Busy day on Wednesday. Got up at 06.15 to take Ruth and Tim to Heathrow for their flight to Canada for the winter. Apprehensive about getting the car out of the garage and up the drive, I had cleared the snow yesterday and no more had fallen overnight. It was very cold but temperatures had not been as low as the last few nights when it has been minus 8oC. A mere minus 3oC was not as problematic.
Packed the car to the roof with mega-bags, boot bags and skis and set out at 07.30 as planned. The potentially most difficult part of the trip, the first 60 seconds, went fine, getting the car up the drive, along the service road and around the sharp turn uphill onto the crescent.
Heading South towards the M4 it very soon became clear that there was far less snow, I guess because it was closer to the equator. Or at lower altitude. Or closer to the sea. Or some such geographical explanation. Heavy traffic around Newport but no real hold-ups until passing the junction with the M5 and approaching the M32 into Bristol when traffic flow ground to a crawl. The M32 blockage passed, the rest of the journey to Heathrow was problem free.
Arrived at the airport at 10.15, fifteen minutes ahead of checking-in time. Parked in a short stay car park, and then went over to Terminal 3 check-in, a long walk with two trolley loads of luggage. Cup of coffee later and I left Ruth and Tim in the queue for security, and took the straight-line route back to the appropriate end of the car park.
Into grumpiness mode now. First, it turned out that the only payment machines were at the other end of the car park, about a quarter of a mile away. The payment machines had no instructions whatever. That meant a few of us were trying to work out how to persuade the machine to accept our money and give us our cards back to activate the exit barriers. Pressing the ‘assistance’ button produced nothing of value. It seemed there was only one person on duty dealing with all machines on all 5 floors and when the bloke at the next machine to me finally managed to get him to respond the advice was completely incomprehensible. For the 1½ hours I had been parked the machine demanded £6.30 but continued to spit out my £10 note. Finally I discovered that it would only accept the note if presented in one particular orientation. Having mastered the logic of the technology I could finally escape.
Exit from the airport was well signed and soon I was in the tunnels and about to turn onto the M4 slip road when the petrol warning suddenly buzzed and 2 seconds later the parked traffic on the M4 and its slip road came into view. Instant reaction: couldn’t risk getting into that traffic with little fuel in the tank, next services about 20 miles. So I accelerated, changed lanes and went straight ahead to find a filling station. Long, boring story driving around the Home Counties looking for a filling station or supermarket, having no knowledge of the area and keeping to main roads. I guess it must be a pretty deprived area, very few facilities of any kind. Took me over half an hour before I eventually tracked down a filling station in the outskirts of Uxbridge . Then headed for Slough and the M4 again.
Back on the M4 the traffic was flowing freely. In some cases a lot too freely. There seemed a non-ending stream of cars going up the outside lane at speeds considerably in excess of the 70 mph limit. I used to drive very fast myself, a habit changed by having been booked once too often, so I know the kind of speed I used to overtake at. These guys were certainly going in excess of 90 mph compared with my 70-75 mph.
Few of the speeding cars were boy-racers, most were expensive BMW X5s and the like driven by wealthy alpha males celebrating the return to power of the defenders of privilege and telling the rest of the world to get stuffed. It seems to my politically jaundiced eye that such conspicuous consumption and nose-thumbing at authority and society was last seen in such a blatant form in the Thatcher Years.
I used to drive fast because I find driving boring and speed was a way of keeping my mind focused. So it’s a bit hypocritical of me to criticise but much of this seemed like a flashback to the bad-old days. Most of my motorway driving is on the M4 in South Wales and the M5-M6 to and from the North West of England and this kind of driving seems to be thing of the past on those routes partly because average speed cameras were put in place, partly because of the extent and frequency of road works, and partly because of SVT – sheer volume of traffic. So is the speeding alpha male in the X5 more prevalent in the Sarf East? Or is it just a prejudiced perception?
Whatever, it was clear that not a lot is done at the London end of the M4 to enforce the speed limit but I continued at my staid 70-75 mph (I aim to drive at 70 but the speed does creep up now and again). Some time ago I found a way to maintain focus without the speed. I set the readout on the dashboard to display fuel consumption data and try to maximise miles per gallon. Best achievement so far is getting 62 mpg on a trip to Sussex, including lengthy sections on the M4, M3 and M25.
So am I envious of these guys zooming along with no care for the law or anyone else on the road? Would I drive at those speeds again if I knew I wouldn’t get caught? I’m reminded of the joke told me by a Greek guy and which I’ve mentioned in a previous blog. Two farmers, one with a very large, flourishing flock of sheep, the other with a failing flock. The latter was asked what he would wish for if he could have one wish granted, to which he replied “that all my neighbours sheep would die”. I suspect that there’s something of that in all of us. I hate to admit that there is something of it in me. No, I wouldn’t drive that fast again. But I would dearly love to see those arrogant bar stewards getting banned for speeding and their expensive toys taken away.