Fearing and Loathing on English Country Lanes

I had one of those commutes this morning. You would think that a commute mainly on small lanes winding through the English countryside would be lovely, relaxing and postcard-perfect the whole way. You would be wrong; it’s a gauntlet of loathing, swearwords, white-knuckle driving and literally risking your life.

Oh, the countryside is beautiful, of course. There are lots of rolling hills, soft green fields filled with lambs or black-and-white cows, trees line the lanes and daffodils fill the shoulders of the road in spring. There are enough stone barns and Very Old Churches™ to satisfy any travelling American’s hunger for quaintness.

Time, however, is the operative word in connection with commutes, commute usually indicating that you need to get somewhere (usually a job) by a certain time. Not ten minutes after that time, mind you, not half an hour late, but on time. This is, on more occasions than not, difficult to accomplish.

These roads weren’t meant for the amount of traffic that they now have to carry. They’re narrow, and visibility is very low because of their quaint, winding nature. On my commute, there is one section that has two passing lanes in either direction, spotted with lots of speed cameras that force you to drive in a very schizophrenic fashion: hit the beginning of the two lane part, go 60. Speed camera – go 40 mph until you’re past the lines. 60 mph. 40mph. Everyone is doing this while they try to beat each other to the front of the line. Sometimes two cars that are dueling encounter road hazards, such as milk floats, taking up one lane. If you are the car in the milk float lane, you must slam on your brakes, trying to ignore the fact that the other fellow is laughing his ass off. The two lane section ends.

Then you see the tractor that you couldn’t see before, pootling along at a sedate 20mph. There is always a lot of traffic coming towards you, which makes it difficult and dangerous to pass him, but if you are brave or have nothing to live for you can do it. Except for the ones that always seem to be followed by two cars containing blind elderly people that will never in a million years try to get around the tractor. This makes it impossible to pass. The farmer on the tractor could, and by all rights SHOULD, pull over to let some of the ten-mile tail of traffic behind him go past. They never do. They sit there, rattling along, feeling the glares of hundreds of people behind him wishing him a heart attack or flat tire or anything that would cause him to pull over, and totally ignoring them. Given the high level of disregard that the current government has for the countryside, perhaps he’s working off some anger and frustration; I don’t know.

Another hazard are the bikers. The pushbike variety, not motorcyclists (although I hate them too). They take up half the lane, dressed in silly spandex shorts and those teardrop-shaped helmets that always remind me of sperm for some reason (don’t ask – just picture it as a cartoon drawing with a wiggly tail attached). Again, you have to risk life and limb to get around the selfish bastard who is slowing down the commute because of his leisure pursuit. Granted, I do the same thing when I ride on the roads, and I also admit that a bicyle is unlikely to take fright at a discarded Asda bag in a hedge and decide to leap out into 60mph traffic, but still. At least I’m not slowing traffic down at 8:30 on a weekday morning.

The worst thing is risking a major accident to get around a cyclist, only to arrive at a set of temporary lights at a roadworks; you sit there for twenty minutes while the cyclist sails by, free as a damn bird. (For those in the States who have proper multi-lane, straight freeways and don’t have to worry about such things, roadworks are when they stop traffic at a hole they have dug in the road. There’s never an explanation for said hole, and you never seem to see anyone actually working in one, just a couple of guys in donkey jackets looking into it and scratching their asses. You’ll see exactly the same two guys looking into exactly the same hole for the next two weeks, so allow plenty of time to get to work.

Anyway, there you have the joy of commuting on English country lanes.



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