I set off on my bike at 8:30 today on a picture-perfect May morning, with blue skies and cool breezes and the sunlight filtering through the fresh green leaves of the trees. All was normal (apart from the weather, of course) until I got to nearest village and saw not one car but three, turning off to head down the back road to Papershop Village – my road. That’s odd, I thought. Must be something going on. Especially when the three cars were joined by three more behind me, and more coming the other way. This back road is exceedingly narrow, basically a single track road with passing places, except without the passing places. Locals know where the ditches are and pass each other by driving half on the verge and half on the road, breathing in and hoping. Generally, if I see three cars on the whole length of that road I wonder what the world is coming to, the traffic’s so dreadful And these weren’t locals. They were driving shiny saloon cars instead of tiny beat up minis or battered 4x4s. And they were making a bit of a meal of squeezing past each other, stopping at gates, and generally clogging up traffic.
A passing council lorry informed me – as it squeezed past one of these queues – that there was an accident blocking Big A Road. There might have been more details – he seemed inclined to lean out his window and chat, as he would have done had we passed each other on a normal day – but I was aware that we were holding up what was by now quite a big queue of cars, driven by people for whom minutes actually count*. Car after car started filtering past me, rushing to get into the queue of cars waiting to pass each other at the next gate. I thought about playing leapfrog with them – because most of the time I could quite easily have passed each blockage – but I didn’t want to end up roadkill, so I didn’t. At the top of the biggest hill, when I pulled over to let a lorry through that had been making a bit of a meal of overtaking me, another 20 cars streamed past in its wake. I wouldn’t mind – I didn’t want them on my tail – but only one of them actually smiled his thanks or even acknowledged my presence – as they streamed past. The rest of them looked like they were having a really crappy day.
As I finally threaded my way through a rather nicely developing gridlock at the turnoff into Papershop Village, I remembered that this was what cycling in London was always like, only with more birdsong and less hooting. And more hills. It’s probably what cycling in the South East of England is like, even out in the country. Too many cars, on roads that were never designed for them, trying to get to their nine o’clock meeting on time. I may complain about the weather, and the cold, and sometimes even the remoteness. But it reminded me I should be exceedingly grateful that I don’t normally have to complain about the traffic. Although, obviously, I still do.
* someone showed me their ‘country clock’ the other day. It’s only got one hand, so it doesn’t bother with the minutes, although you can work out the quarter hours, should you ever want to.