IN PRAISE OF POTHOLES
Potholes may be the scourge of the cycling and driving classes but on my regular commuting route to work, I've come to value them as familiar waypoints which mark my progress. To say I know my 20 mile (return) trip like the back of my hand is to do an injustice to the extremely intimate knowledge I have of every bump, contour, raised or sunken drain cover, hairline crack and fissured stretch of Tarmac, between my front door in Kingston and the office gates in Shepherds Bush.
Riding along the same streets every working day for the last 12 years or so, I have internalised the precise line I should take round every single bend. I'm not just talking everyday directions of the, 'turn left at the lights and straight on at the roundabout' variety; I mean I have memorised minute chicanes between micro-potholes; I adjust my speed to cope with the oncoming corner and the raised drain cover I know is lurking at its apex. I execute these rides to work with the sort of discipline and precision that regularly place David Millar and Bradley Wiggins in the top five in professional time trials.
And, I'm acutely aware of when I have to up my cadence to stay with the motorised traffic in the centre of the lane, rather than run the gauntlet of woefully shoddy road maintenance and cavernous gouge marks which line the kerbside (Shepherds Bush Road, northbound springs to mind).
The advantage of such a detailed insight into the topography of the roadway cannot be overstated. It means the hazards of pockmarked highways are much reduced because none of them take me by suprise.
Imagine my dismay then when I saw the council vans out in force as gangs of men in high 'viz' smocks started repairing all the holes in the road. I may have a smooth ride for the most part into work now but it all feels alien and unfamiliar to me. I swerve instinctively to avoid mini canyons in the asphalt which no longer exist. I weave erratically on billiard-table smooth surfaces going through the motions of steering a particular path which no longer needs to be followed. My routine and rhythm have been completely disrupted. My muscle memory is taking me on a route which has changed beyond all recognition.
It may be unfashionable to say this, with another cold winter having left our roads looking like the grand canyon (Scotland's highways have suffered up to two billion pounds' worth of pothole damage according to some newspaper reports) but I just want my potholes left as they are.