Motomania

Richard Forbes

As we come to the end of the decade and look back on the 2020s, we can discern more easily than was perhaps possible at the time, some of the strange twists and turns in the events of the last 10 years. Going back to the start of the decade we can try to understand the motorway mania that took hold of the population of the United Kingdom and destroyed the prosperity of that once great country.

2020 began as an unexceptional year. In January there were headline stories about political shocks, economic blocs, and celebrity frocks, but these were much the same as in 2019. Then, as the country got over its New Year hangover, a strange craze swept across the kingdom. At first it was noticed only in some provincial cities and was dismissed as a nine days’ wonder. But the mania spread and spread, engulfing town and country from north to south and east to west. Every day in every free minute, motorists would rush to their cars and head for the dual carriageways and the motorways. By the middle of spring every two-way highway was jammed with cars bumper to bumper, barely moving.

Alarmed by this bizarre behaviour the Government of the United Kingdom took drastic action. New roads were built at breakneck speeds. Indeed, The Economist magazine reported that the speed with which extra miles were added to the road network exceeded the average miles per hour on the clogged and pollution-drenched motorways.

Using emergency powers, greater even than those used in wartime, the Government of Boris Johnson decreed that nothing would stand in the way of the moonshot road building programme. The motorway system must not be allowed to fail, it could not be tested to breaking point. Instead schools, businesses, shops, entire town centres where smashed and demolished to make away for the tarmac and the trunk roads. Spaghetti houses were flattened to make way for elevated spaghetti junctions. Children’s nurseries with sacrificed for crawler lanes. Where once there were swings and roundabouts, now there were there only roundabouts where no one gave way, and nothing moved. For the new generation born in Britain in the 2020s it was jam tomorrow endlessly deferred, but jam today forever and ever.

Then, in the autumn of 2021, the motorway mania began to ebb. The battery feeding the frenzy failed, the ignition clicked cold. Drivers abandoned their cars, dazed from their experience, and unable to remember what it was that drove them to this madness. On shoes worn smooth by constant pressure on both accelerator and brake they staggered and slipped back to their homes. Many of them found that their homes were gone, swallowed by the mighty maw of the motorway. Others, luckier perhaps, entered into familiar family rooms. But as they closed the door, they knew in their hearts that their livelihoods were gone just as surely as their neighbourhood was just another in an endless series of dead ends.

In the middle years of the decade psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychic seers put forward various theories to explain the rage for the road of 2020. Some said it was a collective hysteria resulting from years of living in synthetic identikit suburbs. Some said it was radiation beamed from Chinese satellites. Some said it was Brexit. To this day no one knows.

And yet perhaps stranger than this modern manifestation of the collective madness of crowds, and more perplexing to explain, is why Her Majesty’s Government acted as it did. Why did the brightest and best, the Whitehall wizards and whizz kids, submerge Britannia beneath the bitumen? What made them decide that the deranged appetites of the motorway maniacs should ravage the resources of the realm? That the motorway must be the new Mammon? In the crisis of the Cadillacs if something had to burst, should not have been the arteries of the road system and not the heart of the body politic? If something is being tested to its limit, brace it if you can, but let it break if it must, and then rebuild it better. Apply the accelerator to what needs to be done, rather than the brake to what does not need to be undone. Only a child in a temper tantrum destroys all its toys in despair at losing one well-loved doll, worn to fragments by their nursery crimes.

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