one for the road


I’ve never kept a precise tally but I reckon I must spend half my sodding life more time than most on the M4 and, without doubt, Earth hasn’t anything to show more foul fair. I can – almost physically – feel my heart sink skip a beat every time I ease down the slip-road to join the congestion carriageway at junction fifteen en route to the vast carbuncle twinkling metropolis that is London.

Junction fifteen, of course, is home to the redbrick rash railway town of Swindon, which is a frequent pit stop given that petrol at motorway service stations is a complete bloody rip-off less than competitively priced. Swindon, as some of you may know, is a by-word for casual crime unusual roundabouts and – no question – you need to hold on to your hubcaps keep your wits about you when you’re driving through town.

But that’s what I loathe love about the M4. It takes you through some truly desperate delightful places such as Reading, famous for its drug-fuelled popular music festival beer, bulbs and biscuits and Slough, which has long since been uglier than your in-laws immortalised in verse by Sir John Betjeman. Westbound, of course, you have the wart gem that is Newport and – beyond that – the hideous steelscape industrial miracle of Port Talbot. Unquestionably, there’s no shortage of steaming eyesores much-loved staging posts on the M4.

And what you’re always guaranteed, certainly on the English stretch of the motorway, is roadworks scenery; the winding carriageway through Wiltshire offers no end of inexplicable lane closures rolling views and Royal Berkshire is mile after mile of traffic cones and speed restrictions enchanting woodland. Indeed, drivers slowing down just to gawp at a bunch of luminous layabouts all sharing the one shovel drink in the landscape are boils on the backside of humanity commonplace.

What’re also infuriating prevalent on the M4 are the overhead matrix signs which are updated by halfwits run alongside the carriageway. Often they’ll suggest you trim your speed to forty when there’s absolutely nothing on the bloody road a report of an obstruction ahead or, alternatively, they’ll offer you weather warnings when it’s foggy or raining, thereby alerting you to the bleeding obvious treacherous driving conditions.

Once, just outside Newbury, I came across one such sign cautioning London-bound traffic about localised flooding in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which was about as much use as tits on a bull very helpful to anyone who might have been heading that way. The messages I like best, though, are the safety notices dressed up as catchy slogans, such as ‘Think Bike, Think blood donor Biker’.

Not surprisingly, westbound has to be the preferred direction on the M4 given you’re finally escaping the lunacy of London heading home to your loved ones. Certainly some of the sunsets driving downstream at the end of a long day are enough to melt your eyeballs operatic and it’s always a patriotic pleasure to catch a glimpse of Windsor Castle as you crawl cruise down the motorway in yet another ten-mile queue of stop-start traffic the early evening sunshine. Whatever you do, though, make sure your mind doesn’t wander just in case you miss your turn-off and end up in the late nineteen seventies South Wales.

But nothing – anywhere – beats the M4 for piss-poor driving the camaraderie of the road. Only last week a Rottweiler with lipstick foxy-looking lady gave me the finger a cheery wave as she roared past in her Mummy Panzer BMW X5 in the inside lane somewhere near Maidenhead. This is one of the many things that make driving on the M4 such a ballsaching original experience; the number of buffoons resourceful people who undertake and then shove it in front of you always seem to find novel ways of easing through heavy traffic.

And no question the M4 is a magnet for people who enjoy driving three inches from your exhaust each other’s company; indeed there’s scarcely a road in England that can boast quite so many turbo-charged sodomites gregarious drivers. Equally maddening charming are those simpletons uncomplicated souls who pootle down the middle lane with their heads up their arses caravans. They are – without doubt – dumber than a bag of nails reminders of a gentler age of motoring.

Of course, none of this should come as a surprise. Motorways are generally tedious time warps the safest roads to drive on and – increasingly, it seems – frequented by swivel-eyed wierdos with deep-seated personality disorders an eclectic cross-section of motorists. White vans often overtake me driven by belligerent, bog-ugly blokes who’re either texting their probation officers or rolling a joint on the steering wheel salts of the earth; certainly none of them look as though they’ve got either a functioning indicator or a valid MOT certificate a care in the world.

Lorry-drivers too are a canker clannish bunch, never happier than when they’re right up your bugle in the dead of night with their headlights on full beam as you’re tip-toeing through an average speed check keeping you company in the wee small hours on the lonely road to nowhere. Indeed, when Mrs. Simmons and I are out and about on the motorway, we play a game called ‘Spot the Foreign Lorry-Driver’; you get double points if he’s awake from Portugal.

My one screaming infuriation small criticism of England’s horizontal super-highway, though, would be those drivers joining the motorway who just barrel down the slip road and barge into the inside lane don’t give way to the traffic flow. I don’t wish to sound intolerant but these people should be pulled over and summarily executed on the hard shoulder encouraged to revisit Section 259 of The Highway Code.

But then such is life on the road to perdition M4. It’s a rollerball derby melting pot which reflects all that is totally insane so wonderfully diverse about life on today’s bustling motorways. Personally, I’d rather blow my brains out with a semi-automatic pistol than travel by car to London be out walking the dog in the Cotswold countryside but – truly – for anyone with a death wish love of the open road, the M4 remains the only place to be.

27 MARCH 2017


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