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There is a special circle of hell where all designers of motorway service stations learn their craft.

Service station, services

My parents delight in telling me about the time in the year dot that they went and drove to a services, just because they could and it was the first time a motorway had been cut through from the Midlands to the frozen north, around the time of the last Ice Age.  Apparently they used to be new, and groovy, and useful.

Now, they are only useful. Especially if you want to buy your body weight in chocolate, consume more than your weekly dose of calories in a nano second, go to the loo, or buy a sweatshirt. Or, randomly, a new mobile phone. Fishing gazebo, anyone? Massage in a dubiously sweaty looking leather chair, in full view of the ambling public?

I loathe them. I loathe the fact that they are needed, that they provide a service at inflated prices to the captive masses who swim through them like shoals of sardines with their mouths open. I loathe that they seem to all be designed in different ways, as if to make a point, rather than having a common sense approach to getting in and out of the car park. It’s like a supermarket car park gone mad.

I’m particularly offended by old services stations that have closed. Why not knock them down? There’s a peculiarly pointy cafe on the A1 which looks like it used to be a Little Chef (now, those were the days!) but is now a derelict shell. If we’re not allowed to chuck random rubbish out of the windows onto the hard shoulder, why are companies allowed to leave their equivalent on the side of the road? Yes, I know, it’s a tenuous link, but it’s a bugbear of mine. It just looks so untidy, quite apart from anything else.

A couple of years ago at the Bramham Horse Trials I was rather disbelieving when the National Trust chappie asked me how many times I stopped off at a NT property rather than a services. Because the two are comparable…. In his defence, I could see why he wanted to get me off the subject of why we are only ever sent one car parking badge when we have a double membership, when he had potential new converts lurking. But I have come more and more around to his way of thinking. It’s rather nice to stop off, have a cuppa, go to a medieval bathroom, stretch one’s legs in an Elizabethan knot garden. There’s just one problem. National Trust properties don’t tend to sell petrol, nor are they located conveniently by the side of the M6 (well, some of them are, but generally, they’re not). However, I have decided to embrace his approach. Now, we try to stop at a naice place en route to somewhere, rather than hurtling past at 70mph.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still a place and a journey or three which do not lend themselves to this way of travelling. But overall I’m enjoying it. Yes, Le Pomme and I might have to get up a bit earlier or drive a bit further. But I feel like I’m getting to know my own country all over again.

I’ve not enjoyed travelling so much since my parents used to stop at stately homes ‘for something to see’ with a picnic when we drove somewhere yonks ago.

Hang on a minute. Does this mean I’m turning into my mother?

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