Monday, January 10, 2011

Slip sliding away

Gradually I seem to be working through the end of year ('10) and beginning of year ('11) things that need to get done. Yesterday I took my son back to University. His main reason for needing a lift was because he is busy (I hope) revising for exams and has two large plastic crates full of books that he needs. They were sufficiently heavy that I forwent the ritual macho I am still stronger than you son attitude and let him carry them to and from the car at each end. The paperless office might be struggling to make progress, but in the student world it just seems that in addition to tons (almost literally) of books they also need a computer. Technology is not so much a replacement but rather an addition to all the other stuff we need.

Although he needs the books at least the computer connects him to more recent research. He seems to pay far more attention to referencing modern research papers than I ever did when I was at University, or perhaps that is where I went wrong. He did admit that he probably only needed around half the books be carted up and back, but the challenge was knowing which ones.

We set off pretty early (for him) around 7.50am which meant getting up at 7.00am in order to cook the bacon for the bacon rolls. A tip I have learnt from my daughter - when the bacon has almost cooked tip in some maple syrup - delicious. The weather looked pretty reasonable, certainly not as bad as when I picked him up and almost got stuck on the M5 because of the snow. The temperature outside was 1C and I was a little surprised to see some ice on the front windscreen.

We set off and it became clear that there had been quite a frost, more worryingly the Traffic News on the radio reported that the route I normally took was almost closed because of accidents caused by the icy roads As it turned out we passed a number of accidents caused by the ice. It seems that the roads had not been gritted and despite the temperature being above freezing (1C) the roads were incredibly slippery.

At one point when driving between Milton Keynes and Bicester the car went "light" and seemed to glide in and out of the ruts caused by regular lorry traffic. I eased of the accelerator but did not try braking until my speed was less than 20MPH, the ABS (anti-lock braking) buzzed almost immediately. From the tracks on the frosty road and the verges along side it was clear that quite a few vehicles must have had some scary moments driving along this particular stretch of road. Once we reached Bicester we stopped for 30minutes to eat our breakfast and in the hope that the sun would melt the ice on the roads. So much for starting off early.

For the rest of the drive there were regular reports of accidents and closed and partially closed roads. I think it was one of the worst drives I have ever had. At least when driving on snow you can see the snow and as a result most drivers slow down to compensate. With ice on the roads on such a sunny morning it was clear that most drivers first became aware of the problems when their cars started skidding. I am amazed that there weren't more accidents. It has been reported locally in the Cambridge News as "Ice brings chaos to the roads". The report suggests that the sudden change in conditions caught drivers out - well I think that it also caught the Councils out - there was little evidence of gritting until the accidents had started to happen. I would have though that this could have been predicted form the weather forecasts - perhaps we are running out of salt for the roads? A bit further afield in Norfolk drivers were warned with around 80 different incidents.

What surprises me is that before Christmas when driving in temperatures as low as -10C the roads were fine, yet at 1C they were the worst I have ever driven on. On my way back the sun seemed to have done the trick and once again the roads were fine.

Mind you the trip did get me wondering about the lorry ruts that now seem to plague roads which are on regular lorry routes. I think that the ruts are getting much worse. Now it could be: there are more lorries, the lorries are heavier, the roads are weaker or the roads are not repaired as often as they used to be. My money is on the heavier lorries and more of them. According to Wikipedia the damage is proportional to the fourth power of the axle weight. So if the load per axle is 2 times the weight of a car then the damage will be 16 times as bad.

Now for some random pictures: ( I don't have any of the ruts in the road or of accidents - not really what I am interested in taking pictures of.





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