I’M not having a good time with motorways at the moment.
As you may recall from several weeks back, every jaunt to see the outlaws in Yorkshire is currently dogged by that unremitting 15-mile stretch of motorway where 50mph is the maximum for the next three years!
If that wasn’t bad enough, junction 26 at Orrell, which is closest to home, is sealed off for improvement work every weekend I want to use it, and my attempts to get on further down the M6 at Land Gate on Sunday was further kyboshed by the discovery that the new road from Little Lane to the A49 Warrington Road was shut and, when we finally made it onto the motorway we immediately hit another 50mph tailback and a forest of cones! I know all these works are in a good cause and you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, blah blah. But so many at once would test the patience of Job.
The other week we tried to get over the Pennines using the “scenic” route for the first time, via the M65, Todmorden, Hebden Bridge and so forth. But that had its plentiful supply of excavations too and we almost clocked up a personal worst time for the journey.
So you can imagine I wasn’t best pleased to hear that plans and cash have now been approved for turning the stretch of M6 between Orrell and Warrington (and, for that matter, the chunk of M62 from Rochdale to Brighouse which is also part of our route) into “smart” motorway sections with hard shoulders that can be used as fourth lanes and remote-controlled speed limits to moderate traffic movement.
It’s not the end result I am annoyed about: it is the torturous, road rage-invoking disruptions that now yawn away into the horizon of time.
As I said last time, having chatted with the bloke who’s running the current smart motorway plan in the North West, it will be all worth it in the end.
But at the speed these things take to complete, decrepitude might have forced me to hand back my licence to the DVLA by the time the roads are clear again.
TWO weeks on from my first Grinch rant and here is another one.
It concerns Black Friday: another of those commercial atrocities that turn a load of usually sensible folk into a load of lemmings.
And what a palaver it caused last week. Police were called out to seven different Tesco stores across Greater Manchester within a 90-minute period after stampeding hundreds of bargain-hunters combined with under-staffed security detachments to create late-night mayhem.
In Wigan the trouble was relatively benign: around 60 folk who were told they couldn’t come in because the store was already up to its 200-customer capacity, tried to push their way in anyway. Two men were ejected when officers arrived. But elsewhere fights broke out between folk competing for the same cut-price items, customers staged a sit-in at another even though they had been told the store had run out of stock and in another a woman needed treatment after a telly was dropped on her head.
There’s an element of Carry On farce about all this, although the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, Sir Peter Fahy, was far from amused at the amount of police resources required to calm the various storms. Tesco came in for particular flak for not having enough security staff to keep order.
I feel not so much like the Grinch as Canute now. This kind of event will prove unstoppable, I regret to say: just like the commercial vulgarisation of Christmas (I’ll never forget that bizarre totem in Tokyo where they got their festive messages mixed up and had Santa crucified over the front of a shopping centre!) and the ramping up of minor events such as Hallowe’en in order to make people feel they ought to be spending lots of a money for no great reason.
And that’s because, for all the trouble and silliness of it all, Black Friday has been a business success. It didn’t surprise me that Tesco was the biggest culprit in last Friday’s debacle: after all the beleaguered retailer will be trying to recoup every penny it can after one of the worst years in its history.
You can’t blame them all for trying, I suppose. But I do wonder whether it’s really worth it from the customers’ point of view. I’m sure there were a lot of people who got home with a huge box and then thought “I didn’t really need a new telly” or “this isn’t as good as I thought”.
We highlighted the case of a mother and daughter who went to Asda that night and thought they had got a bargain by buying a 32ins television for £179 only to discover when they checked online to see how much they had saved that it was going to be priced £89 for one day only just 24 hours later. The store, unsurprisingly, wouldn’t give them a refund.
I will have to venture out soon for Christmas shopping, and I’m sure it will be as hellishly fraught and claustrophobic as it always is, but I’m still delighted to have avoided Black Friday.