Charles Nevin: Let's pat ourselves on the back as we queue

Get off your butt and on to the roof
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The Independent Online

Much mockery, I see, has greeted the news that we in Britain have the best-organised motorway roadworks in Europe. Why this should be, I'm not entirely sure; it's not as if we have had much to boast about recently, unless we are happy contemplating the highest levels of personal debt western Europe, which I wouldn't advise, given our likely next prime minister.

You will probably point out that in Friday's newspaper we featured Manjit Singh, a Briton who has the most powerful lungs not only in Europe but the world, having inflated a balloon weighing 1kg to a diameter of 2.44 metres in 42 minutes; I could add the largest custard pie fight in the world (Bolton Arena: 3,320 thrown in three minutes); but it's not exactly a glut of achievement, is it?

No, here in Britain we should be proud of our splendid record in road construction, repair and usage. I don't know about you, but I was brought up on such greats as John McAdam, of the eponymous aggregate, and the remarkable Blind Jack of Knaresborough, who built some 180 miles of road in the 18th century, dying at 92, and inspiring this epitaph: "'Twas his a guide's unerring aid to lend; o'er trackless wastes to bid new roads extend."

The road in America is about escape; here it is about community and shared civilising values. And what finer instrument of that than the roundabout, the perfect expression of the mannerly exercise of discretion and subordination of one's right of free passage in the knowledge that what goes round comes round? Curiously, it is a French invention (the Arc de Triomphe was the world's first) but it is only recently that they have embraced it with any enthusiasm, and linger well behind in things like the mini and the multi-mini (of which Swindon has a particularly fine example).

In the same way, road works, and our uncomplaining negotiation of them, mark out our acceptance of inconvenience for the long-term and greater good. Observe those who shoot down the fast lane and try to insert themselves into the queue at the last moment: there is no finer indication of the anti-social. Watch those who take the exit and then spend double the time going cross-coutry: these are the impatient, the romantic, the inefficient, and the selfish. And your reaction, as you observe your fellow citizens travelling in blissful ignorance along the opposite carriageway towards a 10-mile tailback, will tell you much about your progress towards a caring, sharing, responsible approach to life.

Do you remember John Major? He was prime minister once, too. And like Tony Blair, he sought a legacy. But not for him peace in the Middle East, nor even in the Cabinet. No, he gave us a great communal resource, the Cones Hotline, still available, contrary to snide rumour, on 0845 7504030.

Major had recognised something very important to us. The first stretch of motorway, the Preston Bypass, opened in 1958. The first weekend saw the first motorway traffic jam as people came to look. A month later it was closed for repair. This is tradition. No doubt you experienced some congestion over the weekend as people also travelled to inspect our splendid roadworks.

So three cheers and raised cones to our repairers, who, rather than resting on laurels or shovels, look always to improve their performance. As it happens, I have some suggestions: cones with a facility for impatiens and lobelia; refreshment trolleys; formation digging; and, for the longer delays, community singing and a raffle. And now I shall give way.

Hobbies play a vital role in creating a self reliant, inquiring nation. You will recall the news that DIY is in serious decline, with a 10 per cent drop over the last two years in people prepared to put up their own shelves. So I was interested in the announcement that B&Q is to sell wind turbines. Wind turbines! Now there's a challenge! I could see any number of my intrepid fellow citizens wrestling with those rotors and ending up in Harold Lloyd-style scrapes, or worse. But, another straw in the wind: B&Q is providing installation. Shame. Elsewhere, however, I read that 500,000 British homes now keep hens; and, in what might be another significant breakthrough for the anti-sofa movement, the new belly dancing evening classes at Fielden College, West Didsbury, are open to men. Hobby on!

New figures show that more than half of us are now officially, statistically, middle class. But despite the increasing popularity of things like security, firm beliefs and a well-designed kitchen, there is little sign of an increase in willingness to acknowledge membership.

I blame the label: tired, all centre, no edge, low on empowering self-delusion. Rebranding is the answer. Previous attempts - white collar, professional, clerical, executive - have just not cut it.

Let's look at some models. Latinisation has had mixed results - Amicus, Consignia, Volvo - and confusion might be caused by "I'm a medium". I was tempted by the social classification initial; but the positives for "The Bs" - busy, but suggestion of hardness, too - were outweighed by beige, boring and second to A. Here, though, is something that combines a nod to traditional values with more than a hint of street: The Solid Class. I like it. You try it.