Sunday, 14 February 2010

Sent to Coventry

Aah, the weekend! That oasis of calm and rest and peace and relaxation. Or not. This weekend it was time to visit the Outlaws as I like to call them. Don’t get me wrong – I love my parents-in-law very much. After a fairly rocky start (which I won’t bore you with here, but will no doubt bore you with sometime in the future) we now get on like a house on fire and I know the affection is reciprocated. The Shah’s sister had called a family gathering and so we all obediently gathered and it was actually really nice to see everyone, given that the Shah is the youngest of 6 siblings (5 of whom live in England) and we are scattered to the four corners of the country.

In fact, it was all very jolly and enjoyable except for one very large bluebottle in the unguent. They live in COVENTRY. I’m not complaining about the distance, I’m not complaining about the journey, I’m complaining about the city itself.

Now I am the first to say that Coventry has had a very hard time in the last 60 or so years. The city has a long and rich history and is famed for the story of Lady Godiva. It was also birthplace of the modern bicycle and production motor car in the last century. It is known around the world for the destruction that it suffered in November 1940, when it sustained the heaviest bombing of any British city in a single night in order to cripple its manufacturing capability which was crucial to the war effort. However, to my mind, the real damage was done in subsequent years. I’m not trying to make light of the way Coventry and its people suffered during the war but, dear God, have you seen the state of it recently? It looks as though anyone with a Ronald McDonald Certificate in Lego has been given carte blanche to throw up a new building anywhere at all. I give you the Coventry University building...I mean, WTF? Google it, if you can stand it.  Really, what possible architectural merit can this have? It looks like a load of beehives stuck on poles. Also note the mural of that well known son of the West Midlands, Che Guevara.... And one of the worst sins of the town planners is the way they have allowed hideous new buildings to be bunged into place beside(or virtually on top of) the few remaining ancient sites.

Now all this is bad enough, but it pales into insignificance beside the road system. This is a death-trap and a paean to bad design and I am utterly convinced that some concrete manufacturer has earned a huge backhander during the time of its construction. Let me give you a flavour of the sheer joy that is to be had in circumnavigating it. The Ring Road, as its name suggests, encircles the city. So far so good. The trouble is that it is designed like a roller coaster – it undulates in a thoroughly emetic manner. To add to the feelings of unease this produces, there is only one slip road and it is used for both entry and exit! But wait – there’s more! The slip roads are about 25 yards long at most! So there you are, trying desperately to pull on to this highway from hell, indicating right like a maniac and inching over, attempting to avoid hitting both the massive concrete stanchion in front of you and the several dozen cars that are leaving via the same exit and peeling across your path like demented dodgems, whilst simultaneously brushing the sweat out of your eyes as it streams down your face and the vein in your temple throbs in time with your thumping heart. I guess you must need to have been brought up here and earned your driving stripes on this road to manage to navigate it. Unfortunately I have discovered that, when faced with joining or leaving it, it’s so damn scary that I instinctively close my eyes – not a great idea when you would prefer to stay alive. The Shah, by contrast, being a long-time resident of Cov steams on and off the ring road, positively beaming with delight as he misses cars in front and behind by inches. “It’s fine,” he assures me cheerfully (one of the Shah’s most used and least convincing catchphrases) as we swerve to avoid a meandering Morris Traveller, driven by a bespectacled, bemused Pensioner. I hear myself gasp and shriek and, worse, stamp my brake foot to the floor as if I were competing for Olympic Dressage honours, all of which completely enrages the Shah and only serves to make him drive faster and less carefully, round and round and up and down as my stomach heaves with every dip in the road.

I badly wanted to take a photo of the current skyline from out of the car window but a) I couldn’t keep my eyes open long enough, b) there is so much up hill and down dale going on that I couldn’t hold the camera steady enough and c) it looks hideous and would put anyone off ever going there. I said as much to the Shah who replied “It’s fine,” (of course). “Coventry’s really come out of the doldrums,” he opined, swerving to miss a Learner Driver. “Look around you – signs of urban regeneration everywhere!”

We drew up at some traffic lights and I obediently looked around. The first thing I saw was a gigantic pile of vomit on the pavement. The second thing I saw was a pigeon standing ankle deep in it ....EATING LUMPS OF VOM. I rest my case.

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