Driving in London is not something I like to do. It’s something I’ve done my best to avoid in the past. Even when we were living just outside of London, we’d aim to use public transportation before we’d even consider driving. Of course, sometimes you really do need a car. Like, to go to Ikea. Or to take someone to A&E.
I ended up having to drive out to Devon last night, and this evening made the trip home. Not mentioning the hour and a half I sat on the M4 outside of Reading, I had the most annoying time trying to get back to the flat once I got in the city.
There’s a sort of centrifugal force to the Ring Road between the A4 and, like, Marylebone Road. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, whether you’re in the correct lane or not, whatever, it keeps trying to fling you off in some tangential direction. I’m toodling along, my attention wandering a bit, but not too much, and all of a sudden I’m in Maida Vale. And then, Kilburn. This is without having turned off onto a different road, or making any active decision to leave the Ring Road.
Then there’s this annoying characteristic of larger London roads – if they’re big, they don’t like to label them. You can drive along looking for a street sign for blocks and blocks before you find one. By which time you’re really lost. And the markings on the roads are often confusing or ambiguous. And, yes, the names of the roads often change by the block.
It’s completely esoteric. I often feel like you need to keep a working model of the road system in your head at all times. But it’s hard to construct a working model because in learning the road system you keep getting lost again and again. I’ve always believed (and still do, strongly) that the only way to really learn a city is to get lost in it and find your way around and back to where you want to be. This, however, is ridiculous.
I’ve always had a healthy respect for London taxi drivers and the pains they go through to do their knowledge and learn their stuff. Now that I’m driving in the city myself, that respect has reached entirely new levels.