Last night I drove up the M1 in order to collect my son from Luton Airport, he on a lightning 48-hour visit to the UK for a variety of business and personal reasons.
Leaving aside the issue of why a 31-year-old male needs to be collected from anywhere by his father – as it happens, he asked and, since I had nothing else on and he gets back here so rarely, I volunteered – I was nevertheless fascinated by the experience.
Direct flights from Gdansk in Poland arrive only at Luton. There appear to be just two flights per day, the second of which touches down at 1955 hours UK time. Ergo, timing my departure backwards from that, I was obliged to set off to collect him bang-slap in the middle of the London rush-hour.
On the way out – on this evening, in the prevailing traffic conditions – it took me the best part of sixty minutes to reach the Wembley turn-off on North Circular road, a distance of approximately 11 miles. On my route to that point – via Mortlake, Kew Bridge, Ealing and the Hangar Lane gyratory system – the cars had been practically nose to tail all the way in both directions.
Ultimately, walking away from the Luton Airport short-stay car park towards the Arrivals part of the terminal, my journey (of a fraction over 36 miles) had taken me exactly 80 minutes.
My son’s flight touched down fifteen minutes early, so we actually emerged from the car park on our return journey at exactly 2010 hours. We were back home just 48 minutes later, having re-traced my original route.
This piece may read as though it was penned by someone with an over-active anally-retentive gland. That may indeed be so but, as someone who very rarely ventures anywhere in the rush hour anymore, I could not claim to have been particularly dismayed nor stressed by an experience that over a million souls are obliged to endure every day of their working lives.
When you are stuck in traffic approaching a slow-changing set of traffic lights, and there is absolutely no possible means of escape, all you can do is sit there and try to relax. Last night, to an extent, the discussions about the impending European Cup clash between Galatasaray and Chelsea on Radio Five Live went some way to assist.