For someone who knows precious little of Britain north of Watford I have had a huge adventure these past 36 hours, namely a trip to Cleethorpes and Grimsby in north-east Lincolnshire to visit relatives.
The journey up took an epic seven hours, broken only by a half-hour stop at the Newport Pagnall service station on the M1 for a comfort break and – due to pressure of numbers of the Great Unwashed – consuming a couple of sandwiches washed down with a bottle of water in my car, parked in the car park.
Going clockwise around the M25, presumably in a quest to travel up the M11 to Cambridge, I was slightly surprised when the soothing female voice of my sat-nav announced that, due to traffic congestion, she was altering my route and would now be taking me up the M1.
It was one of those ‘When did you last stop beating your wife?’ situations. I shall never know whether my sat-nav girl had chosen a superior route or whether, if only I had ignored her and ploughed on, I’d have had a better time of it trudging up the M11.
Having opted to go up the M1 as instructed, I subsequently slavishly followed my instructions and had almost reached Sheffield before my sat-nav advised turning eastwards.
Before that, I had to endure three separate sets of roadworks on the M1 of between five and fifteen miles in length, each signposted with a ‘50mph maximum’ speed restriction.
50mph? A chance would have been a fine thing! Thanks to the overwhelming weight of traffic going in a similar direction, the average speed I travelled at through all of these sections was about 20mph and on occasions I was either totally gridlocked or inching forward, just yards at a time.
If that wasn’t enough, on two occasions those of us going north were also subjected to ‘traffic incidents’ ahead of us. Again this required crawling forwards at a snail’s pace for miles and miles.
Fighting off a burning sense of losing the will to live, eventually I arrived and checked into my Cleethorpes hotel overlooking the estuary, with large tankers, ferries and other craft edging across the horizon, and a broad stretch of beach laid out below, half-obscured by damp fog. It didn’t look much different to Brighton or Bognor Regis, to be honest, only with a broad Lincolnshire accent.
That took only five and a half hours in total, without any stops at all. The one thing that worried me was that I went around the east side of London on the M25, including over the Dartford Bridge. As I approached it, as I had done upon the last fifteen occasions I had used it, I began sorting out my change in order to pay the toll. Then I passed various signs overhead with a large ‘C’ on them, which I ignored, instead looking out for the signs giving the tariff for the toll, so that I could (hopefully) chuck the correct amount into the bucket thing when reaching the toll booths (rather than stopping to deal with a jobsworth inside).
There weren’t any!
Instead, somebody had removed the toll point altogether and thus … in a state of some disbelief … I simply continued on my way without paying any toll at all.
Now I’m nervously awaiting a visit from the traffic gestapo, who will presumably charge me with wilfully avoiding paying the Dartford Bridge toll in advance online or by phone – as I now assume is the ‘new’ method, but which (of course) nobody had told me about.
Things were so much simpler in the days of warm beer, harvest festivals, village cricket and Cliff Richard and The Shadows …