An elderly woman walks slowly along the High Street, pulling her cloth shopping trolley behind her. She has a certain dignity in her fitted tweed coat and slow, careful step that refuses to become a shuffle. She carefully moves off the kerb to cross a side street. She checks for traffic, yet her old eyes do not see the crack in the tarmac that warns of the little dip with the sharp edges just beyond. By chance, her stride just takes her over it, her heel landing a mere fraction of an inch on the other side. The wheels on her trolley, however, clatter directly into the pothole, forcing the old woman to stop and tug to get it out the other side. A moment after she continues on her way, a car turns the corner, slowing to check it can fit between the lady with her trolley and the kerb. Judging it can, it does not stop and is some distance down the road before the old woman reaches the far kerb. She does not pause in her purpose, but sighs inwardly, thinking, ‘that was a close call.’
He’s nearing 40, but can proudly say that his muscles are more toned than most 20-year-olds. Not that he has to say it when anyone who looks at his tight, lycra-clad bottom and thighs through their windscreen can see it. Although, even he would admit, they might be more concerned with overtaking him at the first opportunity than admiring his physique. He is also proud to consider himself a serious cyclist. He will take his light-weight bicycle with its ultra-thin racing tyres out of the garage even if he is only going to the corner shop. It is worth four figures, so he triple locks it when he gets there. He’s going for there for the Sunday paper now, and it’s such a familiar journey that he barely pays attention as he flies down the road. He doesn’t see the pothole that catches his front wheel, turning it sideways and skewing him to the ground. The back wheel spins into the road and he only just manages to pull it and himself out of the way of a large van that trundles by, unheeding. ‘Damn potholes,’ he says as he gingerly stands up, feeling middle-aged for the first time.
How common are the above scenarios? It’s hard to say. Near misses are perhaps slightly more likely than actual injury-inducing accidents attributable to potholes. But they are perhaps slightly less likely than inconveniences such as being splashed with dirty rain-water as a car’s wheel trundles through a puddle in a pothole not far from where you are walking. Either way, every year winter weather, be it rain or snow, gives rise to a plenitude of potholes and the local highway authority usually struggles to resource the necessary repairs. Though necessary, it is a thankless job. Complaints about potholes and the highway authority’s slow response abound, but when the hole no longer exists, neither does any recognition that good work has been done. A resurfaced road may get some attention, but never the little patches that may prevent accidents. It’s definitely not one of the more glamorous jobs which those working in highways and transport might get involved in.
Yet maybe, as the seasons shift from a time of pothole creation to a time of pothole repair, we can all give this important and necessary task a humble word of thanks.