Clarkson on: Norfolk
Not that long ago, I pulled in for petrol at a garage in Norfolk. The man behind the counter, who looked a bit like a turnip, only with ears, took my credit card, popped it in the till, shut the drawer and moved on to serve the next customer.
Strange. This was a service station, on a main road, in the 1990s. So how was it possible for one of the employees to be unfamiliar with how a credit card worked? Plainly, he’d never seen one before which made me suggest, out loud, that Norfolk is not the sort of place where they point and say “Ooh look. A Mercedes AMG65SL Black”. Instead they said “Ooh look. A car”.
Of course, this made me the Antichrist in Britain’s vegetable garden, which is a shame because I like Norfolk. I like the way there are sex shops on every roundabout. I love the drainage system. I love the big skies. I go there every year to shoot pheasants in the face, and I like that too.
What I emphatically do not like, however, is the sheer impossibility of getting there. Over the years, I’ve tried every single route, but it always ends the same way. Doing 35mph behind a lorry carrying bits for a grain store or, more usually those Sainsbury’s internet shopping trucks which don’t say on the side – but should – “You Shop. We Get In Your Effing Way”.
In 2005, there were 824,000 people living in Norfolk, and that’s not counting the eight million illegal workers from Estonia and China who can’t be counted properly because no one from the Home Office can get beyond Cambridge before they die of old age.
Whatever. The upshot is I’m not talking here about a small village that’s cut off. I’m talking about a million people who are physically barred by crap roads from entering England. And I’ve decided that to help out, large chunks of Leicester need to be flattened.
Usually, when I go to Norfolk, I go through Northampton, but as this is the worst signposted city in the world I’ve given up. Stroud is bad because you always end up in the station car park. And Basingstoke is terrible because if you try to get out, you end up in a multi-storey, and you have to pay to leave. But Northampton is biblically awful.
Either the signposts were written by someone who was being deliberately stupid, or it was a school project for four-year olds. The signs on half the roundabouts talk only about local roads and industrial estates, not other towns and cities. So you almost always end up, whether you like it or not, in Kettering, which is famous for absolutely nothing at all. Or Wellingborough, which is famous for being nowhere near where you’re going.
So, I decided when I was in King’s Lynn last weekend that I would not be going home on the usual crummy route. And that I’d try to find an alternative.
Before plumping for the A47, I asked a local if it was a dual carriageway. This was a mistake because in a place where people have no understanding of credit cards, there is no way he’d be able to grapple with the concept of a four-lane road. “Yes”, he said.
Naturally, he was wrong, and so I spent the next 400 years in a £250k SL Black doing 35 behind an endless stream of internet delivery trucks, farmyard equipment and sex maniacs cruising the array of adult shops. Until eventually, I entered England.
"I’m talking about a million people who are physically barred by crap roads from entering England"
How can this be possible? The city officials must know that their city sits like a big blob on the map separating a million Norfolkians from friends and relations in the rest of the country. So why, in the name of Jesus, have they not built a by-pass?
Even Northampton has done this. Oh, you can’t find it and if you do you end up in Wellingborough digging tunnels to get out again. But it’s there.
In Leicester, I kid you not, all East-West traffic – and there’s a lot of it – has to go through housing estates, and bits of suburbia where all you can buy is monosodium glutamate from a Chinaman and a Chuck Norris DVD from the local video store.
Not that you’re looking at the scenery, of course, because you know the entire area will be festooned with speed cameras, so you have to dawdle along with both eyes fixed firmly on the speedo. I may have run over half a dozen children as I passed by and if I did, you can blame the speed limits, the cameras and the idiots who thought “Yes. We need a ring road. But we aren’t going to build one”.
I should imagine that if you live on the choked-up streets of Leicester, you will be nodding furiously at my suggestion, especially if your child has been run over by someone who was forced by speed cameras to drive along looking at nothing but his dashboard. Well you can stop nodding, because I have a plan.
There is no point expecting any help from the Government, because the Minister of Transport is Geoff Hoon, who said recently: “We know there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”
In the last great depression, the American government mobilised the working man and built massive projects like the Hoover Dam and the interstate network. But can you imagine our Government doing that today? With Swampy on the loose? And an ugly bird with a custard pie lurking on every street corner? Not a chance.
Frankly, the only way Leicester is going to get a ring road is if the locals put down their Chinese take-aways and their Chuck Norris films and build one themselves. There is a precedent for this...
Kalgoorlie is a mining town about six week’s fast drive from Perth in Western Australia. And back in the Eighties, the locals were convinced it was about to be blown off the map.
Here’s why. The trucks bringing explosives for the gold and uranium mines would pass through the town and everyone was convinced that the law of averages would soon step into the mix and cause one of these dynamite lorries to have a crash in the town centre.
They pleaded and pleaded with officialdom, but nothing was done. So one day, the local government people were invited, quite forcefully, to spend a long weekend in Perth. And when they were gone, Bruce and Sheila set to work.
Using bulldozing and heavy-lifting equipment from the mines and with the women folk bringing a non-stop supply of lemonade and cakes, the men toiled through the heat in a scene that must have looked like a scene from the Amish film, Witness. But in just one weekend, they had their ring road.
This is not civil disobedience. This is civil ingenuity. And it won’t just be the people of Leicester who get involved either. They are bound to be joined by 850,000 Norfiskers who will see the project as a much needed life line to bring them from feudalism into the modern age. With that many on the job, they are bound to have it finished before Swampy turns up to say they have squashed a snail.
Sadly, however, the route I have in mind for the ring road would mean the suburbs of Oadby and Wigston would have to be removed. That would end their ambitious plans for the Crow Mills Picnic Area. But, as Mr Spock once said – and he was a logical man – the needs of the many outweigh the picnicking needs of the few.