Last night, I caught a minute or two of a tv pro­gramme about dri­ving. An elderly Scot­tish actor drove an elderly Eng­lish car along “one of Britain’s best dri­ves” (defined accord­ing to an algo­rithm based on nos­tal­gia for a time where dri­ving was a select plea­sure not a uni­ver­sal pain). This episode showed a road through The Trossachs, an area in the mid­dle of Scot­land, a lit­tle south of the High­lands, where the pic­tures, below, were taken. This is a road said to have been built for the plea­sure of dri­ving it (BBC 4, 25–10-11).

The car is the “quin­tes­sen­tial man­u­fac­tured object” (Urry, 2006: 17), and its pro­duc­tion the object of some curios­ity, whether from Goldthorpe, et. al. (1968) won­der­ing what these afflu­ent work­ers were like, or from Durand and Hatzfeld (2003), what work­ing on the Peu­geot line was like. The road on which the car’s suc­cess rests so heav­ily is less fas­ci­nat­ing, exist­ing as a frus­tra­tion for the trav­eller and a taken-for granted by researchers. There needs to be more grat­i­tude for this work, and more atten­tion to the affor­dances offered by roads. They make pos­si­ble being a tourist in the Trossachs, and get­ting to work in one High­land vil­lage from home in another. The kinds of roads that exist in rural places don’t have the promise and frus­tra­tions of the motor­way or the by-pass: they don’t carry as much traf­fic, and they don’t have traf­fic lights and round­abouts, just pass­ing places and warn­ing signs. They make hills manageable.

In con­tem­po­rary accounts of move­ment and change in social life, the way move­ment relies on the fix­ity and cer­tainty of the road beneath our tyres is not much thought of (see Sheller, 2004). In the city, tar­mac is taken for granted. Joe Moran’s On Roads tells us about the pol­i­tics of road build­ing, and the organ­i­sa­tion of road sys­tems, but tells us lit­tle about road work as part of the every­day (though its lovely to hear how road bases are formed from the detri­tus of indus­trial life: bro­ken up tar­mac from else­where, or crushed Rob­bie Williams cds (Moran, 2010: 256).)

The Pochain dig­ger sits up high on a pile of gravel, with its own tracks vis­i­ble on the left­over gravel, though not on the smoothed out road sur­face it will leave behind. It sits above the moun­tains, hav­ing opened them up to dri­vers. It’s been parked for a while as, though the road it built is fin­ished, it’s no easy mat­ter to get it back down the moun­tain. The rainy High­lands weather is tam­ing the machin­ery, rust­ing it up.

Ref­er­ences

  1. Durand, J. P. and Hatzfeld, N. (2003) Liv­ing Labour: Life on the Line at Peu­geot France Pal­grave Macmillan.
  2. Goldthorpe, J.H., Lock­wood, D., Bech­hofer, F., and Platt, J. (1968a) The Afflu­ent Worker: Indus­trial Atti­tudes and Behav­iour. Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Press.
  3. Moran, J. (2010) On Roads: A Hid­den His­tory. Pro­file Books, London.
  4. Sheller, M. (2004) ‘Auto­mo­tive Emo­tions: Feel­ing the Car’. The­ory, Cul­ture & Soci­ety. vol. 21 no. 4–5 221–242.
  5. Urry, J. (2006) ‘Inhab­it­ing the Car’. The Soci­o­log­i­cal Review. Vol­ume 54, Issue Sup­ple­ment s1, pp 17–31.
  6. Richard Wilson/Jonney Steven Britain’s Best Dri­ves, BBC4, Octo­ber 25th 2011.