‘Are we out of London yet?’ says a small voice from the backseat.
‘How about now?’ ‘No’. ‘And now?’ ‘No.’ ‘Surely…?’ ‘No. Look, still with the houses, yeah?’ ‘Are we OUT of London YET?’ ‘Look, we have only been travelling for an hour. Are we ever out of London after an hour?’ ‘No.’ ‘Well then.’
A silence ensues. ‘When will we be out of London?’ ‘I dunno, give it another half hour if we don’t hit another jam.’
Two hours later. ‘ARE WE OUT OF LONDON YET?’ ‘Nearly… yes… look! Fields!’
Thus went every visit to my hometown just outside London by car from our inconvenient location on the far side of the UK’s capital. A journey which the satnav optimistically insisted should only take forty minutes, but which only ever took an hour and a quarter at quiet times such as 6am on the 26th December. Usually it was longer, sometimes much much longer. Especially when Chelsea Football Club was playing. Or it rained. Or when all the people were doing their weekly shop at the same time of a Thursday. Or because there was a letter R in the month. Whatever.
What has this to do with Moscow? Well, I have some pictures taken in the dead centre of Moscow and further out at different times of the day. These roads always look more or less like this, come rain, shine, snow, winter, summer at every time of day I have seen them, every day for the last ten months or so.
Yet Moscow is, I am told, famous for its traffic jams.
Of course, Muscovites give me the Look when I laugh in their faces after they tell me that. It is, they say, quite unpleasant round the outskirts of a weekend as everybody tries to get to and from the datcha.
I would like to share the regular London journey I made every Friday for three years, which unfortunately happened to be vaguely linked to one of the main routes west out of London. Grid lock every time, and grid lock for the whole of the surrounding area for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles and miles and miles (and miles and miles and miles) around. At the clearly unreasonable journey time of 3pm. What was I thinking?
Mind you, I have been stuck in Moscow weekend traffic coming home from an out-of-town visit. Our driver spent about ten minutes in slow-moving traffic, muttered something rude, dived off the highway, shot through a couple of villages and joined the main drag again, where we inched forward for a whole THIRTY MINUTES before we got to our turn off and virtually car free roads once more.
My London day-trip horror story, on the other hand, involves only just avoiding having to sleep in the car on the M25 (this is not an exaggeration), the four lane motorway ring road which skirts the capital. But even the backwater route took five hours that day. My mother always keeps blankets, water and a couple of chocolate bars in her vehicle for just these sort of eventualities (and snow). Unusual? Sure. Didn’t even make the local news though, except for the regular traffic warnings.
The airport run, Russians and expats argue, increasingly desperately in my opinion, is horrendous though, yeah? Much faster and more reliable by train than taxi, however inconvenient. Well now. Last time we went back to the UK, we were picked up at the airport by relatives, who were late. Bit of a traffic problem, they said, panting into the terminal at 5pm on a weekend. And then we did 35 mph for sixty miles round the M25, happily declaring ‘well this is much better than I expected! This isn’t taking long at all!’
At this point people ask me if I actually drive in Moscow, to which the answer is no.
But I do take overland transport regularly, which has so far been entirely jam free. On similarly frequent trips around London by bus, it was often quicker to get out and walk.
And then all that changed this week. They have started digging up the whole of the centre of Moscow at once, which seems to have thrown things off a little. And I have seen my first traffic jam in Moscow! It extended for at least two hundred metres further up the road when I took the picture below and seemed to be caused by the traffic lights taking an unusually long time to change. The whole queue was blowing its horn in displays of righteous indignation at a delay which lasted less time than it took me to nip round the corner and get a coffee. The trauma! The disruption to people’s day!
Mmmmmhmmmm. In London, the local councils paint ‘no stop’ boxes on every junction, train cameras on them and fine drivers when, having sat through five cycles of traffic lights, they end up with their back wheels on the yellow lines after they misjudge the infinitesimal movement of cars ahead and make a desperate dash for it. Nobody blows their horns. They are too busy trying not to gnaw their own arms off in frustration because this is the tenth time that week.
Look, I get it. London is big. It’s the biggest city in Europe. It has narrow windy roads, little dedicated parking which doesn’t take up precious street space, and there are only three routes over the river, some of which were built before motor cars were invented. Even if there aren’t any jams (hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Hahaha. Ha. Hahahahahahaha) it’s a slog to get anywhere. Under the circumstances, it’s doing well. And I also get that when you are stuck in traffic it does nothing to ease the irritation to think about how much worse it could be.
But don’t talk to me about traffic jams in Moscow. I don’t think that word means what you think it means, people.
Read more articles by Sol on her blog, KiddingHerself.com.