Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Monotonous Ribbons Of Tarmac

It took SEVEN attempts to pass my Drving Test, so when I finally did get that magical piece of paper, Driving became a bit of an obsession.  Any opportunity to travel by car was taken, meaning I spent most of my late teenage and early 20s completely sober.  I was the designated driver - designated by myself, and it was surprising how little argument there was among my friends.
And now I was fully licensed, I felt it was my duty to explore the road network of Great Britain.
And what did I discover?  Motorways are just plain tedious!

An example: if I am travelling to the West Country (Warning: There be Dragons), the road choice is simple.  M4/M5 or A303.  My choice is always A303.  It's a million times more interesting, it has roundabouts every 20 or so miles to keep you awake, and it just feels so much quicker.

Now I don't profess to have driven on every Motorway, but I've been on a fair few and offer the following observations.
  • The M4 section from Reading to Slough is about 20 miles and never seems to drag or lose interest over this relatively short distance.  However, The M4 section from Reading to Newbury is about the same distance but seems to go on forever.
    After this, the run to Swindon feels never-ending - in fact, it feels like you are entering a different time zone (although, you are now in Wiltshire and so this is probably true)
  • Following on from the statement above regarding travel to the West Country, the M5 is usually jammed with traffic, hence reducing average speed and making this section of your journey longer than it needs to be.  Frankly, after passing through the motorway interchange at Bristol, it's a job to stay awake on this frustratingly slow and overly packed roadway.
  • The M6, specifically the section from Stoke to Carlisle is perhaps the most featureless stretch of road I have ever been on.  Even the 1960s carbuncle that is Lancaster Services cannot alleviate the monotony.  Plus points however are gained for the Westmorland Farm Shop at Tebay Services.  Perhaps the most bearable Motorway Service Area on the whole network.
  • Running from the M40 to the M6, this section of the M42 never feels that long.  The reverse journey, however never seems to stop.
  • In the interests of balance, I can honestly say that the M1 is actually a good stretch of road.  Purely based on personal experience, I've never suffered from the normal tedium, tiredness 'nodding off and crashing' scenarios of other motorways.
  • The M25 - good or bad?  Well, it is basically just a big ring road.  It serves it's purpose, and never having been stuck on it on a Friday night, I have no issues with it.
    It also has possibly the best piece of graffiti ever (on the Amersham Viaduct):

Perhaps the most famous road to be celebrated in song is Route 66.  It and conveys a romantic vision of driving across America.  Free, the open road, the wind in your hair, foot down, arm out of window and drive.
I've never done this trip, but speaking to people who have, advice ranges from "very boring" to "don't bother" (you may know different of course).
Whatever, lets stick with the dream view for a second.
Conversely, there is never likely to be a song written about the joys of travelling on the M4.

Well if you ever plan to motor west
Just take the motorway that's (not) the best
Life is a bit of a bore, on the M4
Well it winds from Chiswick to Pontarddulais
Nearly 200 miles all the way
Life is a bit of a bore, on the M4
Well it goes from Hounslow to Slough
The Maidenhead Bypass section looks oh so pretty
You'll see Reading and Newbury
Hungerford and Wantage, don't forget Swindon
Bath, Bristol and The Severn Bridge
Would you get hip to this kindly tip
And go take that South Wales trip
Life is a bit of a bore, on the M4

Admittedly, Tom Robinson's "2-4-6-8 Motorway" is generically as close as a British song gets to celebrating the road network.  And Kula Shaker's love letter to the A303 (titled, simply, "303") doesn't quite cut it.

And so, we must leave it to the Irish to celebrate roads closer to home.  Consider the lyric of The Saw Doctors "N17"

And I wish I was on the N17
Stone walls and the grass is green
And I wish I was on the N17
Stone walls and the grass is green
Travelling with just my thoughts and dreams

So much more interesting than:
I've just passed Almondsbury Interchange, next stop is Aust Services
Hope I've got the right money for the Severn Bridge Toll

The following links have been heavily visited by me, because for some reason I find this sort of stuff interesting (no idea why?).
My wife, on the other hand, is somewhat exasperated by my reading/research of this information.  Even going so far to state: "Why don't you spend your time looking at porn like most other blokes?"

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Who's Next?

Without wishing to strike a morbid note (and let's face facts, it WILL happen sooner or later), those musicians from the 60s and 70s who can cause such as buzz with the release of new material or an announcement of a festival headline gig or a new tour, will at some point shuffle of this ball of rock we call home and go to visit the great A&R department in the sky (except perhaps Lemmy who seems to have discovered the secret of immortality).

And yes, it will indeed be a sad day when those esteemed people do finally pass on.
One day, even Status Quo may stop touring, and then what?  Who is there to create that similar level of excitement when they announce they will headline Glastonbury or emerge from the studio with a new album.

Who is there working at this time who has a large enough catalogue and the sort of mass public appeal that is required for such a lofty position as "Keeper Of The Rock Flame".

Now, from my exceedingly myopic viewpoint, I suggest the following, and have difficulty coming up with many more contenders.

The Elder Statesman of 1970s Vintage:
Elvis Costello
Bruce Springsteen

The young (?) upstarts from Punk/New Wave to early 1980s:
Paul Weller
John Lydon
Billy Bragg

From the 1980s, and seemingly never to escape that connection:
Midge Ure
Depeche Mode

From the 1990s to now(ish):
Noel Gallagher
Damon Albarn / Blur
Manic Street Preachers
Primal Scream
Jack White
Richard Hawley
Arctic Monkeys
Mumford and Sons (love 'em or loathe 'em, I think they will be around for a while yet)

Creators of two of the best Albums of 2013, but will they still be doing the job in 2033?:
Frank Turner
John Grant

Cynically, it appears that the music business has gone backwards 60 years to a time of a single controlling force (for Larry Parnes in the 1950s, read Simon Cowell in the 21st Century), and the defined career path of From New Kids On The Block to Old Geezers Standing On A Stage is seemingly not currently an option.
We are now in 2013 and in need of the next Elvis or Beatles moment - that point in time where something comes along and completely changes the business model, and hopefully for the better.

But never mind - the sun is shining and all is (seemingly) well in the world (unless you live in Egypt).
Here's an exceedingly summery tune, provided by one of the bands who could've made the list  (but they seemed to have disappeared up there own fundament)

Noah And The Whale - 5 Years Time