Wednesday, 22 September 2010

I like driving in my car. It is not quite a Jaguar

I work from home, this is a good thing. I benefit from a 20 metre commute, comfortable working environment and generally low carbon lifestyle.

Except on Wednesdays, on Wednesday I have to get up early and go to the office, this is not usually too much of a chore and takes around 90 minutes each way.

Today was different, I made a small five minute diversion to collect a colleague to whom I was giving a lift and then due to a little problem near the M6/M61 junction spent a fun filled three hours sitting in traffic crawling along the M56. At least I had company instead of being on my own.

Before I did the return journey I decided to check the traffic news sites. Oh dear now the M60 was stuffed, I altered the route and only had to queue on the M56 for twenty minutes or so. I dropped my colleague off at his place (avoiding the worst bits of the M62/M66 junctions by use of a rather convoluted back route) and proceeded to queue on the M62 for a while for no apparent reason.

Basically I have spent almost seven hours in the car today to do a 150 miles or a little over 20 miles per hour average. I was just going to rant about the dreadful lack of any redundancy or resilience in the UK road system which often grinds to a complete and utter halt if there is a single failure.

However a different thought has wandered across my travel weary mind. It has occurred to me that this average speed is faster than anyone could reasonably expect to do this trip for the majority of human existence.

In 1810 and indeed for all time before, your best possible speed by good horse, for 150 miles, would have been two days (and your horse would have probably been very poorly afterwards) This assumes your horse could do the 75miles (120km) each way in times consistent with modern world endurance trials... across a mountain range! Yes the Pennines are only tiny but even so!

A hundred years later, in 1910, the British railway network was nearing its zenith in most measurable terms. The influence across the north of England was profound and pushed the industrial revolution ever faster towards its climax before the first world war. Even at this point in time my best reading of the available timetables says I would have needed to change trains four times each way, purchased eight separate tickets from six different companies and taken around nine hours to make the journey allowing for hanging around on platforms.

Another fifty years on, in 1960, the trans-pennine car journey would have been on poorly maintained trunk routes through the decaying cores of the declining post-industrial northern cities. The route would probably have involved the A646, A59 or the A58 which at this time were not the well maintained (if slightly shabby) roads of today but instead were dangerous twisty and, from the looks of the archive photographs, positively heaving with traffic. On these pre-motorway strips of tarmac the 150 mile round trip would have taken in excess of seven hours (even today's mapping systems suggest over four and a half hours would be needed)

So instead of being frustrated that my commute took an extended period today I have instead decided that I shall enjoy the fact it was faster and certainly more comfortable than at any time in the past. Well that and I need to get the cars air-conditioning fixed ;-)


  1. I was trapped overnight just outside Droitwich in the June 2007 floods. My friend had his satnav, and also an unfailing faith that due it its update system it would be able to tell us the exact location of every flooded road in the region, and therefore tell us which route to take to our destination. Of course the reality was somewhat different as the update mechanism didn't work as the mobile phone network was saturated, which led to him being very frustrated with the satnav. Even if this part had worked it would have undoubtedly failed to provide a route out for many other reasons, not least of which there probably simply wasn't a single road out of Droitwich that wasn't flooded at that time.

    I think the unfailing trust that people put in technology is a disease of modern society, and these events serve to remind us that technology is merely a tool to help serve an end, and like all tools they occasionally fail. As your example shows we are very privileged to have what we have now. I often wonder how friends ever managed to meet up before mobile phones were invented.

  2. When you think about how people go about traveling from one place to another, let's say around 100 years ago, you would feel blessed for having modern means of transportation. The inconvenience of recurring traffic is nothing compared to the amount of time needed to travel by foot or by horse.

    Erwin Calverley

  3. I earn $20 for a 20 minute survey!

    Guess what? This is exactly what large companies are paying for. They need to know what their average customer needs and wants. So these companies pay $1,000,000's of dollars every month to the average person. In return, the average person, myself included, fills out surveys and gives them their opinion.