Friday, September 29, 2006

Road Up!

The headline said “UK Road Works Voted Best in Europe.” I was so startled that I misread it as saying that UK roads were the best in Europe, a hypothesis that made the head spin.

The last time I drove in England I reckoned that I had spent fifty per cent of my time sitting in stationary traffic on motorways. But on reading it again, I spotted the word “works” which made all the difference to the sense of the piece.

It seems that the British were not claiming that theirs were the best roads in Europe, just that they were better at digging them up than were their European neighbours. It seemed an odd sort of achievement to claim.

The Automobile Association had spent a lot of time and effort on comparing the national skills of various nations at disrupting traffic and causing the maximum inconvenience to drivers. Their scouts had roamed Europe looking for dismantled roads and one can imagine the excitement at head office when they heard that the Germans were about to dig up an autobahn at Weiden in der Oberplatz. Hurriedly they would call their agent, who was busily counting how many traffic cones the authorities had deployed in Seehein-Jugenheim, and despatch him to the scene of the action to collect data on the number of lane closures and one way traffic signs.

The British have always been world leaders in many things and here they may have paved the way (if you’ll excuse the expression) for a whole new international competition. It cannot be long before the Transport Authorities of all the other nations will be sending their spies abroad to prepare their reports on the efficiency with which traffic snarls can be created.

Eventually it will become an Olympic Sport with nations vying for gold medals based upon the proportion of men leaning on shovels to those actually using them. Five to one is about par for the course from my own observation and this ratio seems to remain pretty steady worldwide. The Automobile Association have not published their data on this but I will be happy to help them out if necessary.

The possibilities are endless. Really bad ramps could come under a special category and temporary traffic signals would gain many points for being permanently stuck on red.

But it is so typical of the British to be crowing over their achievement thus far. They should bear in mind that they have long experience in the sport. I can remember when the only artery into the West Country of Devon and Cornwall was the A 38 road. At the start of each holiday season, the authorities would wisely dig this up, thereby preventing a great many holiday makers from reaching their destination and so avoiding any unsanitary overcrowding in those counties. It was an example of official forethought and planning that will take other nations years to emulate.

So for the immediate future, I foresee that the British will take “Le Jackhammer d’Or” at the international festival of road works for many years to come and there will be a steady procession of winners climbing the stage, still with clay on their boots, to accept the prize on behalf of Great Britain. Hopefully they will able to maintain their proud record of five watchers to one worker, making it a difficult target for any other upstart nation who wishes to join the elite company of traffic disrupters.

After all, it’s people like these who put the Great in Great Britain.

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