahns in Germany and freeways in the USA, motorways are technically supposed to be a means of bypassing all those nasty things that slow traffic down, like towns and winding country lanes. In a sense, they have worked brilliantly, because those towns and country lanes are a lot easier to drive around now. However, that's only because all the traffic is now to be found - gridlocked - on these multi-lane car parks.

Do I sound bitter? Oh, I'm sorry.

Yes I have a reason. You see, we have a guest this week, a very good friend who has managed to escape from her homeland of Greece for a few days. The only things is, we live on the south coast of England, and our friend was due to arrive in Heathrow airport. This meant driving, on a Saturday early in the school holiday season, on the infamous M25 - AKA the London Orbital. It's infamous for having many delays and has in fact been portrayed as having demonic origins by messrs. Pratchett and Gaiman in the excellently witty novel, 'Good Omens'.

The original cover of the novel
featured an eerie, glowing version
of the M25.

Whatever the origins, the London Orbital was definitely living up to its reputation on Saturday. For about thirty miles, we alternated between crawling and complete halt. When we reached a service station, we gave in and decided to have lunch - only to find that the service's car park was about as gridlocked as the motorway we had just left. Going in AND leaving.

After we finally managed to leave the services and crawl our way to the airport, we had another problem - how on earth could we pick someone up without using a car park?
Answer: we couldn't.

Despite us timing our arrival perfectly with our friend's ejection from security and customs, we wound up going through two car parks and getting lost on the way. In the end, what should have been a joyful meeting was instead a hurried "Oh hello, come on, let's get going." I'd had enough of the bloody roads.
With that in mind, I went along with julie's suggestion that we avoid the M25 and head off a different route. Since she had the map, I agreed and let her chart the course.


Julie readily agrees that map-reading is not her forte, so she can hardly be blamed for us going around roads, hitting the same roundabout twice from different directions - and leaving it from two other different exits - and crossing the M25 two or three times.

I have no idea what our guest in the back of the car thought as we bickered our random way across the western outskirts of London, but it's possible she had some misgivings...
Eventually, more by luck than judgement, we found our way onto the M3. Feeling a very certain need, I suggested - in no uncertain terms - that we stop at the next motorway services for a trip to the loo and a nice, hot cup of tea.

Fleet Services (circled), as portrayed in our road atlas.

'...and relax...'

You may be asking, at this point, why on earth we don't have a satnav. Well, I'll give you two good reasons. Firstly, the sound and the look annoy the hell out of me. And secondly, when the bloody things get stuck into a closed loop by turning right all the time, I remember that I actually like maps and enjoy browsing them. Julie, unfortunately, doesn't have the same facility with maps as I do, so it can be a little hit and miss when it comes to going to new places.

That aside, I decided that we would consult our road atlas together, before we set off once more.

As the three of us crowded around the pages, Julie betrayed her lack of experience (because that's all it is really) once more and wondered how I knew where we were.

Our friend was ever so pleased. She'd only been in this country for a couple of hours and she'd already been at Gem ground zero.