Friday 27 May 2022

'No end of the cars'

 Back in the suburban demiparadise (maybe the hemidemiparadise now?) I'm constantly appalled, and all but deafened and choked, by the ever growing volume of traffic on the roads. A sweet and distant memory now are the car-free roads of lockdown, the quietness, the clean air... It seems that one of the many regrettable effects of the Covid panic was to scare people off public transport and back into their cars. 
 Traffic-choked roads, however, have been a feature of this country for a surprisingly long time. Rereading Philip Larkin's A Girl in Winter, I came across this passage, describing the countryside near London shortly before the Hitler War: 
'The main roads were full of cars and cyclists, the garages were all open, and every so often they would pass a tea garden with a sign, or a chalked board saying that fruit was on sale, plums or pears. There was no end of the cars. They streamed in both directions, pulled up by the roadside so that occupants could spread a meal, formed long ranks outside swimming pools...'
  The roads were every bit as congested in my Fifties childhood, and I remember sitting, bored and fretful, in many an endless traffic jam. I remember the tea gardens too (not many of those left now), and the roadside picnics. We had many such picnics en famille, brewing tea on a spirit burner  – a long job – in a small square kettle that was fitted into a cleverly designed leather canteen, with compartments for cutlery and blue plastic cups and plates. You would have to be mad, or addicted to petrol fumes – and, ideally, deaf – to hazard a roadside picnic now. As for the 'swimming pools', these would be the outdoor pools known as 'lidos' (pronounced 'lydo') that were very popular between the wars – of which, happily, a few remain. I remember one in particular: Ruislip Lido, which was (and is) a 60-acre lake with lido facilities (and a miniature railway). After a dip, we would often walk in the adjoining woods and, if we were lucky, have the magical experience of watching White Admirals flying. Maybe I should revisit those woods, before I leave the South. Or maybe not. 

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