Clarkson on: roads
God, the Midlands were unpleasant last Sunday. Despite warnings from sinister government climate change agents that 500mph winds would kill everyone who wasn't buried in an eight-foot snow drift, it was a gin-clear day livened by the chink of a nipple-tingling, ice-blue wind from the crease-sharp Siberian tundra.
Obviously, linen-crisp weather like this always brings out a few idiots; or ramblers as you may know them. This is normally a fairly harmless pursuit because the communists who make up the rambling community like to trample around in other people's gardens to make a point about property being theft, or they go up a mountain from which they have to be rescued by a helicopter. Either way, even with good visibility, they are mostly out of sight and therefore, thankfully, out of mind.
However, last weekend, the militant walkers had been joined by a million ordinary people who had presumably looked at their central heating, cooker and electricity, and thought "I know. Let's go outside and do something energetic until we are out of breath, very cold and covered in mud".
Presumably, they see fresh air as a cheap alternative to Call of Duty and ‘running around' as a less expensive way of staying warm than easing the thermostat up a couple of notches. Whatever. Because they had no political point to make about property being theft, they were not in other people's gardens or up a mountain. They were on the roads. In my way.
First of all, there were the horse ridists. In Britain, there are an estimated 2.4 million people who enjoy cleaning up manure, and being kicked, and last weekend every single one of them was on the A423 desperately trying to reassure their endlessly nervous one-ton bison that the discarded training shoe in the hedge was not a wolf.
Naturally, they all give a cheery wave when you slow down as if to say: "See. We can all share the road together", but we can't because I am alert, sober, warm and comfortable, and you are on something which has no brakes or steering and does a silly tap dance when it sees a plastic bag.
Happily, however, I didn't need to slow down because I was constantly stuck behind the grizzled backside of a cyclist. Why is it necessary to wear such revolting clothes when on a bike? We really don't want to see the contour of your anal hairs. And why ride three abreast? Don't argue. You do. And why do people in cars - who paid for the road - not get a wave of gratitude when we choose not to mow you down? I suspect it's because all cyclists are basically very nasty.
Meanwhile, on every grass verge there was a family, dressed up like they were auditioning for a role in a yoghurt commercial, and in every hedge, there was a horny-handed son of the soil burning twigs so that the road was shrouded in a 1920s smog, and then shovelling mud into my path so that I'd skid and be killed.
It was a horrible drive made even worse by the presence of people in Peugeots and Hyundais for whom 30mph limits were not a nuisance but an unattainable dream.
The reason for all this is simple. Yes. There are a great many people frightened about their future, so they walk to the pub or ride there on a horse to save the pennies. I have no argument with that. I do, however, have an argument with the new Labour idea that roads are a sort of communistical free-for-all to be enjoyed by everyone. Except for the people in cars.
In the past, we would tell someone we didn't like to go and play in the traffic. Now everyone thinks it's their God-given right. And that even if they choose to play a game of Scrabble on the A45, then it's up to the car driver to sit and wait till they've finished.
"With every move, our glorious leaders attempt to thwart and penalise the driver. Penalty points. Sleeping policemen, traffic wardens from the Nazi party"
We see this with shared-space ideas currently being introduced by various swivel-eyed councils across the land. And we see it too with their biblically mad ideas to remove white lines and cats eyes so that we can't see where we're going. We see it with the M4 bus lane and with their brilliant idea to tax cars on how much of a specific gas they produce... which car makers will circumvent by making the engine produce a dribble of CO2 at the precise point in the rev range where the tests are carried out. Look at the output figure for the new big Jag V8 to see what I'm on about.
With every move, our glorious leaders attempt to thwart and penalise the driver. Penalty points. Speed awareness courses. Sleeping policemen, traffic wardens from the Nazi party, clamping lorries, tow-away lorries, road tax, petrol tax and no help, as I write, for the battered car industry that employs 850,000 people in this country and despite the best efforts of government to stick a log in the spokes, maintains a steely determination to keep the wheels of the nation turning.
We see yet another example of muddle-headed government thinking in the decision announced this month to let people use the hard shoulder when the road is busy.
The hard shoulder is an emergency lane. And while the modern car does not break down very often, unless it's a Peugeot, they do still crash. And when they crash, it's important the ambulance drivers get to the scene as quickly as possible. Something that is impossible if the accident has blocked all the lanes, including the hard shoulder.
The government knows full well, of course, that the motorist who is lying in a burning wreck, screaming and calling for his mother now stands no chance of being rescued before the flames take him into the next life. Yet it has still chosen to go ahead with the plan.
It all seems a bit odd until you look at the sums. You see, originally, the Government had planned to widen large chunks of the M25, the M6, the M1 and the M62, which, of course, is exactly the right thing to do in a recession. In the Twenties and Thirties, the American government took thousands off the dole and set them to work building the interstates.
Sadly though, our government doesn't think in a joined-up way, and has decided to spend the money instead on outreach counsellors. Which means there simply isn't enough in the kitty to spend £5 billion widening the motorways, which only benefits car drivers who are bastards.
There's more. You'll only be able to use the hard shoulder when the motorway is busy, and so most likely to stage a crash, which is why, when the emergency lane is open for general business, a lower speed limit will be in force. And that, naturally, will have to be enforced with cameras...
So, not only does the government save £5 billion by not widening roads, it actually makes some money in speeding fines. And if people die because the ambulance can't get to the scene of the crash in time, then that's one less motorist which is good news for global warming. Everyone wins.
Except you and me of course, because instead of a wider, faster motorway, we get an outreach counsellor in Wigan, we stand an increased chance of being killed and if we don't we will be caught speeding so often that we will lose our licences which means we end up where I began. On the A423. On a bloody bicycle.
This article was first published in March 2009.
Want to comment on this?
Jeremy, you are correct in thinking horses should stay off the road. Keep them in the field where they belong and can unpredicatably jump at their own shadows. You are, however, wrong in assuming that you can 'save the pennies' by riding a horse anywhere - they are more expensive to keep than a car! Saw some company's Toyota pickup last week with a sticker on the back: "No cash on board, wife has horses!". The horse is not a cheap form of transport.
Don't forget that if they die before the ambulance can get to them the NHS doesn't have to fix em up. that is serious savings to you the tax payer.
Oy, Clarkson... seriously, that pink shirt. Is this a way of eeking ever so slowly out of the closet and admitting that you are indeed in love with that young, butch singer-bloke you had on the show recently? Seriously, pink is for girls, my friend, check out any maternity ward on any hospital of your choice. Jeez.
Otherwise, by the way, I totally agree on everything you said in your coloumn! But that shirt... seriously.
Could they use some of that 5 billion to fill pot holes? There are already people that use the hard shoulder when there is a traffic jam! I saw this first hand while driving along the M3, well stationary really, to my parents on Boxing Day '08. The traffic jam had caused a fair sized queue to form so loads of idiots decided that they were allowed to use the hard shoulder in order to get off at the next junction!