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OK UK?: Roadsigns, Roundabouts, and Road Rage...

Updated on December 15, 2011
Roundabouts, motorways, what the devil is this chap talking about?
Roundabouts, motorways, what the devil is this chap talking about?

Driving (you crazy) in the UK

When I lived in England, everything I did, everything I knew, was, of course, normal. For example it was no big deal that the road my parents lived on had a whole series of names. As it started at the junction with Witham Road, it was, logically, not called Witham Road (yet…) it was called Blue Mills Hill, (no matter that the mill in question was white.) Once safely beyond the mill and the hill, it became Witham Road, (not to be confused with the other, completely different, Witham Road) and as it passed through the center of the village it was somewhat anonymously called "The Street", and then became Maypole Road before bending ever so slightly into the Prince of Wales Road. The last two made a great deal of sense as they had pubs of the same name somewhere along the route. It finally became Maldon Road as it wound its merry way towards the aforementioned town. There are probably some other bits of the road with names known only to the locals, (and the very stressed postman) but we were incomers some forty-five years ago, so, not privy to the more arcane details.

If you had the time, giving directions to American tourists, could be the most fun activity, (remember we only had three TV channels) for, as well as the mind-boggling array of names of the road they were actually on, they would go nuts trying to find the road signs, which do not exist.

There is of course a historical/logical reason for this…

The Nazis could read.

As good a reason as any, I suppose. You see the plan was to confuse any of the imminently dropping paratrooper hoards. During World War Two, road signs and markers, were rotated to point in the wrong way, or removed entirely. It worked spectacularly well.

I can't verify the specific historical details, but I think what happened was this: Hitler told his high command that he wanted to invade poor old blighty. One of his flunkies, the one with an aunt in Maidenhead, remembered how difficult it was to find anywhere on the island, so they sent a chap called Fritz over to go have a look-see.

Fritz landed in a field somewhere outside Little Buggerem and set off to find Upper Buggerem, where he could catch a bus, (on alternate Wednesdays at three in the afternoon) to Buggerem-on-the-Water. Here he could sneak onto a local train that made its way through a host of hamlets variously named; Great Buggerem, Buggerem Bridge, South Buggerem and Buggerem-de-la-Haye, finally reaching the seat of Buggeram county, Throughchester-on-the-Burgle. Throughchester (pronounced "Toaster") was on the main railway line to London, which is where all the people worth capturing, actually lived.

Fritz is still missing, possibly drowned in the Burgle, or married to a honey in South Buggeram, but the upshot of his not reporting in, was monumental. The entire German army sat on the coast of France waiting for a message from Fritz. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months and the troops got tired of waiting and decided to capture Paris instead.

England was saved (with the possible exception of the Honey) and it was all down to Winston Churchill personally turning all the road signs around. It was such a success that no one wanted to put things back. Why should they? Everyone knew where they lived, and how to get to places they knew. If people wanted to go to new places, well, that was their own damn fault.

Then came tourism. Americans, who had fond memories of the end of the said war, returned in droves. They had money, which the Brits wanted, so the lack of signs, ensured they drove around aimlessly for months, never actually finding Upper Buggeram Air Base, (which is interesting because about a million people find the Air Base every Saturday morning for the car boot sale).

Their money did not last us very long, so as peace embedded itself into the national psyche, it was with delight we began to cater to the super-rich of Europe, mostly Germans, who wanted to see what all the fuss, over this little island, was about.

There is now a fantastic two-tier system in place. You start off on the motorways, beautifully signposted and fast, (except when they are not) which can whisk the unsuspecting foreigner deep into the bowels of England. Once you get off the motorway onto the so-called B-roads (B for bloody) you are immediately seduced by a "cute" looking village up ahead. The poor souls drive in, whereupon the motorway vanishes, like a wisp of smoke. There are absolutely no signs pointing the way back to motorways. Once you leave, you will only see them from a distance, teasing you like a French tart.

As if the sign thing wasn't enough, we also have two additional national motoring must-sees. The first is the roundabout. These speed traffic through junctions without the need to actually stop. The concept is sound in normal traffic. Cars simply slow down, slip into the stream of cars already on the roundabout, then slip off a junction of two later. Brits have become increasingly blasé about these little beauties, even riffing on theme. Outside Colchester is the strangest super roundabout ever conceived. Each entrance and exit has a mini roundabout that spins you onto the main roundabout where you spin until you find your exit mini roundabout. While no doubt a delight for dervishes, it makes it impossible to drive straight for about a hundred meters after that, so everyone crashes on the exit streets. As this seems to send foreigners over the edge, they have handily located one of the largest insane asylums in England, just a few miles away.

As a teenage driver, it was a great entertainment to "do" roundabouts on two wheels, scaring the shit out of the American family spinning around for the second hour, simultaneously trying to deal with the actual roundabout, and the ubiquitous stick shift. Ah, the good old days.

The other must-see, or unfortunately, will-see, is the strange habit that certain English people have of taking a caravan with them. A caravan, for those unfamiliar with the beast, is an oversized tin can in which you can sleep, eat and cook. This is towed behind a horribly underpowered car at about ten miles an hour on roads too narrow to actually drive upon. Now, towing a caravan is in itself a sign of lunacy, but as Jeremy Clarkson has mined this vein of humor dry, I will only mention the tea thing.

Mr. and Mrs. Caravan set off in the rain and drive for six hours, leaving their home, some ten to twelve miles, behind them. Mrs. Caravan suddenly feels parched and has a need for a nice cup of tea. Mr. Caravan pulls into the next lay-by and with his caravan a maximum of two feet away from the constant stream of traffic, sets out the camping chairs, and puts the kettle on.

So, in a country full of famous things to look at, including some spectacular views of beautiful valleys with motorways running through them, Mr. and Mrs. C sit in the fumes, drinking their tea and eating their digestives, inches away from speeding traffic.

Weird huh?

I'd park next to a roundabout and watch the tourists trying to get off...

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    • ChrisLincoln profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California


      Glad to have you on board. I have designated myself as the official Brit in America of hubpages, and have thoroughly enjoyed skewering my fair island home...

      We are truly odd!


    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      7 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Chris, your slant on British history is a hoot!

      I live in the deep south of the USA, where you would not expect to find a single roundabout. I think some local engineer must have vacationed in the UK a few years ago, because--suddenly--they are all around my small city. Some are in the most ridiculous places, most are difficult to navigate (and exit, as you mentioned), plus they're all (in my opinion) pretentious when simple cross streets would work much better.

      I don't think England has the franchise on roads or streets that change names numerous times as they meander along, either. I once lived in a small town in Louisiana where a street name skipped several blocks (and the street sign showed a name change)and then picked back up on another stretch, at least six times before that street name was exhausted (if memory serves me correctly, and it was many years ago).

      Enjoyed the hub and will catch up on the series.


    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      7 years ago from TEXAS

      I read this reply of yours and started a tiresomely long reply about my life which I didn't post. I realized that I'd prefer to encourage your getting on with your work of being published and making it commercially successful, because if you can't, there's little chance for me!!

      But it's not to say I'm not thinking of pursuing mine, but my impetus is possibly a bit different.

      I have thought of a biography or memoirs, too, of course and there are many colorful characters in it!

      I'll be very excited to get any mail from you as you pursue the goal!!

      Hugs -Nellieanna

    • ChrisLincoln profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California


      You, and your life (lives really) seem so rich, it is a joy that you share so much. You realize, I hope, that you should be writing a biography. I guess you do in a way with your poetry and painting.

      I ask, as I am investigating what it takes to become a publisher in this new paradigm of print on demand and digital books. Selfishly, my goal is to get my work out into the world and have commercial success, but if I could do the same for other undiscovered talent, that would be just as exciting.

      I have a lot to learn, and perhaps I am being rather naive, but I am certainly going to give it a go. If and when I get there, expect an email from me!


    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      7 years ago from TEXAS

      Ah - so I understand. In fact, to keep HubPages in balance with my other creative interests, I must create tricks for myself to insure that I don't totally neglect them.

      A good thing about HubPages is that it encourages another discipline, - that of transcribing all these poems I've written over a lifetime, which seem inexhaustible.

      Also I much enjoy playing around with digital art and the exploration that goes with it, the way I do it. I avoid reading instructions & just poke around finding out what's available and seeing what I can do with it. These little projects are good enhancements for the poetry till I get some more watercolors done.

      No danger of abandoning creating. It has taken many forms over my life and that's part of what I enjoy. My first love creatively was designing and making original clothing! It was that experience which reassured me that I could do something really well. I began in earnest at age 13. It's still a big part of who I am and probably accounts in part for the way I do things & the way coordinating of the parts within whatever I get into is a major part of how I proceed, along with tirelessness till it "works". There is something about actual construction of something from an original idea which trains a person for other kinds of things - and may prevent being shallow or unrealistic. I also worked for 8 years in building design and then George & I built a little cabin at the ranch from my design and building plans. I'm a blend of right and left brain.

      hehe - not all fluff! LOL. I do practical things with flair and arty things with feet on the ground. ;->

    • ChrisLincoln profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California


      WARNING - the geneology thing is addictive. Since going on my dear wife has not painted a stroke! She finds it fascinating, I do not. I don't even know who my birth parents were - and I have no interest in finding out.

      It would be a crime if you were to stop creating...


    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      7 years ago from TEXAS

      Yup - this Texas gal sipped a brew at that pub in Maldon - and at a few other pubs in the general area. LOL

      Ah, thank you for the information, Chris! This is most interesting and piques my curiosity to find out more about the Hugeunots. I'm aware that there have been early Hugeunot settlers in this country. What a sad thing that that group were hood-winked into going no further than Essex, expecting to be transported to America!

      My father's ancestors came from Switzerland to the New World in the 1600s. One of the early kin to arrive was Nicholas Haldeman. Some of his branches became prominent in Canadian history. There's quite a bit of documentation in 2 hard-bound volumes of Holdeman family history. I'm included - 4th generation on my Dad's branch of the family; the tracing in these books begins the begets a couple of generations on down from Nicholas.

      I'm awed both that your wife is into genealogy and that her ancestors arrived on the Mayflower. That's really amazing to discover the local connection with her family in Essex. It really is a small world, after all!

      Tracing the history takes so much deep research, though. One almost has to be obsessed, I should think. I tend to be obsessive anyway - so not sure I'm to be trusted with another obsession! LOL.

      My Mother's niece researched their British ancestry side of the family back to the American Revolution and a bit further. And she did all the research painstakingly before the Internet. I have copies of all her handwritten charts and research but haven't pursued DAR membership which was her objective. I may try to resume tracing where she left off one of these days, though, - obsession or no. The Scottish connection is with the Barclay clan. Maybe some relatives in the Bank. lol

    • ChrisLincoln profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California


      So, this poet from Texas walks into in bar, well "The Bell" actually...

      The magic of coincidence, the amazing connectivity we all share, wow!

      De La Haye dates back to Hugenot times, and a funny story...

      The Hugenot's were skilled weavers from the Belgian/Dutch area, staunch protestants, and much put upon in Europe. They decided as a group to emigrate to America.

      This did not sit well with the wool merchants in England who utilized their skills to turn their raw wool into highly desirable cloth. The merchants then hatched a plot with the owners and captains of the sailing vessels to transport the Hugenots. Taking what they could our friends boarded the saling vessels, escaping the religious persecution that was tainting their well ordered lives, and settled in for the long sea journey.

      The ships carefully positioned themselves out of sight of land and for several weeks, sailed up and down the English Channel. Eventually they were deposited on the more remote stretches of the Essex coast, where they founded a new community. They did not speak English, and other than visits from the wool merchant's representatives, had no interaction with the locals. Their language was, I believe, Walloon (Or Flemish) and Layer de la Haye, means Lower part of the Homestead.

      I have no idea if and when they realized they had been conned!

      As a side note, my lovely wife has become obsessed with all things ancestral, and has discovered that through her mother's family, she has four relatives who were on the Mayflower. Other than being a Native American - hard to be more American. Then tracing those lines back, many of her relatives were gentry in and around the Essex area...

      Turns out I married a local girl!


    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      7 years ago from TEXAS

      Chris, Chris. . . another witty gem! And I'm drawn in by mention of things of which I'm modestly aware, though I cannot claim real knowledge. But, owing to the visit I've mentioned elsewhere on comments to your funnies, in which we had the magnificent advantage of a native host with London Bobbie expertise, our touring was super-spectacular and off-the-beaten paths of most tourists.

      Maldon!! It was one of my favorite places and we visited it several times during our month in Essex! Even saw a barge named "Nellie" docked there - as well as one with "George" in its name. Took pix, of course. Another time a fellow sitting on the dock making those wonderful braided art-craft nautical objects gave me one he's just made! I fell in love but he was never there again. I began to think he was an imaginary person. We loved the funny little pub up above the docks and stopped in there each visit. Another time when it must have been regarded as the first day of spring (I was half frozen) - the little kids were playing about bare-footed and a game of Bowls was in progress nearby.

      Every day was a new excursion out in the countryside. Even had a proper English Sunday dinner at our hostess' Mother's house and got to roam around her spectacular garden overlooking the rolling hills covered with yellow-blooming rape. It was truly a trip to remember. I felt so sorry for the poor 'merican tourists stuck on typical tours. I can't begin to recount all the wonderful things and places we got to see. Even our visits to London were special. Bob, our host, got us into places others weren't permitted and always at the head of the line. His uniformed buddies treated US like royalty.

      Tell me - what is 'de la Haye'? Since our last name is Hay, my George had a photo shot leaning on a sign that said "Layer De La Haye" - somewhere in Essex, I think. Fortunately our hosts drove us around so we weren't lost on the mysterious roads and roundabouts (which we regarded as 'runaounds' and thanked our lucky stars we didn't have to find our way around them on the wrong side of both street and vehicle!) Being RVers, we caught on to that "caravans" are, though to us they still sounded like nomad treks on camel across the Sahara.

      I'd just bought my first digital camera the day before we set off for the UK and Melanie was kind enough to download my pix of each day on her computer and made me floppy copies to take home, so nothing was lost. The pix are wonderful. I must make a webpage on my own site for them. We got to meander through the 12th-century church in South Woodham Ferrars where our hosts were married. Her stepdad was a member of the Church's board whose responsibility is for keeping the old building and grounds in good order - so he let us in to browse. It was incredible to be in a place so much older than my country. There were also of course, sites in London as old or older. We missed very few of the major sites. We were even all invited to the Royal Automobile Club for a wonderful lunch and tour of the premises (except where women are prohibited) by another online friend from there! It was there I had my first taste of English bread pudding and again fell in love. We reciprocated by taking that friend to lunch at Dickens Inn and then we toured that area on foot - so interesting. In one of the shops along the Thames, that friend bought us a "carpet bowls" game which I still have. We bought a brass "LOO" plaque for the ranch cabin's loo. hehe.

      I love your articles in all the genres. I may make my way through them all, though, as you see, each one brings so many memories to mind! I hope you can forgive me for waxing so sentimental.

    • ChrisLincoln profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California


      Thanks for the positives, I enjoy writing them all,


    • profile image


      7 years ago


      I think I like this series even more than the Lemon County stuff, you are a really funny guy.


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