We’re settling down here in St. Mary on the Wold, to what is shaping up to be a long difficult autumn and winter. The false calm of September that brought with it some very pleasant weather and a respite from ‘what will Boris say or do next’ came suddenly to a screeching stop as he and the government, whatever that is, together with the media presumably at the request of government, came to the conclusion that the masses out there had become too complacent and they were losing control of the narrative. For goodness sake, there were even some good news stories appearing in the media, people enjoying the half price eat out policy and, to the chagrin of many in education, schools reopened and Alicia, Mo, Olly and Poppy returned to school, often leaving Mom and Dad at home to enjoy or not their well-paid long holiday. (One wonders what impact that will have on hard pressed maternity services early next year, but like most things these days we will have to wait and see.)
“What’s going on?” seems to be the thread running through conversations I’ve had with people this week, friends and acquaintances who keep on top of what used to be known by older people as ‘current affairs’ – a two hour ‘double period’ usually squashed in after ‘economic history’ when I was at school. Looking at the comments sections of national and regional newspapers, I’m not sure if it’s the change in the weather or season or maybe the recent full moon, but events and comments on them by ‘the masses’ seem to have taken on a rather disturbing trend. Not since Brexit was at its height have I seen such wild views, outrageous accusations, vitriol and downright offensive ill-mannered comments pervading comment columns of publications and blogs.
Perhaps it’s the ‘stress’ which seems fast becoming the new topic of conversation of the ‘worried well’ or should that be the ‘stressed well’, who knows, what is clear though is that mental health issues are pervading many areas of public and private conversations, everyone it seems from children upwards is supposedly suffering to some degree or other. If you remember when schools were reopening it was suggested by experts that children would need lots of individual help to recover from the stress of returning to school. It could be that all the social restrictions, mask-wearing and fears transmitted by some adults, some teachers and social media had something to do with this but observing ‘kids’ walking happily to and from school in St. Mary and playing happily in the socially distanced playground would seem to suggest that, locally at least, the fears of the experts were for the moment at least, unfounded.
Fear and safety are going to be the buzz-words of the 20s it seems, when we not being told to stand here, breathe there, open windows, close windows, wear masks and wash your hands, nanny is watching out for more things for us all to be afraid of.
A friend who lives in the wilds of Worcester sent me a copy of a news item in one of their local papers which breathlessly reported West Mercia Police were warning drivers that during harvest time farmers use the roads more and drivers should be aware that they may have to take care when overtaking slow moving farm tractors, or that there could be mud on the road following rain. Well who would have thought that, as they say; perhaps the police would like to do one of the dynamic risk assessments of which they are so fond and ask one of their many partners to place ‘beware tractor’ warning signs on every road in the West Mercia Police area.
Driving into town actually seemed more ‘normal’, judging by the length of queues at the ‘temporary’ traffic lights at road works that seem to have sprung up like autumn mushrooms on a main road near you and me. I say ‘road works’ as it’s difficult to see what work is going on most of the time. The first indication of forthcoming road works is always when a small flatbed truck is seen parked on the pavement with two Hi-Viz coated operatives aboard, often reading their favourite tabloid or sitting engrossed in some conversation on a mobile. Eventually they will, after due consideration, erect traffic lights and the ubiquitous ‘Stop Here when light shows red’ sign along with various other warning signs, then depart. Dutiful drivers sit fuming at the red lights or gazing at an often pristine road surface with often no evidence of work starting, sometimes for days, before ‘work persons’ arrive and start digging.
This is no exaggeration. On one ‘B’ road near St Mary, busy as it happens as it’s used by commuters, or used to be before the whole world started to work from home, as the route between two fairly large towns where a stretch of about one hundred meters has been subject to traffic management for the best part of a year, with absolutely no work being done whatsoever. Just what the hapless local residents think of the noise, increased pollution and annoyance of having a traffic jam outside their homes on a daily basis is anybody’s guess, not that it seems worthy of any comment in the local press or by the county council, presumably it’s alright because we, the taxpayers, are paying for it.
But I digress. These traffic management companies seem to be having a field day and must be making a mint out of all this.
Eventually contractors working in partnership with somebody or other will arrive and dig up or down the highway or footpath, then disappear and we all wait in anticipation as somebody else arrives ‘working on behalf’ of somebody else, in the shape of a small van complete with flashing amber lights, out gets a fat bloke clutching a mobile phone and clad in hi-viz complete with plastic white safety helmet, who will spend some time staring down said hole or trench before departing.
Later the same day another crew will arrive and do whatever repairs or installations are needed. Now if this happens on a Friday afternoon, tough luck because not a lot will happen until the next working day, when believe it or not another contractor will arrive and fill in said hole or trench, followed next day by yet another contractor who will complete the reinstatement and depart leaving a forlorn set of traffic lights and signs doing nothing until ‘traffic management’ returns and takes them away to annoy another set of drivers or residents in another location.
If that is not enough, ‘Road Closed Ahead’ signs often appear, which the experienced and trusting driver will assume (always a bad decision that), it will refer to just that, the road ahead, but often doesn’t, referring to minor works on a side road instead.
During the Grant Shapps ‘let’s spend as much taxpayers money as possible’ by creating Covid-safe footpaths for pedestrians in towns and allowing a cafe culture to pervade road space and attract visitors, pedestrians and shoppers to town centres which are fast dying before our very eyes, traffic management had a field day. Erecting signs with the full authority of local authorities, who seizing their first chance to control local populations authorised, usually without any consultation, vast new traffic management schemes, one way systems new traffic light junctions and the rest, often overnight, with the end result chaos. Frayed tempers of business people struggling to reopen shops and business, drivers confused by the sudden change of routes often causing jams where none previously existed, our local authority were presumably were quite happy to pay for traffic management in the shape of a flatbed truck with flashing amber lights containing two employees to sit in the middle of town during the working day for weeks doing one hundred percent of nothing.
Part 2 of ‘Autumn in the Wold’ will be published here tomorrow.