For all that is holey

The hole in my road is back. It’s irking me and will probably cause our local newspaper to unearth a self-styled pothole campaigner. I get the feeling that there are a number of tarmac vigilantes. A quick google search revealed one Mark Morell of Brackley, who styles himself as ‘Mr Pothole.’ Think Clark Kent morphing into Superman, but instead of a monogrammed leotard, Mr Pothole’s burley frame is clothed in a hi-vis jacket, and instead of superpowers, he flourishes a tape measure, and likes to lay down on damaged roads, unfurling it in front of tarmac craters.

I found him laying down in the middle of a thoroughfare for a Banbury Guardian story about something called National Pothole Day. He has a website that encourages members of the public to send in photos and videos of potholes. If you fancy sending one in, Pothole Day was on 14 January, so you’ll have to wait for next year, when things are unlikely to have improved, despite Mr Pothole’s efforts.

“I’ve been part of television documentaries, on every breakfast show, television news, newspapers national and local, carried out hundreds of radio interviews both local and nationally. So, have I made a difference? I hope so given all of the above,” he told the Banbury Guardian.

Of course, it’s easy to scoff, easy to mutter ‘why don’t you get a life?’ but our roads are in an awful state and at least Mr P is having a go at doing something about this. Cyclists and motorcyclists have been paralysed and killed after being pitched from their bikes after their front wheels have crashed into holes in the road. Mr Pothole’s pronouncements might sometimes have a Mr Pooterish quality, but he’s probably saved lives – something few of us can claim.

‘My’ hole first emerged on the street between the village shop and garage. It was caused by a ruptured water main. Three times in the last 12 months water has gushed to the surface, resulting in pedestrians getting impromptu showers as cars splashed through the torrent. Eventually, one lot of contractors would turn up, shut the road, and dig a big hole in it. Then there’s a pregnant pause before a different bunch of hard hat wearers attempt to fix the pipe. After another interregnum the hole fillers returned, the road re-opened until the pipe gave up again. 

This is clearly a patching operation which on paper must be cheaper for the cash strapped utilities involved than properly fixing the thing, although I suspect the sticking plaster approach costs more in the long term. It’s a bigger version of Highways operatives ladling some tarmac into potholes then tapping it down, so they’re plugged for a couple of weeks before the tarmac breaks and is mashed and ejected by passing car and lorry tyres. 

France used to have shockingly bad roads, necessitating cars like the Citroën 2CV having incredibly long travel suspensions and waterbed rides, but now its cars have a Germanic firmness in the springs department, because the country did something about the problem years ago. Why can’t we do the same?

Yes, potholes are bad, but I can thank an encounter with one for saving my sanity. In the pre-history of the 1980s, I was hired as a junior copywriter for a motoring public relations agency, where my serial incompetence soon became evident. The company was based in Reading, I lived in Brentford and commuted in an ageing Citroën Dyane, which in 1984 counted as an eco car. A London-based friend had landed a secretarial job in Reading, so we tried car sharing. It was a disaster. My friend chain smoked as she read the Daily Mail, which when opened, took up a large portion of the Citroën’s narrow windscreen. This made seeing out of the car as we rattled up the M4 somewhat problematic, but so did the swirls of cigarette smoke that filled the cabin. You could have cured kippers inside my car.

 I became a passive/aggressive smoker and soon we were barely on speaking terms, but suggestions that she might, after all, get the train were rejected on cost grounds. Then my car’s nearside front wheel smashed into a deep West London pothole. As I looked at the inside of a steel wheel that was no longer circular thanks to a large, V shaped indentation, the passenger door window slid back, smoke billowed out and a voice asked if my big end had gone.

Gentle reader, I lost it. I danced about, oathing and raving as if wasps had mistaken my trousers for their nest. My passenger got the message and soon afterwards made other travel arrangements. In the weeks of blissful commuter solitude that followed, I often thought fondly of that great hole in the road.

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