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Posts Tagged ‘traffic’

The roads are so impossible in this country! Everywhere you go there’s traffic, traffic, traffic: every motorway is jam-packed into a solid torrent of multi-coloured metal, every A-road is covered in vehicles verge-to-verge, there’s hardly a glimpse of bare tarmac to be seen on B-roads, and even on quiet byways there’s likely to be tractors and, soon, combines, bouncing along with frustrated drivers following in long processions hissing like irascible snakes.

You may know how many miles your journey is, but can only guess at how long it will take because of the great imponderable of what the traffic will be like. Queues can build up in mere seconds and cause delays that can run into hours.

Factor in the odd roadworks, a motorway closure (oh, that M3!) or, at best, snail’s-pace contraflows, plus a few diversions, and you’re looking at something that may appear on the road map to be just up the road turning into an odyssey of epic proportions.

Friends who drove to London on Saturday – a straightforward journey that they do regularly and which normally takes no longer than a couple of hours – told us of the torment they endured when they found many of the capital’s streets closed for a charity cycle ride. They were redirected this way and that, until furious and frustrated, they reached their destination six hours later.

The return journey was only a little better. Thanks to the overnight roadworks on the M3 and some remarkably bad diversion signs that sent them in circles and then back again, it still took them four hours.

Now the summer holidays are in full swing, the roads, especially in this part of the world, are even more crowded than usual. We try to hunker down for the duration, leaving the highways for others to turn into car parks. Of course we venture out sometimes, always doing our best to skirt the honeypots and the blackspots, but if we can possibly avoid a car journey we will.

That said, I had to drive to south Gloucestershire last month, a straightforward journey that didn’t involve going through any towns. Even so, it took me three hours, so that I arrived hot and fed up and dreading the drive home the next day. The lorries I’d been stuck behind made it seem as though there was some conspiracy afoot. Was someone letting them out at intervals in front of me, just to slow me down and make me late?

In fact, against all expectations, and proving how impossible it is to predict journey times, my drive back on the exact same route was a complete contrast. It took just over two hours and was absolutely stress-free. Not even that many caravans, either – but don’t let me divert on to that topic.

I think it’s the lorries that I find the most loathsome and intolerable. They are everywhere, owning the roads. Even in the narrowest lanes and tiniest, most remote villages, their drivers gormlessly follow satnavs. They’re self-important, heavy-breathing and heavy-polluting, banging and thudding into anything along the roadside that might impede them, and far too often thoughtlessly driven.

Lorry drivers used to be dependable and mannerly, truly knights of the road. Not nowadays. They’re bullies, a lot of them, and I think they, and we, would benefit if they could be tutored in road etiquette as part of the qualifications for their HGV licence. I’d offer to tutor them, too, so there. That would serve them right.

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We had no idea, when we booked a week’s holiday in Italy, that it would coincide with the classic car race, the Mille Miglia, passing close by us.

As Geoff and I are both of a petrolhead persuasion, this was a thrill we had no intention of missing: hundreds of the world’s most astonishingly beautiful old cars roaring their way along stage 2 of a 1,000-mile circuit from Brescia to Rome and back.

Friends invited us to join them on their balcony to watch the cars as they roared past below. No thanks, we said, we want to get close and inhale the fumes and play ’let’s identify the marque’.

We studied a map of the route and chose our viewing point beside a traffic-light controlled crossroads that we hoped might afford us the best views of cars both stationary and racing.

That was the theory. In practice, the junction was actually being controlled by a bouncy little chap in a peaked cap and overlong trousers with two deadly weapons, a piercing pea-whistle and a sort of lolly-stick for pointing at vehicles and waving them through.

He practised his technique a few times on the normal local traffic (if there is anything ’normal’ about any type of Italian traffic) and there were only a few near misses, no actual crashes, so by the time the race cars started appearing, Carlo the Controller was confidently in command.

Cars, lorries, scooters, motorbikes and pedal cycles bore down on him from all directions but Carlo could halt them in their tracks with one well-aimed flap of his stick.

A few of the local drivers, unaware of what was happening and how huge and significant this day was in their village’s history, noticed nothing untoward and drifted over the crossroads in the same heedless manner they had probably done for the past 60 years. Carlo remained calm, shrugged a bit, and turned his concentration to a row of heavy-breathing pantechnicons that he would not allow to pass until he gave the drivers the nod. Oh Carlo, the power vested in you, your hat and your lolly stick!

The simmering chaos on the road was replicated beside us on the pavement, where grown-ups, children and, inexplicably, dogs, threaded around each other as they sought the best vantage points.

At last, everyone settled down and the first cars started to appear. Carlo seemed so vulnerable out there in the middle, alternately flapping, bouncing and whistling like a furious football referee. I worried for him as wave after wave of Ferrari supercars bore down on him, their thunderous roar splitting the air and making the ground shake. These were the glamorous outriders, leading the way like overdressed, noisy, show-offs.

Carlo got them all through unscathed, and then the classic cars began their more sedate but no less thrilling passage past us.

After two hours they were still coming, wave after glorious wave of them, their occupants waving to us, their adoring, starstruck admirers.

By the time Geoff and I left we were sated with the thrill and spectacle of it all. And Carlo? I reckon he must have got home that night a dust-encrusted, fume-raddled wreck, his nerves strung to the point of exhaustion, his lips sore from blasting that whistle, his arm aching from flapping the lolly-stick.

What a good job well done, Carlo. I do hope we weren’t the only ones to appreciate what a hero you were.

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ONE of my mother’s favourite pastimes is observing life from the windows of her second-floor flat. She only goes out if my sister or I take her (“I’m under house arrest,” she smiles, like the good sport she is) so looking at the world from the safety of her home is a less challenging option at 93 than joining the fray.

On my Mum-care days I join her in watching life’s rich pageant flow past. We cannot be seen, which is excellent, but we have an unimpeded view of everything from show-off gymnastic ducks on the river to soggy pedestrians struggling with umbrellas.

All human life – and much animal life, too – is revealed. You don’t need a telly for daytime entertainment when you have a window with a view on the world.

Mum particularly likes to see small children. She empathises with the ones who lag behind their hurrying parents, trying to thrum their fingers along the railings or craning over the bridge for a glimpse of the diving ducks. We both feel sorry for them when they get chivvied or, worse, rammed into a buggy to accelerate progress.

We weave stories about some of the passers-by. “They’ll be off to her mother’s for lunch,” Mum will say, indicating a youngish man and woman on the opposite pavement. “You can see her husband is reluctant. I expect they go every Sunday and he hates it.”

Ten out of ten to Mum for inventiveness, and I go along with it, speculating about what they’ll be given for lunch and whether or not they’ll have to stay for tea, with perhaps a riverside walk in between.

I haven’t the heart to spoil it for Mum by telling her it isn’t Sunday and that it is more likely, by their body language, that the man and the woman are work colleagues heading for a business appointment. Her take on it is far more entertaining.

Sometimes we see a crocodile of schoolchildren, always a cause for delight. “I expect they’re on a nature ramble,” Mum says, and I agree, though knowing that we’re both way off the mark. It prompts a little memory-nugget in Mum.

She tells me, for the 32nd time, bless her, about the day she was walking to school and fell in step with Maurice Tomlinson (the name changes with each telling) who was struggling to carry a very large tortoise, so she helped him.

She is adamant it happened and who am I to doubt her. And yet . . .

More memories of her early days pour forth, prompted by the sights we see from the window. What a rich and valuable resource it is. Even the seagulls, which line up so smartly on a nearby rooftop like sailors in tropical whites, remind Mum of the day she walked to the seaside town four miles from her home village, her small hand safely in her big sister’s every step of the way.

On Monday this week there was the sudden excitement of a large lorry backing into the area below Mum’s window. A handful of men swarmed as sheets of MDF and sacks of plaster were unloaded into the hall of a house opposite. We were riveted. One man was doing all the work while the other four stood and watched, not knowing, ha ha, that we were watching too.

We admired the lorry, with its on-board crane and folding-down sides, and I know, given half a chance, Mum would have loved a ride in it. Me too, but I have to remind myself that my caring duties include setting a good example. What a shame.

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GEOFF and I are always reluctant to go anywhere that might get us caught up in crowds of people and queues of traffic. This means that during the high season most visitor attractions and many roads are off limits.

We choose instead to enjoy the home-made attractions of our own house and garden and our familiar local walks while we wait until the holiday madness settles and the roads become less clogged.

On Sunday, we found ourselves with a rare free afternoon. Let’s go somewhere, I said. The schools have gone back, the holiday crowds have returned home and I’m sure that by this time of day the roads won’t be busy.

So off we set, our destination Lulworth Cove, for a coastal walk in the warm sunshine and for Geoff to give his camera some exercise. Perhaps it would be the last chance of going anywhere this year without foul-weather gear over 36 layers of Arctic-proof body protection – who knows?

The last time we’d been to Lulworth we were showing it off to Italian guests. They come from an area of Italian coast that boasts mile after of mile of featureless beaches plastered with bodies spit-roasting in olive oil on hired sun loungers.

They’ll love this, we told ourselves. Lulworth is so beautiful, so English, with its perfect bay, its dramatic cliffs and its pretty cottages.

In fact, our visitors could not have been less interested. For one thing they didn’t stop talking long enough to give us a chance to explain where we were and what they should be looking at, and for another, they were about as comfortable admiring stunning English landscapes as we are when we watch their ghastly Italian television programmes.

Of course, this made us all the more possessive and proud of Lulworth and anxious to reach out and embrace it. Unfortunately, when we reached out to it on Sunday, it was apparent half the rest of the world had done the same. The car park was packed, cars were going round and round trying to find spaces (there is something so very depressing about that) and everywhere you looked there were people.

This was not what we’d come here for. Geoff extricated the car from the mayhem and we drove west to Durdle Door, where we hoped the teeming hordes were less evident.

They were. We parked and walked. It was so beautiful, so intoxicating in its extraordinariness and so unspoilt, despite its honey-pot effect.

The beaches were busy and many people were bathing, no doubt astonished, as we were, that it was even thinkable let alone enjoyable at this time of year.

Geoff and I made a pact to return in winter and see it all under the influence of different elements, without the sun and the blue sky streaked with clouds, without that amazing turquoise seawater in the bays, and without such a proliferation of shorts, sleeveless tops and sunhats.

Perhaps we would find, instead, a heavy sky, a cruel sea and a few stalwarts of the cagoule and boots brigade. What we would most hope to find, I know, is a tractor to tug us up that lung-burstingly steep, stony track to our car at the top.

 

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Coming home from our holiday, we feel as though we’ve been away for weeks, so immersed have we been in living the life of Palermo flat-dwellers and all that entails.

Actually, while most of it entailed the pursuit of hedonistic pleasures such as sight-seeing and eating for Queen and country, the location of our flat meant that a fair amount of time was spent dodging the snarling, roaring traffic to get to the other side of the road and thence along something dangerously uneven that might once have been a pavement.

We became quite practised at it as the days went by, though we never had the courage to adopt the locals’ way of crossing the road. They step straight out into the maelstrom of traffic without seeming to notice it is even there, strolling between moving vehicles, shouting into their phones and flapping their arms.

Geoff and I were more British about it. We’d teeter on the pavement trying to catch the eye of a driver, adopt a pleading look and then hurry across while raising our hands in multiple gestures of pathetic gratitude.

As if any of the drivers cared. They had places to go, cars to bump into, scratches, scuffs and dents to inflict, kerbs to mount, buses to cut in front of, cyclists to clip and send into a spin, speed records to break, just as they do every hour of every day, while blasting their horns for the fun of it.

As city breaks go, this was one of the more frenetic. No, the most frenetic. Nothing compares. Even busy Berlin, Krakow, Prague and Amsterdam are remembered now as quiet, orderly and calm. Palermo eclipses the lot.

That said, it makes a fabulous destination for anyone, like us, who appreciates la dolce vita. You merely have to adjust your usual volume tolerance levels to excessively high and not allow yourself to be upset or depressed by any of the less savoury sights.

There is a great deal of beauty, so many stunning buildings of immense age and history, yet so many of them sit surrounded by decay and neglect. The overflowing rubbish bins and the litter are one thing, and are just about tolerable because there is the slight hope (very slight, I know) that someone will be along one day to do a big tidy-up, but the graffiti spreads all over the ancient city like some appalling rash. No surface is left unsprayed or unembellished in some way, not even the war memorials, so that after a while the eye becomes almost used to its hideous intrusion.

Come on, you want to say to the Sicilians, you have this fabulous city, its every pore oozing history, but you don’t look after it. Show some pride! Stop chucking away your heritage with your fag ends! Stop ruining those beautiful sights with your spray cans and your mis-spelt words of rebellion!

And yet, deep among all the mess, Palermo still manages to reveal its beautiful soul to us and proudly show off its many treasures. We love it for sharing so much with us, and we also love it for its friendly people, eager to chat, give directions or recommend a dish.

After 10 days as Palermitans we have returned to the tranquillity of Dorset, swapping the cacophonous sounds of a city for birdsong and church bells. It’s good to be home.

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It’s all about the sights, the sounds and the, umm, smells, here in Sicily. Actually, nothing too pungent to report in and around our rented holiday apartment in Palermo, apart from an occasional drainy whiff in the hall, so it is the sights and sounds that are defining this 10-day break for me and Geoff.

The sights are spellbinding and spectacular, to choose but two adjectives. It is hard to come up with other ways of describing a lot of what we have seen, other than perhaps resorting to the overworked ’awesome’, so let’s leave it there, and believe me when I say that a lot of what we are seeing is at the very summit of awesomeness.

Mosaics? I’ve seen a few. A few million, that is. You get kind of blasé about them after a while, forgetting to notice the detail while still aware of being in the midst of one of the world’s most incredible works of art. The Cappella Palatina, modest in size, vast in its glorious profusion of colourful mosaics, was designed by King Roger II (yes, really) in 1130 (yes, really). I wonder what comes after awesome in the lexicon for those of us who cannot believe what we are seeing.

More mosaics, more dropping of jaws, rewarded us after a white-knuckle bus ride a few kilometres out of the city and up the winding hill at Monreale cathedral, which Roger’s grandson, William II, masterminded to outshine all others. Good, those Normans. Good at art and conquering things, at least.

Geoff and I were keen to visit Monreale cathedral not just for the obvious reasons. Italian friends were married there a few years ago so it was a chance to see for ourselves where they had tied their knot.

As wedding venues go it is pretty well out of sight, what with all that knock-out stuff going on inside and, outside, the Sicilian sun making the Med shimmer like a mirage in the distance.

Yes, we are having sun! All the forebodings I expressed here last week about rainy days waiting for us in Sicily turned out to be true only for the first 24 hours, and now we are in a happy routine of going everywhere without coats or umbrellas.

The sights around us are more than enough to keep us busy, but we are venturing further afield, too, by train, bus and, for two days, in a hired car, to ensure we see all the Greek and Roman temples, ruins, ancient settlements, significant heaps of rock, big towns, little towns, odd out-of-the-way places, monuments, statues, memorials and unfinished buildings (of which there are thousands) that guide books and friends eagerly recommend.

Finally, we come to the sounds of Sicily, where we find everything is turned up just beyond comfort level on the volume knob, especially in the case of voices and traffic. Our flat is beside a busy road junction. Actually, it should be a junction, but it doesn’t function as one because that would imply traffic either stops or gives way. It does neither. Five lanes of cars, trucks and scooters accelerate like dervishes as they knit and weave around each other in a crazy game of chicken. Each driver hoots – and then hoots again, for the hell of it. In the background, always, is the sound of sirens. Ambulances scream past night and day in a blur of lights and klaxons. That’s bad luck, Geoff remarks. There must have been a little prang. I can’t think how that happened.

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