Return Journey (More Thoughts in my Car)

This week’s post is a sequel to the one last week and I’m going to talk some more about the thoughts and ideas that come to me while driving. OK, I’ve left my house in Manchester in good shape, trimmed the privets, cut the grass and tidied up inside. Final check in the fridge, nothing left behind that is liable to go off. OK, pack the car and let’s get off back to St Annes on the Fylde Coast.

Returning to St Annes is always a nicer journey that the one on the way down. I’m not sure why but perhaps it’s that all the bad traffic areas are closer to Manchester and generally I get them out of the way first and so I can then relax and drive along to some good music. I always tend to return via the M60, the M61, the M6 and finally the M55 motorways. The M60 is always busy around the turn off for the Trafford Centre which is a huge American style shopping mall. I’ve never been that keen on it and on the few occasions when I’ve been there I always have a job trying to find my car again in the huge car parks.

Just as I pass the Trafford centre the signs for ‘Reports of an Accident’ pop up on the VMS (variable message signs). The traffic slows to a crawl and I start to wonder if I should perhaps divert to the M62. I can see the M62 turn off up ahead but I decide to stay on the M60 for a while. When you see Accident on a sign it usually means that is a genuine confirmed accident but when the signs say Reports of an Accident, well there might not be an accident at all. Most of the accident reports come from motorists who dial 999 and tell the police what has happened. The big problem is that a lot of people don’t actually know where they are. They might tell the police they are travelling towards Manchester from Staffordshire and that they are on the M6. The last junction they noticed was junction 16 so they might perhaps reckon they are between 16 and 17 although in fact they might be further up the motorway than they thought. In some cases the informant might even get the motorway wrong saying M6 instead of M60. Anyway, my colleagues and I in the motorway control room would have checked the cameras and maybe we would find the incident on CCTV. We would also task a patrol to run through the area and check.

Approaching the Trafford Centre

Of course all that is behind me now. I’m retired. The traffic begins to speed up and soon we are back to normal speed again. It could have been there was no accident at all or sometimes the cars involved just get going again and leave the scene.

In some ways I miss my life at Highways England or whatever name it is going by now. (Actually National Highways.) In other ways I don’t miss it at all.  I had a long drive into work, forty-two miles and I certainly don’t miss that journey although on the positive side, most of my ideas for blog posts used to come to me while driving. Somehow concentrating on driving always seems to free up another part of my brain and lots of ideas will come. I even have a dictation gadget in the car so I can blab my ideas into that and save them for later.

Another thing I used to do was to create a room in my head for those ideas and make sure to leave those ideas in there. That might sound a bit silly but a long time ago I read a book by Jack Black called Mindstore and it involved using various techniques to help the reader. I bought the book to improve my confidence, especially in job interviews. The writer asked his readers to relax and create a house inside one’s own mind. In the house would be various rooms which one could use for different things. A bathroom with a shower that washed away any problems or negative energy and so on. Another was one for rehearsing events in a positive way, like a job interview for instance. You would rehearse the interview in your mind, imagine being successful and then save the result on a big monitor screen. One of my rooms was for storing my blog ideas.

An RTC on the motorway from quite a few years ago.

A big accident hotspot on the M60 motorway is junction 13. The big problem here is that traffic is entering the M60 from the M62 and the M602; this traffic is all merging to the right while traffic already on the M60 wanting to leave at 13, which comes up pretty quickly after junction 12, is trying to go left. I always try to stay in the outside lane and avoid all this although further up the road I’ll need to get over to the left to exit onto the M61.

As I mentioned last week, I’ve copied a whole lot of audio onto the SD card I’m using in my stereo so no need to be constantly changing discs in my CD player. The next item comes up and it’s not music but Dylan Thomas reciting his work. He reads some poems which really is what got me interested in Dylan. I like to read his work but it’s the power of his recitals that really hooked me. Dylan wrote various plays for radio and one of my favourites pops up now. It’s called Return Journey. It’s a brilliant work read by Dylan himself in which he imagines his older self going back to Swansea in search of his young self.

Anyway, time to get over to the left and merge onto the M61. The M61 is a busy road and once you come on to it you have to beware of traffic coming over to the left from the A666. The traffic is heavy but so far it all seems to be moving well.

Return Journey was inspired by the devastation Dylan saw in Swansea after the town suffered the blitz of WWII. His broadcast begins with ‘It was a cold white day in the High Street, and nothing to stop the wind slicing up from the Docks, for where the squat and tall shops had shielded the town from the sea lay their blitzed flat graves marbled with snow and headstoned with fences.’

Later Dylan is in a Swansea pub asking the barmaid if she remembers young Dylan. He describes his younger self to her and she replies ‘There’s words, what d’you want to find him for. I wouldn’t touch him with a barge pole’.

Later he meets the old park keeper in his childhood haunt, Cwmdonkin Park. Does the park keeper remember him as boy. Of course, replies the man, he remembers all the boys who played there even the ones who would ‘climb the reservoir railings and pelt the old Swans. Run like a billygoat over the grass you should keep off of.’  It’s a very moving piece indeed.

I notice accident signs on the message boards and the traffic begins to slow. Ahead I can see the flashing lights of a Highways Traffic car, slowing the traffic down. A year ago one of my jobs in the control room would be running an incident like this. For a rolling road block the patrol would call for a dedicated radio channel and someone like me would shout up that they were ready to take over. On the M61 the dedicated channel was 28. We had dedicated channels so that any police patrol nearby could also change over and assist us. I’d confirm the patrol were on the channel and drop the speeds down on the motorway signals. The patrol would slow the traffic then sometimes bring it to a stop while they shifted any accident damaged or broken down vehicles to the hard shoulder. A quick sweep of any debris and the patrol would move to the hard shoulder and wave the traffic on.

Me in the Highways Agency Control Room

One particular traffic officer used to make me laugh. When he returned to the main radio channel he would always hail the control room and advise Romeo Echo Three One: Back from the dark side!

As we leave Greater Manchester and enter Lancashire, traffic begins to thin a little although on summer weekends the M6 gets busy with holiday traffic making to the Fylde Coast as well as the Lake District.

I pass a Police car on one of the Police Patrol parking points. They are distributed about on various points of the motorway network. There was a Police desk in our control room and I’m happy to say that generally we at Highways had a good relationship with them. The big surprise to me working with the Police was that I always thought the Police were, well the Police. The thing is, the UK Police are not just one single organisation, they are numerous separate Police Forces that actually all work differently and independently.

Appropriately The Greatest Hits of Sting and the Police starts up on my stereo. I’ve always rather liked the Police and I do love the music of the eighties.

Anyway, getting back to the actual Police, Lancs Police do things differently to Greater Manchester Police and Cumbria do things differently to everyone. Why there isn’t a more centralised Police Force I’ll never know. In our control room the Motorway Police Group is headed by Cheshire Police. They used a computer system that wasn’t compatible to the one used by GMP. When an incident occurred that came from GMP the staff at Cheshire had to copy the incident over to their system. We both used a system called Command and Control. They could then send the incident electronically over to us so we could set the motorway signals and respond with our patrol.

When I left in 2022, Highways had a new system called (I can’t remember!) and Cheshire Police had a system designed by Saab. I know it sounds a little controversial but why don’t all the Police and even other emergency services use the same system? Wouldn’t that be better?

The Police are singing Every Little Thing She Does is Magic just as I take the slip road onto the M55 for the very last leg of my journey. There are roadworks here that seem to have been going on forever. They are making an entirely new junction and of course all the slip roads and overhead bridges have had to have been constructed. A lot of it is nearly ready but it is still a 50mph zone.

Sting is the frontman to the Police and I read somewhere he got the nickname Sting because he used to wear a black and yellow sweater. His real name is Gordon Sumner and I’ve always thought his attachment to the name Sting kind of silly but what the heck, I still like his music. After leaving the Police, Sting went on to a successful career as a solo artist.

Just as I pull up at home, one of my favourite Sting tracks comes on; If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free. I’m tempted to sit and listen to it but I flip back to the beginning and switch off my stereo. Sting will be all ready for me on my next journey.

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One response to “Return Journey (More Thoughts in my Car)

  1. Pingback: Writing, the Village and Young Higgins | Letters from an unknown author!

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