If every second car that passed you on the motorway was a BMW, or a Mercedes, where would you assume you were? Germany, perhaps? Or, maybe, even France? I wasn’t in either of those countries, I was in Britain.
In the last three weeks I’ve done a lot of driving on British motorways (Americans read: ‘interstates’) and I’ve been appalled by the sheer numbers of BMWs, Mercs, and occasional top-end Audis, roaring past me at near to one hundred miles per hour, while I was sedately cruising at the speed limit of seventy.
Returning to the place of my birth, and first fifty-six years of life, after an absence of fifteen years proved somewhat traumatic. Certainly, everyone complained about the traffic fifteen years ago. The term ‘grid-lock’ was being used then, but now in many places in the U.K. it’s fast becoming reality. The M25 London ring-road has been near grid-lock for years. It didn’t earn the title of ‘Britain’s biggest car-park’ lightly. But now it’s not so much the motorways that are slowed to a crawl through most of the day. Try driving through any town south of Watford – that’s roughly twenty miles north of London – and walking will seem the quickest way to reach your destination.
Every street in every village or town is riddled with a combination of speed cameras, speed-bumps, and warnings of dire consequences if the 20 mph speed limit is dared to be exceeded. And no-one does dare. Not so much from fear of a traffic fine, but the damage resulting to one’s expensive suspension if one’s BMW or Merc were to attempt a Becher’s Brook* leap over the plethora of merciless undulations known as ‘traffic calming devices’ that rise up from nowhere right under one’s front bumper.
*Look it up in Wikipedia.
It all begs the question as to why people living in these areas bother to spend tens of thousands of their Great Britain Pounds on motor cars that will exceed one hundred miles per hour, when they so rarely manage to grind out of second gear? Would not a Smart car…
…or even one of those ’60’s bubble cars…
…serve just as well?
The answer is, of course, a simple one. It’s all about status, and in Britain right now there’s lots of money to buy status. There’s a large section of the populace doing very nicely, thank you very much. There’s also a large slice of British folk doing very badly. But if you live in Henley-on-Thames, or Kingston-on-Thames, or indeed anywhere else that ends in ‘on-Thames’ you don’t bother thinking about them. After all, you’ve got your own problems: the wife’s BMW’s just been in to have its third gearbox installed in the last three months – bloody speed bumps! – and your Merc got shunted by a double-decker just because you happened to be late for work and nipping down the bus lane.
Which, I suppose, at least helps to explain why they go roaring past me down the M40 at one hundred miles per hour. After spending umpteen frustrating hours extricating themselves from ‘somewhere-on-bloody-Thames’, I guess it helps to relieve the stresses and strains of British middle-class life.
Poor buggers! You really have to feel sorry for them.