Thursday, 26 October 2006

Descent into hell

The holiday is over and it's back to reality. Not that France is imaginary, but a period of relaxation away from the routine is always somewhat unreal. The restrictions or constrictions of time and place are no longer there - the regular tasks are several hundred miles away, and this time my mobile phone refused to allow me to make any calls. Even though "roaming" was set up on it, as soon as I touched foreign soil it began to turn itself on and off like a yo-yo. Even when it found a French network and recognised it, as soon as a text arrived it shut down.

After a week of motoring on the blessedly empty roads of the Aquitaine, the return journey was a descent into the maelstrom. The ferry from St. Malo to Portsmouth was fine. Travelling the Channel in late October is very pleasant. The ships are not crowded, the weather can be exciting (though our sailings both out and back were like crossing a mill-pond), and the longer voyage allows you to read, watch a film, take a leisurely meal, and generally close-down the vacation in a civilised fashion.

Then it's back to the English road system and traffic.

At Guildford on the A3 we met the first traffic jam, caused by an accident up ahead. No information available, just queues of cars and lorries crawling up the hill and down the other side. That was an hour's delay.

Then there was the stop at a well-known restaurant chain for a break and light supper. The coffee was vile, the food cold, and the service laughable. I have put in a complaint to the Company and we'll see what their response is. Whatever, I shall now avoid those establishments in future.

And so to the M25, clockwise.

Delays were signposted for Junctions 10-13. We joined the motorway at Junction 10 and were immediately into the crawling queue. It would have been quicker to walk. It took almost an hour to reach Junction 11, where we speedily left and scurried our way through the Outer London suburbs of Staines and Windsor, passing over the M25 a couple of times to check on its progress. By Junction 15 it was clear, and we rejoined to make our way to the M11.

With two stops for a snooze, we arrived home at 3.00 a.m., the journey from Portsmouth taking a total of 8 hours! I could have travelled from St. Malo to the Aquitaine in that time.

At least our lanes here in the wilds of rural north-west Suffolk remain fairly empty. It's still a pleasure to drive around the villages, despite the occasional tractor or beer-delivery lorry.

Ah well, back to the real world. Perhaps I'll make myself a mug of French hot chocolate as compensation.

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