Right now I am on my annual book reading tour of small arts centres and theatres.
Right now I am on my annual book reading tour of small arts centres and theatres. I am travelling as far north as Carlisle and as far south as Southampton, tonight I'm in Norwich and I'm doing East Anglia and Lincolnshire for the rest of the week. I'm driving all the way, so I've had time to notice some new things that have appeared on the motorways.
First, with the toll road around Birmingham, there's finally a chance for the UK driver to experience what the continental motorist has enjoyed for many years, and that's the toll plaza getaway. Once you've paid the toll, there's a six or seven lane wide, maybe half-mile long stretch with no road markings before the motorway begins again. I love this bit; for a brief few seconds accelerating from a standing start and running neck and neck with other cars, I always feel like I'm taking part in the Gumball Rally or I'm a competitor in the Le Mans 24-hour race - to my mind that's worth the £3 fee in itself.
Amazingly for the first time it is now possible to get a decent, if expensive, cup of coffee and a pastry at quite a few service stations, which is a huge advance. Anyone in a service station up to the mid-90s trying to get coffee that didn't taste and look like sewage, or food that didn't resemble a stage prop from a play that had been performed for 20 years, would never have believed it possible that things would ever change.
Yet it is testament to the adaptive power of capitalism, even in Britain's Diet Soviet society where nearly everything is in the hands of one giant monopoly or another, that they have. You would only have had to show Lenin around the Caffe Primo at Toddington services for him to realise that all the efforts of the Bolsheviks were ultimately doomed.
A more unfettered style of old-fashioned capitalism is at work in the fields on the sides of our motorways. The most noticeable recent phenomenon I have encountered on the highway network is the rise of pirate advertising. Clearly, roadside postering on the motorway has always been banned in the UK, presumably so as not to cause distraction for drivers, but in the past few years farmers have begun to get around this reasonable safety measure by parking trailers or huge containers in their fields with no purpose except that on the sides of them are plastered huge adverts for websites, car dealers and loan companies.
There is presumably some legal loophole that allows them to do this, or perhaps the Government is so afraid of the rural lobby that they don't mind farmers causing a few crashes. However, these trailers take up space in the fields on which nothing can be grown so farmers, eager as ever to extract every last drop of profit or state subsidy from their land, have begun to consider whether they can breed animals on the sides of which commercials can be painted or stuck.
The problem with a single cow or sheep is that they are too small to contain a message that is visible from the motorway. There has been a certain amount of research into whether cattle can be persuaded or forced to stand in a line so they spell out one single commercial but it only takes one wayward cow to make nonsense of the advert.
This is why in certain parts of the countryside there has been a recent outbreak of giraffe breeding, the long neck of this animal being particularly suited to the inscription of websites while the substantial square-shaped body is ideal for lengthier advertising messages. In Brussels, rural MEPs are already agitating for large grants to be awarded to giraffe farmers, and giraffe meat is beginning to appear on the menus of fashionable restaurants - a whole stuffed neck will apparently feed up to 20 diners.
However, there are always problems when humans introduce alien species to any ecosystem. There are already reports from East Anglia (Britain's "giraffe country") of giraffes that have escaped from the roadside farms on which they were being kept as advertising.
Unable to find enough food in the countryside, these animals have migrated towards centres of population and have become urban scavengers, rooting through dustbins and rubbish piles. There have also been several reports of recently cooked pies being stolen from the window ledges of kitchens on second- and third-floor apartments; only something with a very long neck could do that, certainly not a motoring correspondent with a big ladder, as some have alleged.Reuse content