Yesterday I joined my brother Peter on an early morning trip to the coast to see my father. We had an early lunch and set off to return shortly after 1.00pm. At approximately 2.10pm, we turned off the M25 going towards Heathrow and onto the three-lane M3 going northwards into south-west London. At that point, I was about 20 minutes from being dropped off outside my home, armed with a list of things to do before relaxing during the evening.
Almost immediately, we ran into the back of a gridlock. Given where we were, there was no escape – the next turn-off was approximately ten miles ahead of us.
At first, Peter just opened the car windows and switched off the engine. To pass the time, we then listened to Radio Five Live and Peter dialled up television coverage of Glorious Goodwood on his smartphone.
For a while, people did nothing, presumably because we all thought we’d be on our way shortly. However, eventually, like a colony of ants gradually coming out of hibernation [do ants hibernate?], human activity began.
After a while people began getting out of their vehicles, to stretch and/or try to establish what was going on.
Four or five walked 100 yards to a walkway bridge over the motorway to take advantage of the shade.
A lady of about thirty years of age dressed in sandals, T-shirt and shorts – in serious need of a diet and some self-discipline – emerged from the passenger seat of a car two or three ahead of us in the lane to our right and began re-arranging the contents of the boot, with help from her two young children in the back seats.
The workmen from a small lorry beside us and two nearby white vans, some of them naked above the waist, gradually gravitated towards each other and began chatting and laughing as they smoked.
A twenty-something prat and his girlfriend in a small white Fiat car ahead and to the left decided that they couldn’t take the empasse anymore and, negotiating with the drivers of cars behind as necessary, began attempting to ‘back up’ between the lines of vehicles (presumably for at least a quarter of a mile) to the M25 junction in order to find an escape route. We never saw them again.
A paramedic lady in a Land Rover Defender ahead got out of her vehicle and, donning a high-visibility jacket, began directing the non-moving traffic, the better to allow a series of ‘rescue’ vehicles – two ambulances, a highway serious incident vehicle and an unmarked police car flashing blue lights – to pass in the nearside lane at various times.
Apart from that, there was little anyone could do but wait.
It turned out, I discovered from responding to a call on my phone which resulted in some online research by the caller, that that had been a ‘severe (multi-vehicle) incident’ some six or seven miles ahead involving air ambulances, incident investigation units and numerous other rescue services.
After almost exactly 80 minutes, the first signs of life and movement began.
We crawled forward, initially in three lanes but then forcibly filtered down to just the nearside one in order to pass the extensive cordoned-off incident (two cars, about 150 yards apart, were still in the outside lanes, completely smashed up and pointing different ways, plenty of debris lying about, innumerable rescue vehicles in attendance).
… and that, essentially, was how I spent yesterday afternoon.