In my new role as unofficial National Rust traffic reporter, yesterday I had occasion to set off at 5.50am on a quest to visit a publisher in a little village not far from the city of Leicester, an expedition that necessarily involved travelling up the M1 motorway, of which I had been much warned of late.
Within forty minutes my view of the traffic conditions was transformed.
Initially, making my way up to the Hangar Lane gyratory system and proceeding eastwards around the North Circular, I was pleasantly surprised by the swiftness of my progress and the lack of vehicles on the road this early in the day – and also the darkness.
However not much later, i.e. by the time I had made it to the intersection between the M1 and the M25, I was mightily impressed (and not in a good way) by the sheer volume of traffic that was now both exiting and flooding towards London.
If this is what life is like for those who still have a job in the modern United Kingdom, I’m very glad I’m on the scrap head.
When you’re mentally prepared for the worst, the advent of problems doesn’t bother you so much as it might. From not far north of Luton, the M1 announced that – due to road-widening works – it was going to a ‘reduced width’ lane system for a while. Half an hour of proceeding with caution and a 50mph speed limit (that was impossible to exceed anyway because of the weight of traffic) took me to a large sign which helpfully announced that the lane restrictions would continue for ‘another 8 miles’.
Ho hum. Well at least I had Radio Five Live to keep me company – I alternated this with two of my best-ever ‘road’ CDs (Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising and The Doors’ Greatest Hits) as I ground on towards the Watford Gap service station whilst ‘enjoying’ a grandstand view of the grid-lock that by now had totally clogged up the southbound carriageway opposite.
A while later, seeing on my sat-nav screen that I had reached within 10 miles on my target with 45 minutes to go before the office opened, I decided to stop off (after just shy of two hours’ driving) at a service station near Leicester for a comfort break and then coffee and a flick through the Daily Telegraph.
This was my one mistake.
Back on the road some twenty minute later, I turned off the motorway and set off through the suburbs of Leicester in the direction of my target. The traffic conditions were as bad as anything I’ve experienced in London, not helped by far too many sets of traffic lights.
Frustration grew as I neared the publishers’ depot, going further and further behind my self-imposed scheduled arrival time.
I must have been there and done my business in less than ten minutes … and then I was back on the road again, on my way home.
On the face of it, the journey was exactly 110 miles each way.
All I will record here is that the return journey down the M1, then retracing my steps around the North Circular etc., took me three and a quarter hours.
The cause was immediately apparent when I reached the M1 – a large sign indicating “Serious delays – Junctions 12 to 6”. Those in charge were not joking. For an ordinary Joe like myself, there was no slick alternative that I could turn to. The way home was straight down the M1 and there was no avoiding it.
The irony is that – faced with the news of delays etc. – I relaxed and simply took my medicine. There was nothing else for it.
The experience affected the remainder of my day after I reached the sanctuary of home. I felt lethargic and unable to concentrate all afternoon and eventually retired to bed at 7.45pm.
At least today is another day.