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September 2005 - Potholes Ahead

Three or four times a year, the army open up the roads through the village of Imber, so you can drive through, have a look round and check out the latest state of the collection of rusted tanks which line part of the route between the village and civilisation, as we know it.

For those with an interest in such things, these grand openings are usually over Bank Holidays, but, as with this year, much of the month of August is often also included.

'Er indoors and I have, kind of, adopted a couple of favourite tanks which we've been keeping a close eye on now, for what must be the best part of fifteen years.

Whether it's a comment on the poor aim of our modern army gunners, or the effects of acid rain falling mainly on the plain, I know not, but it has to be said that poor old number three and his friends are suffering far more from the rust than from the missiles with which they regularly get bombarded.

I mention this interesting aside, right at the top of the page, in order to, possibly, get the digression out of the way before we actually get to the subject, this month.

I just thought it would be an unusual way to make September's epic appear more pre-planned, more thought out, more professional than some of my previous efforts.

But then I realised that by far the majority of you regular devotees out there probably prefer the totally unplanned, badly thought out and completely amateur editions of Comment to which you've become accustomed over the many years that you've been viewing.

So, to heck with planning, then; let's be normal and just get on with it, I think.

If you've come directly from last month's masterpiece, I'm sure you'll be saddened to know, almost as a further aside, that I've not heard back from that nice Mr Sloane of Mastercare, following my suggestion that he might like to deputise for me in the Comment writing department occasionally.

You'll all, therefore, I'm certain, be positively overjoyed to note that it is I, personally, who am writing again this month, even if the organised opening might have given a slightly different impression.

No, the only reason I mentioned Imber was as a contrast to the remainder of this month's in-depth investigation, the precise depth of which will become clearer as we progress.

It has to be said that, despite warning signs of a similar wording to the heading of this grand epic, the roads through said village are of a far higher quality than many others in this fair land of ours.   And these are roads which are regularly traversed by modern, working tanks of the non-rusted variety.

As you drive out onto the plain towards the army's restricted area, you can tell exactly when you leave the county council maintained road and change to the military version, as the surface improves immeasurably.

So why, I wonder, was I stupid enough to use the phrase "between the village and civilisation" up there in the first paragraph?

I appear to have already proved that, at least when it comes to road surfaces, the village IS civilisation, whilst the rest of us live on a muddy track, in comparison.

Having already proven one theory for the month, it seems almost pointless to continue, but I would hate to disappoint you, dear viewer, so perhaps I'll meander further down this leafy lane, this august avenue, this ropey old road.

For the subject to go under the wide-angle lens of Nick Harvey's Acme microscope this month, believe it, or believe it not, is the surfaces on our roads and the insistence of or local councils to replace them at the worst possible time of year and in the worst possible way.

Round our neck of the woods, there's been a recent spate of resurfacing; just at the right time of year for the fresh tar to be applied on the Monday, then remain in a completely liquid form right through to the Friday after next.

Has anyone at the local highway authority the slightest cognisance of the laws of physics and little facts like the one about tar setting quicker when the temperature's a tad below the seventies?

Has anyone at the local highway authority the slightest cognisance of the fact that the machine that lays the tar is bloomin' hot and it might just be a tad more pleasant for the operatives to work on the machine when the temperature's a tad below the seventies?

No, of course not.  That's pre-supposing that there's a brain cell tucked away somewhere in the highway authority, isn't it?

And heaven forbid that anyone ever finds a brain cell in that particular organisation.  If they did, we might just find salt getting put on the roads on frosty nights in the winter, instead of only on nights when there's a two foot flood to dilute it nicely.

But, to return, at last, to the title of this topic, the header of this homily, "What of the potholes?", I hear you ask.

Well, it was just as I severely jarred my back on one of them, whilst speeding along in the replacement racer, at exactly one mile per hour below the speed limit, that I decided on the subject for this edition.

For our particular local variation of the highway authority have managed a new and wondrous method of resurfacing this summer.  It's something which goes under the glorious title of surface dressing.

This surface dressing consists of, if Delia will forgive my plagiarisation of one of her favourite words, drizzling a thin layer of wet tar over the road in question, then scattering an equally thin layer of grit upon the wet tar.

The resultant mix then has the lightest of possible rollers driven over some, but never all, of it, then the operatives leave in great haste to repeat the exercise in some other, unsuspecting, street.

All well and good, you might think, having just read the written description and not thought too much about it.  Not so, I can tell you from bitter experience.

We've all driven down those old, un-cared-for roads, which were surfaced somewhere back in the seventies, but, since then, have had every utility company and other organisation in the world dig trenches and cut manholes in them.

There IS a nice side to these old roads, you see.  What little remains of the original surface is one shade of grey.   Then the trenches and manhole surrounds are various other shades of grey, right down to that shiny black colour of the most recent ones.

As you drive along these lovely old roads, you can see exactly what a disgusting state they're in, you slow down when necessary and you avoid the worst of the obstacles you can see ahead.  You tend NOT to jar your back.

Not so after the surface dressing, however.  Once your local lane has been surface dressed, the whole damn thing is exactly the same colour.

And did they fill in, or smooth out, any of the trenches and potholes before they drizzled?  Of course not.  Did they heck as like?

You now haven't so much as a clue when your front, offside wheel is about to disastrously descend, in a downward direction, about six inches into the camouflaged culvert.

That's the point when you severely jar your back, you see.  But now, that's when all those personal injury lawyers who advertise on the television are really and truly in their "no win no fee" territory.

Before the road was surface dressed, you could have claimed and had a damn good chance of winning.  Now the road has a light covering of nice new tar and grit, the council can be said to have made best endeavours, or whatever they call it.

By actually making the road more dangerous, the flamin' council have managed to exonerate themselves from all legal redress.

The signs as you go towards Imber, which say "Warning, Potholes Ahead" and are totally unnecessary due to the excellent quality of the military roads, need to be shifted off Salisbury Plain and erected in every street in the county where this surface dressing nonsense has taken place.

There, I did warn you that you'd eventually find out the exact depths my investigation was going to plumb this month, did I not?  About seven inches was the depth of the one which caused me to be jarred in my jam jar.

October for the next one, then.   That's if my back is up to it.  I shall expect you all, bright and early on the 1st to read my further words of wisdom.

For now though, time for a quick lie down on a hard, wooden board, I think.  Right, I'm off, where's me painkillers?

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