If you live in the country, there are really no such things as back roads. There are only roads, and some of them are distinctive only in that they allow you to pass with a 50% chance of retaining your wing mirrors. ‘The back road’ is just another term for the shortest distance between Y and Z (out here, there is not much sign of A or B).
Devonian back roads are notable for two things – high hedges; and Devonians. The point of high hedges is to give you that innocent thrill of being unsure of where you are at any given point on your journey. The Devonians are there to obstruct the road. Devonians believe very faithfully in manana. They are generally quite surprised if you offer them the instant gratification of payment, for instance. I am still trying to pay for some logs I bought in 1998, from a man who goes by, and may even be called, and have been called from birth, Jim. I bump into Jim about every second year, and remind him of my debt. He says he must remember to come and collect the money. But I suspect he no longer knows who I am or where I live or how to find it.
On the back roads, which any short bout of foul weather reduces to a pothole navigation test, Devonians have a habit that I haven’t come across in any other county. Let us suppose that the road, the back road, has achieved that state of advanced roadness which means that two cars can pass each other safely. It is more than probable, in Devon, should you chance upon such a spot, that there will be two cars, one facing the way you want to go, and one coming back from where you want to get to, parked, side by side, with their owners deep in meaningful conversation. It isn’t done to hoot. It isn’t done to do anything but wait. The clouds dawdle overhead in the sky. You must wait for the conclusion of the Devonians exchanging their long and enjoyable pleasantries. The most effective deterrent to speeding on back roads is the danger of killing two Devonians with their windows wound down, passing the time of day.
Another one is cows. Cows are rarely seen on the roads, but if you happen to be in a bit of a hurry (shops closing, work to get to, train to catch, imminent death), then as sure as cheese was milk, you will find that there are cows in your way, chewing the cud in a very Devonian sort of way. The cows in the North-East (yes there are) are a good sight nippier than the cows in the South-West. Here, they plod along, their hooves tapping out a very slow dialect of sound. They do not go in for mooing very much. Mooing is beyond their wordly concerns. They amble, or pre-amble, and they are not to be accelerated.
But to keep you up to speed, which is not the phrase I’m looking for, there are also the buses. For yes, the bus wars with which this blog began its life in late September are still going. So if you are on a back road, there is a reasonable chance that you will have to back up to let a bus go past, reversing into any gateway that might be about, exchanging waves with the driver, and then, just as you are about to set off again, you have to do it all over again.
I think I will stay at home again.