The British motorway network

During the period 1988 to the mid-noughties, I spent a lot of my work time travelling. I was with the Alliance & Leicester during its heyday, when there were 6,000 staff employed in over 629 branches and three admin centres right across the UK. I worked with individuals from each of those at some stage, so there are few towns and cities I haven’t visited. In those days, there was no such thing as plentiful, cheap internal flights so it was down to driving. I’ve covered well over half a million miles in my time, most of it on the British motorway network…

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To the British motorway network

My, what a lot time we’ve spent together! My very first trip with the Alliance & Leicester was on February 20, 1988 – Hove to Edinburgh. It took more than eight hours and was a distance of 482 miles. It was a journey I came to make on several occasions, as much of my early training was delivered at the George Hotel, Edinburgh. I so loved the northern stretches of the M6/M74, mountainous and spectacular. I would travel back to Sussex very early in the mornings and relish the chance to take the racing line through the long, sweeping, deserted curves. One such trip was made in early January, 1989 – just days after the horror of Lockerbie. It was so soon afterwards that screens had not yet been erected and I had to crawl past the crater made by the stricken fuselage.

Spots which offer particular driving thrills are the M1 north/M6 west interchange (which was exactly 150 miles from our home in Hove), M25 anti-clockwise/M23 south interchange and M62 east/M1 south interchange – each of these sent my pulse racing as I pushed the car to its limits round the fast, tight slip-roads.

E556 HJU 001

My very first company car, an Escort Estate 1.6L

Toddington Services was a regular stop, a place seemingly spared any form of weather conditions other than bloody freezing. It could be 25 degrees in Brighton, 25 in Leicester, but it would still be -3 at Toddington. It was the venue for a full English on trips from Sussex northwards and to call home on the return leg; there were no mobile phones in the early days and this was the last place I could locate a phone box and tell Carol that, all being well, I’d be home in a couple of hours. I recall a long row of phone-boxes on the southbound services, full of business people like me calling their loved ones.

I still shiver when I pass the spot just after Clacket Lane Services on the M25 anti-clockwise; it was here that the police found my boss John Howard one day, parked on the hard shoulder, sobbing uncontrollably over the steering wheel. To this day, we never knew exactly why, but it was just after that when he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease and the stresses and strains of travelling were probably starting to take their toll.

I’ve seen it all on the motorways: instant death, high-speed runaway truck wheels and tanker spillages (orange juice, middle of summer, cue sticky tarmac, eight million flies and a four-hour delay). But I’ve always felt safe, secure and positive on my travels, I guess because it’s a journey, you have a purpose, you’re going somewhere. I particularly enjoyed late nights and dark, empty roads in the company of Messrs Dury, Numan, Waters and Hackett – you can’t beat a ton up and your favourite sounds blaring out to make you feel invincible – and particularly when you’re buzzing from delivering a really motivational training course.

So thank you to the motorways of Britain. At one stage, I was spending more time with you than I was with Carol!

Simon Bailey

M62

The M62, looking west from Scammonden Bridge towards the famous Stott Hall Farm; at this point, the east and west carriageways divide and enclose the farm. Popular culture has it that a determined old Yorkshireman refused to sell his land to the authorities so they had no choice than to build round him. A romantic story it may be but, sadly, it’s a complete fabrication. The road is constructed in this way due to the geology of the area. Interestingly, when we lived in Sussex, it was a journey of around 250 miles for me to reach this location. Now, living in Longwood, it’s only about six!

A great photo by none other than David Bailey. That’s my son, David Bailey!

One thought on “The British motorway network

  1. Debbie Howard says:

    I remember the phone call from John that day, I don’t think I’ve ever panicked so much in my life, I couldn’t get any sense from him and couldn’t at first get hold of anyone to help, I can’t remember now if it was you that went to collect him or one of the other trainers? I think the police got him off the motorway but my memory fails me as to what happened after that.
    I thought that was a scary time, I knew nothing of what lay ahead of us ……

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