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.