As commutes to work go, I suppose, mine isn’t the worst. Fifty miles of A429 spear their way through Gloucestershire and make significant inroads on Warwickshire, with a smattering of curves thoughtfully inserted to awaken the inattentive, and a jus of tumbling hills which, on a clear day, provide a stunning panorama.
Villages with names like Stow-on-the-Wold and Moreton-in-Marsh betray the road’s ancient origins, and seem to be the subject of a gentleman’s agreement of some sort: in exchange for careful observance of the 30mph limits, keen drivers can go bonkers once they’re through, aided and abetted by an almost complete absence of Scameras. Despite the best efforts of both councils to spoil the party with potholes so deep that I’ve seen someone emerging from one with a pickaxe and an Australian accent, the experienced helmsman can hustle down there at a fair old lick… in theory.
In practice, the road is a corridor between the M4 and M40, meaning that every corner hides another Eddie Stobart beast. And even the eighteen-wheelers are brought down to a crawling 40mph by The Widest Nissan Almera In The World. All too often, I’ll power into a bend, clip the apex, dodge the pothole, and exit triumphantly, to find the road ahead blocked by a fourteen mile road-train, headed by Albert and Ethel and their tartan rug on the parcel shelf.
Now, this isn’t yet another rant about what I believe to be a secret World’s Slowest Driver competition. Indeed, in a badly misfiring 820i, which regulars will know is my current steed, I often come away with the trophy. I’m more interested in what happens in the only moments of blessed relief in fifty miles – two half-mile long hills with overtaking lanes.
Things must be prepared carefully. You allow distance to build between yourself and the car in front as you descend into the valley and drop into fourth. As the perigee approaches, you snick into third and floor it, carrying speed, revs and power just as you hit the overtaking lane. You triumphantly blast past the first car, then the second. The World’s Widest Nissan Almera is in sight! And then a Passat Diesel pulls out in front of you. He hasn’t followed the steps above: the decision to overtake has been a mere whim to him. In fact, he’s still in sixth. What should he care, with his turbodiesely globs of torque? But because the hill is so steep, and he’s not really concentrating, he spends so much time going past the car in front that, by the time its your turn, there’s four inches of overtaking lane left and you have to pull in behind Albert again.
Finally, then, we’ve reached the crux of this morning’s musings. Why have people stopped changing gear? Have their kickdowns broken, or are they simply all too lazy? Since when did it become acceptable to spend half an hour on the wrong side of the road making an overtaking manoeuvre, just to avoid going past 2500 rpm? I was followed to work this morning by a Volvo S80, and as I powered up the hills in third, he fell away time and again. Now, I refuse to believe that he had fewer horses than my ailing T-series, so it must have been a conscious refusal to drop a cog. Doesn’t he know that he’s now being criticised by the driver of a Rover 800, for crying out loud? Has the man no shame?
A message to the people of Britain, and those of the A429 in particular: For God’s sake, get busy with the lever next to the handbrake once in a while. It’ll have benefits which will far outweigh the .001mpg it might cost you. You will help ease congestion, you will get to work more quickly, and you will lower my blood pressure. Finally, something strange and unexpected might start to happen.
You might start to enjoy driving again.