Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Devil’s Agency

(From Saturday 1 July)
Work for any length of time with government agencies, regeneration groups or developers dangling at the end of a planner’s string and you’ll soon discover that one government agency above all others instills a strange and fascinating mix of fear, bemusement and derision. If you want to make eyes roll; if you want to hear a sharp exhalation; let those three words trip out: The Highways Agency.

Now I have my own reason to hate this shadowy group of tarmac-loving cone-deployers.
We’ve just returned from a week in Cornwall. Our moorland hideaway boasted scenic views, not to mention a crazy bull; but it also had no internet access, hence the extended silence on this blog. We struggled out of bed on Saturday and made an Herculean effort to get on the road by seven: Manchester to Cornwall is no mean feat.

We sailed past the RAC control helmet in Birmingham and within a couple of ours hit the crane-spattered estuary that is Bristol. We felt like Thelma, Louise and Louise Junior. We had the air beneath our wings. We were making fantastic time.
Then we hit the A30. I’ll make this short. No warning and we hit two sets of major road works. Three or four hour queues. Engines overheating. Babies screaming. In our car, no air conditioning and a very, very sweaty baby. Up front, Mum and Dad could do nothing but watch the bumpers in front and discuss the relative merits of pulling onto the hard shoulder and giving up. Like refugees fleeing a disaster zone, we crawled past other parents changing nappies on the verge, or calming down distressed toddlers.

Have a baby and all of a sudden a traffic jam like this is more than just an annoyance that may cause you to miss the first round at a local hostelry or have to wake up a landlady to reclaim a key; have a baby and a three or four hour tailback is frankly nothing less than an attempt on your child’s life.

The car is hot, she is hot, you are angry - with the Highways Agency.
As your baby grizzles in the baking heat, every traffic cone is mocking you; every yellow sign promising delays ‘until Autumn 3047’ is a two-fingered salute; every lane closure is a proximity fart to send you postal. Wrong wrong wrong.

The Highways Agency routinely puts children at risk. It also has no sense of irony or self awareness in its signing policy. It has a bad logo. Going a little further, I also suspect that it may have been taken over at some point by the disciples of Satan. Other Agencies get a rocket; others come under scrutiny; others get roasted by select committees - why not this one? It’s time for justice, that’s all I can say.

And don’t even start me on the caravan owners.

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